Want to Help with Mobile Usability?

Continuing today’s theme, which is, at least for me, mobile apps, a team within our usability group contacted me about a survey they’re running.

My favorite error, from the soon-to-be-released Oracle People Search app

If you own one of those fancy-pants cellular telephones that does more than make phone calls, like an iPhone, an Android phone, or one of those BlackBerrys (or is it Berries) I hear about all the time, they want your help.

Specifically, this team is researching how apps handle error messages and failures.

So, for example, if you downloaded an application from iTunes, used it on your phone and (gasp) it failed, what was the error message you got? Was it descriptive? What would make it better and easier to understand? That type of information.

From my personal experience with iPhone apps, I find it’s rare for an app to fail, and when it does, the whole app blows up, sending me back to the Home screen. Not very intuitive, but effective. This may be a function of the iPhone SDK, but since Mail and Safari sometimes do that too, it might be the iPhone O/S.

Anyway, this blog has lots of iPhone readers, and we still drive lots of iPhone-inspired traffic here. “Lots” should be taken in context of course. I’ve been teasing Clayton‘s Oracle People iPhone app for a while, and we hope it’s just hours away from approval and general distribution. Once it’s ready, we’ll drive even more iPhone traffic.

There’s a good chance you have one of the smarty phones I listed, or another one that’s not as commonly discussed. If so, you’re probably a good candidate for the brief survey.

Here’s what the folks in usability would like:

  • A mix of devices. So, not all iPhone people.
  • A mix of O/S. Again, so not all iPhone people.
  • A nice international mix.

Aside from owning and using a smart phone, you should have used non-standard apps on your phone in the past, e.g. downloaded from the App Store on iTunes or from the Android App Store. The goal of the short (5-10 minutes they tell me) survey is to pick your brain about:

  • When an error or alert message was helpful.
  • How these messages could be more helpful.
  • The best ways to show/read these types of messages.

Sound like fun? Drop a comment with your real email, and I’ll send it along to the usability team.




  1. My biggest gripe is when I get NO error message! I was at a gas station last night, in a good coverage area (3G) and my iPhone just “stared” at me with mostly a blank screen when I tried to access Gasbag! Nothing, nada, zilch…just blank.

  2. I have also mostly seen the silent death on iPod touch, although apps usually include some error handling at least for network traffic.

    Jake, feel free to pass my contact details along: joonas.linkola here @ Oracle. Using Nokia E series which is the company standard at least in Finland, and also iPod touch w/ lots of apps installed. (Actually, not that many extra apps on the Nokia since the UI is kind of crude and I rather find a wi-fi hotspot for the iPod.)

  3. Thanks Joonas. You bring up a good point that didn't occur to me; people with iPod Touches should also consider taking the survey. Although not a phone (I know, VoIP can make it one), the iPod Touch runs the same apps as the iPhone.

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