Readers' Comments on New Mobile Devices

by Jakob Nielsen on September 17, 2000

Sidebar to Jakob Nielsen 's column on New Devices Augur Decent Mobile User Experience .


No Modo for Left-Handed Users?

Blair Conrad writes:

I would like to make a comment regarding a statement you make about the Modo in your 17 September, 2000, column, "New Devices Augur Decent Mobile User Experience":
"This description assumes right-handed use. From the company website, it does not seem that there is a different version for lefties."
I applaud the fact that you considered left-handed users, but would like to point out something that may not (or may) have occurred to you. As a left-handed individual, I view the version of the Modo that you describe to be a better version for sinistrals than would be the mirror image. The Modo, like a traditional computer mouse, does not seem to require a great amount of manual dexterity to operate, so I would expect that a left-handed person would quickly become proficient at using the Modo in her right hand. This arrangement might actually be more beneficial than having a left-handed Modo. Consider the following statement from the same Alertbox column:
"One-handed operation is great for a mobile device. You often need to use your second hand for carrying your briefcase, holding on to a strap on the bus, or some other purpose that makes two-handed use less convenient than it is in an office setting."
I agree with this statement, and submit that it would be even more convenient to have one's dominant hand free in many situations than it would to have the non-dominant hand free. For example, if I were using the current version of the Modo and located an address or phone number of a restaurant, I would likely find it easier to jot that information down, dial a telephone, or bring an ice cream cone to my mouth than would a dextral. And I can certainly hold a briefcase or subway strap as conveniently with my left hand as I can with my right.

So perhaps we should be asking when there will be a right-handed version of the Modo.

Jakob's reply: Good comment. The Modo may be so simple that it is well-suited for the non-dominant hand. Eating ice cream - now there is an important task that deserves more attention than using a computer.

Merge PDA and Phone or Keep Separate?

Erik L. Neu writes:

I am a Palm user. I have read any number of columns recently predicting the demise of the Palm/PDA in favor of cell phone internet access. I think this is ridiculous! The form-factor of the Palm, though great for what it does, is already enough of a usability challenge. I make an analogy between the Palm and a laptop. For the most part, the form factor of the laptop was established nearly a decade ago. Rather than getting smaller, they stay the same size, with more power, functionality and screen area being crammed in the same space. I think the Palm size is about right, it fits reasonably comfortably in the pocket. Now we need the useable screen to expand to fill the footprint of the machine.

As for the cell phone, it has one purpose: voice conversations. So smaller is always better. I would never want to take my Palm jogging, but I just might (usually not, but it is conceivable) want to take my cell phone with me on my run. I am amazed at how small they have gotten already. Besides not being usable, cramming PDA features in them will interfere with this design goal.

Longer-term, yes it would be nice if the cell-phone functionality can reside in the PDA. But I don't see this as being desirable with today's technology--it's not that big a hardship to carry two devices, esp. given the shrinking size of the phone. Plus, their battery-life styles are in conflict--people will be forever finding their PDA out of juice after 2 hours of phone conversation!

Jakob's reply: Completely agree that we need to recapture the entire surface of the Palm Pilot for screen space. One of the things done right on the Pocket PC.

I tend to prefer a single, converged device that will be both a PDA and a telephone, especially since the PDA will need to connect to the cellular network anyway in order to get live data. However, as you noted, there is also much to be said in favor of separate devices that can be optimized for their individual features.

Can For-Pay Listings Retain Credibility?

Jeremy Leader writes:

In your latest alertbox, you say
An advisory service like Modo depends completely on trust: if users feel that advertisers get better ratings or preferred placement, they will stop relying on it. Even if advertisers are treated the same as everybody else and get bad reviews when they deserve it, users may think that the service is biased since the old "church-state separation" is not well understood in new media.

A counter-example to this is the yellow pages; a completely fee-based listing of businesses, where the prominence of a listing depends only on the amount paid.

I think yellow pages succeed for the following reasons:

  1. Tradition and habit.
  2. Listings are not very expensive, so in many categories the listings are very complete.
  3. The format is reasonably quick & easy to use (in some situations; not while riding a bus!)
  4. The business model is reasonably straightforward and transparent; the yellow pages make no attempt to provide "unbiased" reviews.
There's a search engine, (started by a former boss of mine) which tries to apply this transparency to a pay-for-prominence search engine; I don't know how well it's doing.

Jakob's reply: I think the reasons you list are correct. In particular, users can feel confident that the yellow pages listings are complete in the "raw list" of companies in a certain category. For example, look at dentists: all dentists in town will have a single-line entry. Some will also have big display ads, and the user can chose whether to pay attention to the ads.

The main difference is that the yellow pages do not make any attempt at advising or guiding users; nor do they contain lifestyle content or articles. It's nothing but a pure list supplemented with display ads. Same for the search engine: it doesn't tell you anything about the sites except how much money they are willing to pay for each query term.

The problem comes for any service with greater ambitions that being a simple list. If you do want to run articles on "where to go on a first date" or whatever, then you better mention some places that don't advertise. And even if you do, users may feel that the service is tainted. Traditional printed newspapers can get away with having ads on the same page as the content, but the newer an online service is and the more untraditionally it works, the harder it will be to gain the user's trust.

From recent usability studies, we know that users are extremely cynical with respect to the service they get from websites. Even the most honorable websites are viewed with suspicion.

Outsourcing Nanocontent Production

Jonathan Peterson writes:

Interesting points re: nanocontent. One of the most painful issues regarding nanocontent (especially pager network nanocontent) is the lack of content standards (and adherence) and huge sunk cost of existing devices that cannot be easily updated.

In building CNN's PageNet content feed application, we outsourced all of this as the various pagers, their capabilities, the bugs and degree to which they adhered to standards was simply impossible for us to deal with in a reasonable timeframe. Part of the reason that iMode has succeeded so wildly is that the protocol, content and delivery devices were jointly developed.

We will live in interesting times indeed as content creators have to learn to deal with large existing user bases of various products. I imagine that companies like may find profitable niches as content reformattor/distributor middlemen with large chunks of reusable nanocontent processing expertise.

Jakob's reply: Very interesting idea to build a nanocontent formatting service as an outsourcing provider. Build special tools, train staff in the special skills, locate your main facility in a low-salary country. New business opportunities emerge every day in our field.

Here is a completely different thought sparked by this business idea: Outsourcing a variety of content massaging operations will tend to favor English-language sites over many other countries . A Japanese website will have to outsource to a Japanese provider since that's the only place you find people who speak Japanese. Sure, they can locate in Hokkaido rather than Tokyo, so you probably save a little on salaries (and a lot on real estate). Sites in many high-salary countries simply don't have the same opportunities for low-salary outsourcing as those available to an English-language site which has a much larger number of countries to choose from.

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