Please pardon me for feeling a little grumpy. I've been reviewing a series of smartphones, and most of the newer, cooler, sleeker smartphones are seriously annoying. Yes, I'm talking about you, iPhone, and about you, Android. Whoever designed these devices apparently forgot about human factor testing, and focused instead on being cool.
You have to understand that I'm not referring to every smartphone out there. There are a few where some engineer, somewhere, realized that actual people would have to use these things, and made it so they could. But for the most part, it would seem that little if any attention was paid to the user interface.
The best examples of what's being perpetrated on smartphone users shows up in the most recent round of Android phones from a variety of manufacturers. Most of these are touch-screen-only devices, in which you have to simultaneously hold a slippery case in your hand, and type on poorly defined locations on a highly reflective screen. Sure, you can do it, but the precision is so bad that developers of these phones have had to create software that tries to guess what you might have had in mind, and then offer a selection of choices.
But this doesn't work for something as simple as typing in your password. Think about the process of entering a strong password in a touch-screen smartphone. You'll need an upper-case character, a number, and a special character in the password. Problem is, the spelling helper can't help you.
So what you do is watch carefully as the character you typed flashes briefly on the screen, then turns to a dot. If you accidentally trigger two keys instead of one, you'll never know. The password will fail, and you'll need to try again. If you do it right, you're faced with doing it all again when you check another e-mail account, or if you have passwords set on the device to meet the requirements of your corporate security policies, you'll have to do it every few minutes.
This way lies madness. Worse, this way lies insecurity. The difficulty of typing on these devices means that users will use the absolute minimum level of security they can get away with. They will waste time retyping their passwords, their e-mail and other items. Their e-mail will arrive with misspellings, or will bounce because the e-mail address was entered incorrectly. All of these are productivity hits that may seem small, but when accumulated through the workday, and across the range of employees, can cost real money.
So what do you do? Think about more than what's cool when you buy a device for your company e-mail. Think about the security implications, and think about how much longer it'll take you to do your work this way than it would if you had a well-designed means of data entry. And then complain to the carriers since they're the ones who create the specs for these devices. If you're an IT manager, make sure you mention that you're supporting the whole range of frustrated, time-wasting, less-than-totally-productive employees who are using these devices.
Yeah, I know, it probably won't do any good. In this day, cool trumps everything else. Nobody cares about the consequences as long as they look cool checking their e-mail. But at least you'll feel better after you complain. And who knows, if there are enough complaints, maybe some manufacturer, somewhere, will design a smartphone that's not annoying and unproductive.