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Over the Air Updates, Too Much Kit, & Mobile UX

Forgive me for last night’s storytelling rant/praise about Over the Air updating of one’s mobile / smartphone. But one point that I would like to pick out from the story’s threading is that of ease of use for the customer.
Many in the mobile and computer technology space complain about how users do not update their computers, mobiles or software thus making it more complex, difficult, and at times more expensive for creators, designers, and developers to provide great experiences (giving the the stink eye to IE6). But we can’t complain if we are part of the problem in making updating difficult or more complex than it needs to be.
Apple has solved the problem of updating by making syncing between one’s iPhone/iPod/iPad as close to automatic as possible when you dock or plug it into your computer. But it creates another problem in that one need’s to have access to a computer to update or sync one’s Apple mobile products and it can also create problems if you don’t want a full sync or update. I have heard quite a few friends complain about both, either not having a regular computer or by syncing unique data on the mobile is wiped out by the sync. Apple makes it very easy but they have control over how the update happens.
Google’s Android has solved the problem by making all their updates to any Android phone happen over the air. As I detailed out last night, Android puts a little notice up in the top tool bar that updates are available, the user can then click on the tool bar and a drop down menu will give one the alerts as to which software and/or firmware has updates available. Google makes updating very easy and gives the user the control on when and how much they want to update.
My complaint of the last four years about Nokia’s Symbian S60 devices and updating is that the updating can only occur when one has the mobile phone attached by USB cable to a Windows PC/laptop. If one does not have access to a PC or one does not wish to find a PC to update one’s mobile, then one goes without. Once one gets a PC of which to conduct the update on, it becomes a multiple step update process that usually includes updating the Nokia Updater software and then updating the phone. Most of the time this takes at least 3-5 times longer than an Apple or Android update. Unnecessary kit, steps, and time just to update.
What was so exciting to me and praiseworthy yesterday was that the Nokia N900 with the Maemo linux-based OS uses the Android model of OTA (Over the Air) updates. The user clicks on the alert in the top tool bar, one chooses the updates that one wants to have updated, and as long as one has data connection it will update. As stated last night, this whole process for a major firmware update took less than 10 minutes. It was truly efficient.
From the user experience perspective, we as creators, designers, and developers cannot assume what the user will have for ‘kit’ or a computer to update with and what access to connection they will have. Thus I suggest the following for updating of software and firmware on mobile phones and computers:
1) Let the device that needs to be updated be the only device involved. If a mobile, don’t force the user to find a computer to conduct the update.
2) Make the available updates be readily noticeable to the user on the front or home screen of the device.
3) Allow whatever connection is most convenient for the user to do the updating. If wifi, then let the wifi do the job. If data connection through a mobile carrier, then let the sim chip do the job. Don’t force it to be through the mobile carrier as some folks have very spotty 2G& 3G connections. Don’t let the user fear that a spotty connection will brick the device. Conversely, if it doesn’t work for the user to do the update only through a mobile connection, then give them steps to get around this.
4) Allow the user to choose how little or how much they want to update. If a major firmware update, then say so in plain language, not the internal language of your company or specialty.
By taking these four steps we can encourage users to update and make the update painless. Painless updates that just work make for a good user experience, excitement for new features or bug fixes, and in the end for brand affection and loyalty.