Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More Android Usability Issues

Second post in a series of problems and solutions for Android usability. I'm writing these because I love Android, and if these usability issues are fixed, it'll be even mo betta'. =)

1) No notification on receipt of SMS that needs to be downloaded.

WTF? I had a nice argument with the Android team when I was still at Google about something likely related to this. If you receive an MMS that your Android phone can't display, then there's no notification. None. You only notice the new message if you explicitly go into Messages to look for it (or more likely, receive a totally unrelated SMS that alerts you to check Messages). I was told by the Android team that no notification is better than a notification when you can't see a preview of the message. I got far too frustrated arguing with someone who actually believed this to be self-evident, and just gave up (one of many super detailed Android bug reports that never made it past the Android usability gatekeepers).

Analogy - you won the lottery, but they didn't alert you, since they couldn't send an envelope with the amount of the check visible through the envelope window. You only know that you won if you call up the lottery to ask.

Clearly the notification delivers useful information, and should be delivered regardless of whether the message can be previewed. If nothing can be previewed, at least the sender can be shown, which is very useful in and of itself.

Obvious fix here is to have a notification on receipt of any SMS/MMS, even if no preview can be shown.

2) Multitouch is ... suboptimal.

Multitouch works way better on iOS than Android, at least my Nexus One. I'm told it's because multitouch is "simulated" on Android but is "real" on iOS. One of the way this manifests for me at least is that when using the phone with one hand, if I'm holding the phone too tightly, then some skin touches the outer edge of the screen, disabling all other touch actions on the screen. Seems pretty easy to detect with software....

3) Phone numbers aren't localized.

In Korea and Japan, a mobile number looks like 333-4444-4444. That is, a group of three numbers, followed by two groups of four numbers each. In America, numbers look like 333-333-4444, or three, three, four. On the stock Android OS, Korean and Japanese numbers show up as 333-333-55555. Many locals think something's wrong with my phone if they see it.

Fix: Localize phone numbers.

That's it for today! Looking forward to Android continuing to get better in upcoming iterations. Go Android!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Interesting Korean Grammar (really!)

I think one of the hardest things about Korean (or any language, for that matter) is learning the subtle nuances and differences between grammatical constructions. Typically, when you're learning a new language, you start with super easy, often present tense constructions.

We eat food? You go store? I happy.

Then you start to learn how to form proper sentences, and learn various tenses:

I'm eating food now. She went to the store. I'm happy.

For most people, language learning never goes beyond the point of simple sentence construction. But for Korean especially, there are an incredible number of nuances in sentence endings and conjugational forms, and most foreigners either don't use them or use them incorrectly (myself included). Korean is a very indirect language, like Japanese, so simply stating what you think often makes you come across as rude. As a result, there are tons of ways to form "simple" sentences in Korean, all with different nuances. It's confusing for non-native speakers to know the differences. What follows is the same sentence, just with different verb endings, along with the approximate translations in English. Without further ado, I present, via dialogue, a "Story about Samgyetang" (chicken ginseng soup)!


A: 삼계탕 먹고싶었어? Did you want to eat chicken ginseng soup?
B: 삼계탕 먹고싶었는데. Well, I wanted to eat chicken ginseng soup, but ....
A: 삼계탕 먹고싶었지? You wanted to eat chicken ginseng soup, didn't you?
B: 삼계탕 먹고싶었잖아! You know I wanted to eat chicken ginseng soup!
A: 삼계탕 먹고싶었다고? You said you wanted to eat chicken ginseng soup?

Hopefully this helps illustrate some common verb endings in Korea. Note that some of these actually have additional meanings (especially 는데). Enjoy!

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!