Sunday, April 03, 2011

Assorted Android Usability Issues

I like my Android phone. It's a quite functional device, and is actually pretty decent for making phone calls (for those of you unfamiliar with a "phone call", imagine a tweet, but longer than 140 characters, and transmitted via human speech). But it has a fair number of usability issues that constantly annoy me. Some have been fixed as the OS has evolved (for example, searching from the Google widget used to only allow vertical mode, but luckily they added landscape mode a while back), but others continue to linger. Here's an incomplete list of some of the usability annoyances I've found, along with simple fixes that would make the experience better.

Problem: "Next" and "Done" buttons in text fields. Their behavior is inconsistent at best, confusing at worst. Sure, I know that "Next" moves you to the next text field. But does your grandma know what a text field is? No. So this fails the grandma test.

Try handing an Android phone to an iPhone user and ask them to add a new contact. They'll put in the first name, at which point they're presented with a large "Done" button underneath the first name field, and at the bottom right of the keyboard it says "Next". And if some autocomplete items came up, then the Last Name field is completely obscured. The iPhone user will invariably click "Done", which is not what they want to do at all. They actually need to hit the back button (???) to hide the keyboard and go to another field, or hit the Next button (which is super far from the active point of visual focus at this stage) to advance to the next text field. Again, not intuitive, not easy.

Unrelated to contacts, a lot of apps have the "Done" button, but don't actually handle clicking on it. This results in people tapping "Done", only to remain on the text field. The Google Translate app used to have this problem, but fixed it awhile ago.

Solution: Kill the "next" button. Change "Done" to "Ok". Don't obscure the entire screen other than "First name" while adding a new contact.

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Problem: After adding a new contact and clicking "Done", you are returned to the Contact list at whatever point you happened to be at before adding the new contact. I can imagine the thinking that went into this, but it's flawed. The first thing people want to see after adding a new contact is confirmation that the new contact is in their address book.

Solution: Scroll the contact list to the newly added contact after the user hits "Done".

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Problem (Korea-specific): The stock Google Korean keyboard only exists in "full keyboard" mode, whether you're in portrait or landscape mode. In portrait mode, it's incredibly difficult to type accurately, and multi-tap input would actually be much faster and less error-prone. How do I know, you might ask? All the Korean carriers replaced the full keyboard with multi-tap keyboards for vertical mode. Come on, Google - typing is at the core of the user experience for a smart phone. Why make it more painful than it has to be? Besides, the auto-correct is far worse in Korean than English.

Solution: Multi-tap keyboard for vertical mode, or at least the option to choose one. Yes, I know the carriers have different multi-tap keyboards. Choose one.

As I was writing these down, I thought of many others, so I'll save them for a future post.

Android, we love you, but please fix simple usability problems - you'll end up with much happier users!

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