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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

User interfaces and soft walled gardens of tomorrow

A couple of years ago, many in the mobile industry foresaw that mobile operators would control most of the device specification, including the user experience. The manufacturers would turn into unknown hardware manufacturers, considered happy if their name was printed on the battery. There was plenty of evidence; NTT DoCoMo’s undisputed reign in Japan and Vodafone’s increasing specification work.

Today, I say the tables have turned. The manufactures are still the big brands and most of the user experience is still controlled by them. The operators are still waiting for data revenues to rise and their specifications of look-and-feel are shrinking. Someone proved that a Vodafone UI increased the usage of Vodafone services, but not to the extent that it gave any meaningful return of investment. It was too arduous and expensive to fight about the user interface. Most operators (maybe not in the US – yet) have lowered their walled gardens, to increase data revenues from uncontrolled Internet usage.

So what is it that hinders consumers from switching between operator or manufacturer brands? Brand, price, and service quality are the three motivations that come to mind for operators. And brand, overall quality, and industrial design for the manufacturers. These motivations are not walled gardens at all, but the primary values of these companies.

But there is one more thing: the user interface. Intangible and tangible at the same time, both logical and emotional. Anyone who has tried to switch between different device brands knows that this is not easy. Contacts are deleted, downloaded content is lost, and the camera does not take pictures, just to name a few. Look at the PC industry. A lot of consumers are turning to Apple because of one thing: Brand, coherently manifested in industrial design and user interface. But try to change! You will agree that the Mac is beautiful and that all the nice swooshes in the UI makes you feel as if the machine loves you. But the paradigm is not the one you are used to. And in the beginning that will drive you crazy!

Essentially the UI raises the comfort level once you are inside, which is also an exit barrier – a soft walled garden. So I don’t think we will have a homogenization of the user interface into a single mobile paradigm. Manufacturers will probably continue to manifest and develop their own unique UI:s because there is an opportunity to continuously ‘lock in’ the consumer. Because switching would mean learning – and boy, aren’t we consumers lazy!

There is a great incentive for the big structured mobile manufacturers (Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson) to keep up their good work. There is also a big incitement for the historically more hardware-focused manufacturers (Samsung and BenQ) to invest more in this field. Strong brands like B&O and Apple will also have to keep this in mind when they are moving into our world. Google, Yahoo!, and other of our newly-found friends will have to consider this. And Microsoft will stick to their desktop paradigm, for better or for worse.


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