A long report about the news and trends I've seen at Mobile HCI 2008 appears on today's printed edition of Il Sole 24 Ore. As a crossmedial extension, I provide here an interview with Kris Mihalic, who I met in Amsterdam during the conference.
Kris (see picture on the left) is responsible for user experience research of Yahoo!’s mobile products on a global scale. He defines, executes, and monitors research efforts in order to provide innovative services that enable consumers to seamlessly extend their Internet community and personalized content to their mobile phone. I’ve briefly talked with him about the present and future of mobile services (at Yahoo! as well as in general). Here’s what he told me:
What are the current challenges for yahoo! mobile applications? What is the difference between the mobile and the traditional yahoo! applications?
"The main challenge Yahoo! as well as other Internet and media companies are facing today is how to make most valuable services available to users on their mobile devices. This involves making traditional services available on mobiles – services that have been available on the Web for some time now, for example email or IM. More importantly, it involves new services that are designed specifically for mobile systems. The focus here is on the specific use cases and providing added value when using mobile devices as part of the digital ecosystem. As an example, Yahoo! oneConnect is a revolutionary application that lets users integrate all their contacts, send IM and SMS, post their status, and view the latest activity from their favorite social networks – all in a single application. This service is specifically designed for mobile use and as such fundamentally different from any desktop-based application."
What approach and methods do you follow at Yahoo! to make this services usable?
"At Yahoo! Connected Life, we’re aiming at understanding user needs and designing accordingly. The key lies in the combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Methods used in user experience research, such as usability testing, field observations, or focus groups are supplemented by market research methods like online surveys or questionnaires – and vice versa. Such an approach provides a holistic view that is necessary for innovative mobile services. To give an example, a quantitative online survey can uncover users’ aspirations and pain points about a particular product or feature such as mobile email. In the next step, a usability study provides the means to do a deep dive on these particular issues in order to come up with improvement recommendations for the business."
Any peculiar users’ behaviors that surprised you while doing research?
"Conducting research internationally with end users often provides very interesting, sometimes funny insights. Most people wouldn’t believe that many users enter their own email address into the search engine field on the mobile phone, in the hope to get to their Inbox. Even though it sounds strange at first, it shows how people’s usage differs from designers’ intentions. That’s why understanding user behavior in the real context is crucial in the development of innovative mobile products."
What do you foresee for the future, both in general and at Yahoo! ?
"This is, of course, a very important question – and one that is almost impossible to answer. The current mobile market is highly fragmented and dynamic, with a multitude of players having different impact at any given point in time – operators, device manufacturers, developers, content and service providers all have their share. This has an impact on the end user and the way how mobile devices and services are being used. This diversity is unlikely to become less in the near future. Providing simple, seamless, and appropriate services is key. The approach Yahoo! Connected Life is taking focuses on understanding basic user needs when being mobile and providing targeted services that evolve from exactly those use cases. Obviously user experience research plays a key role in this effort."
© 2008 Luca Chittaro, Nova100 - Il Sole 24 Ore.