The Failure of Android as A Phone UX

I have a good idea of when it started, and it wasn’t with phones, it was with PDAs. There was a point where companies got this idea that marketing larger screens made more sense than improving the user experience (UX) that would drive usage, marketing, and service models. Later, the same thing happened with phones and for some weird reason, non-NBA players were speaking this as if it were the best thing that could happen to mobiles. We end up with these petite-handed people carrying around mobiles which are too large to be phones because that’s what carriers think sells best, and see little to no change with the user experience of having a larger screen or the dependencies towards physics with it (battery life, location of interface elements, etc.).

That’s just plain stupid.

Just look at that picture of the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus next to the new iPhone 4S (via This is My Next/Verge). That’s just horrible. Apple, like Nokia, realizes that if you are going to design a communicator that you design it to be held best so that all the screen elements relevant to communication are littler a finger-length away. But, here we have Google/Samsung running that meme of having a larger screen – sharper, sure – without doing anything to address the usability of the device as a phone – since that’s how it will be sold/marketed.

I thought that the point of UX was to design items that people wanted to use. Its like the automotive trend of putting larger and larger tires on cars. What kind of sense does it make for a subcompact car to need – let alone use – 17in tires? It doesn’t. And besides being a waste in diminishing resources, it also ushers in compromises which endear design decisions which are rectified by adding more and more layers between the user and the intended experience.


So you know how some of the early and louder media voices are talking about the 4.65in (diagonial) Samsug Galaxy Nexus? They are calling it better than ever – not even mentioning or minding that in the usage scheme that Android has been placed in, adding a larger screen doesn’t point to how the device has been sold. Its sold as an alternative to other smart*phones.* How does that larger screen improve the experience of using it as a phone?

  • I can better see who’s calling?
  • Dialing into IVR systems is easier since I won’t miss the 0 when trying to get to customer service faster
  • Video calling (we know how carriers like that one here in the USA)

Nothing in any of the previews of this new mobile, nor in the design of this latest edition of Android have answered this. And I don’t think they will. As a exploration to solve a problem of "mobile devices as a phone" this amounts to a failure. Part of that is because we’ve now been tuned to a media that lists specs as benefits and dismisses usability or proper testing (ahem). That’s not to say that the Galaxy Nexus isn’t addressing something, only that the marketing message can’t match the user experience if the product is blatantly designed so far against its use. Solving that is simple, the device should be presented and designed to work in spaces where larger-screen mobile interactions take place that aren’t as reliant on the paradigm of phone use (and of course, saying this means that we immediately go into "tablet mode" since that’s the next step up).

I write this realizing that part of my reasons for sticking with certain mobile devices has been the prospect of its design (software, hardware, and services) matching up to how I want to use it presently, and how I would grow into a use of it in the near-future. I am quite adamant of prospecting devices not because of how they are marketed for use, but how they perform for an expected end (making better nap times). If the design of the device gets in the way of that, even to the point of not being able to fall asleep with it in my pocket and not fear it breaking, then the design and device fails to be used by me. Its then noted for the failure in my context, so that when I’m asked about prospective acquisitions later, I can make an intelligent statement that speaks towards use without being as skewed towards specs.

Its not that hard really. If your phone is so smart, then why are you spending so much time making it work? Shouldn’t it adapt to your lifestyle without telling any prospective advertiser who you are? Shouldn’t it be secure enough for you to communicate however you choose to. Shouldn’t it act like a phone when in that context, and a computer/TV/music player/camera when in those? I don’t believe in compromises at this stage in mobile. Desiging devices that are so ungainly for their genre isn’t my idea of innovation, its a failure of the genre to speak towards what works and doesn’t in the applied contexts.

And don’t even let me get started talking about how you still can’t more than a day’s battery life with this. Shame on the progress of technology.