The Myth of the Killer Mobile Reference UX

By Chris Buerger

Chris_bio_pic_2 The "killer" preloaded mobile UX…is the concept on life support?

I just came back from IDF, and while the event was strong on mobile market assertions but somewhat lightweight on public proof points, it did give me a chance to spend some time with the German-designed WePad running an embedded Linux kernel incorporating a number of MeeGo 1.0 release elements and a completely custom UI.

Experimenting with the WePad (and getting it to crash twice within five minutes) got me thinking about the evolution of user interfaces in mobile devices, both Tablets and Smartphones. From a high-level perspective, there are really three approaches in the market.

1)  Completely closed, “you get what is preloaded” approach that is the same on every device. Apple, RIM, WebOS and, to a large extend, traditional s40 and s60 are representative of this approach.

2) Partially updateable approach where home screens can be replaced but the core underlying man-machine interface is still the same. I would count Android (e.g. with its HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, TAT Home customizations) and to more limited extend Windows Mobile (e.g. through SPB Shell). s^2 and s^3 also promise more customization capabilities.

3) Complete customization approach. Curiously, both BMP and open source MeeGo, as well as the traditional proprietary OEM UX frameworks fall into this camp with both allowing almost complete UX customization capabilities.

Of course, UX frameworks that fall into the third approach also generally offer a set of reference templates that can be used as the starting point for any customization effort.

So, the question then becomes which of these approaches is likely to become most successful? I would argue that WePad type customizations are likely to be marginally successful efforts limited to specific ‘iconic’ devices. There is no doubt that the Apple and RIM approach has been successful in the past and that there will always be people that are fine with a predefined, unchangeable experience. However, from a market growth perspective, I believe that the second approach will see the most success. Here is why:

  • It provides the best balance of using the core MMI of a mobile operating system (list menus for ‘Settings’ are generally fine) while offering differentiation options in terms of graphics, sound as well as service integration (e.g. through widgets)
  • Home screen replacements can be delivered post launch; thus offering new monetization potential for ecosystem players to deliver a ‘personal’ UX extending the established mobile personalization content storefront (ringtones, wallpapers, themes etc…)
  •  It is much more cost-effective than an all out customization.

What do you think about the different approaches for mobile user experience development? Which one is going to prove the most popular and why?