June 28th, 2009
Just before I started working at my current company, they decided to invest in smart phones for their consultants. A great idea, but unfortunately we all ended up with Windows Mobile devices which have pretty much been a nightmare from day one, and which we now refer to as ‘the brick’. While there are many problems with the phone from a usability and user experience point of view, I thought I’d share one of my favourite examples.
After dialing a number or choosing a contact that you’d like to call, sometimes the call fails for no apparent reason, and this message pops up onto the screen:
“Cannot connect. Ensure that your phone is turned on and correctly configured, and that service is available, before trying again.”
The message is unhelpful for so many reasons, especially the part that states “Ensure that your phone is turned on”. Ahem. If my phone wasn’t on, how would I be reading this message, exactly?
To make matters worse, if you switch to the phone display it shows the text “Phone off” at the top:
Hm. I’m pretty sure that the phone is on, unless this whole experience is a hallucination.
The first time I had this problem it took me ages to figure out what the messages were trying to tell me, and to figure out how to turn the phone ‘on’ even though as far as I could tell the phone was already on. Apparently the people who designed the UI had a different notion of what constituted the ‘phone’ versus the device itself – the device could be turned on while the phone function was turned off, and hence the ridiculously confusing error message.
This is a great example of how things can go terribly wrong when the designers’ mental models, or ideas about how something works, do not match the user’s. It is also a great example of a significant usability issue that could have (and should have!) been detected well before the device went to market, if sufficient user research and testing had been conducted.