The re-use proposition for smartphones

I recently stumbled across an old post in which I catalogued my mobile phone ownership right back to the early 90’s. Two things occurred to me, firstly I must had much more time on my hands back in 2006 to be blogging about that kind of thing, and secondly that the phones I’ve owned since then have been are much better!

iphone 3GIn the 2006 post, the latest phone was the fantastically rubbish Nokia 6111, which from memory barely lasted much beyond the time I wrote that post! I replaced it with an Apple iPhone 3G, my first touchscreen smartphone. I’d resisted earlier versions of the iPhone, waiting for 3G connectivity to be added. Lots of things have been said about the iPhone, good and bad, but it truly did change personal telecommunications and portable computing forever. At the time I considered a Nokia E71 because of it’s physical keyboard, as I still wasn’t sure this whole touchscreen thing would take off. Soon after I bought the iPhone, my wife did get an E71 and after using it I knew I had made the right choice.

But then came iOS 5 and the iPhone 3G became next to useless. Excruciatingly slow and practically unusable. Many of my friends bought the iPhone 4 as soon as it came out and in comparison my phone was a joke. Similar tasks would take 200-300% longer, if they succeeded at all. So it was clearly time to upgrade, but my recent experiences with the iPhone had convinced me they weren’t worth the exorbitant prices being asked.

HTC Incredible SI’d heard about this Android thing and so I chose to change camp, ordering a HTC Incredible S outright since I was out of contract and online prices were much cheaper than in store. It wasn’t the top of the line, just a solid step-up from my iPhone and very reasonably priced. I’d never heard of HTC before that but HTC Sense won me over, particularly the huge clock on the home screen!

The Incredible S kept working quite well, but did start to slow down a fair bit after Ice Cream Sandwich. iPhone’s were still too expensive and so I didn’t even really consider them. The latest high-end Android phones were very powerful and impressive, but I couldn’t really justify the price.

LG Nexus 4Then Google and LG released the Nexus 4 for $350. Done, take my money! After the supply and delivery nightmare that marred the phone’s release, I did eventually get one and it’s been awesome ever since. I have work-supplied iPhone 4 and my wife just got an iPhone 5S, so I keep an eye on what’s happening in the Apple camp, but later this year I’ll probably upgrade to the Nexus 6 (or whatever they call it).

So why are these devices better than the old ‘dumbphones’?

Their extendable life through re-use!

  • My iPhone 3G became my wife’s phone after she grew tired of the ‘eccentric’ Nokia E71, and it served her very well for another year at least, and now she uses it as an iPod in her office.
  • The Incredible S also saw duty with my wife when her Galaxy Note was being repaired, and is now the property of our kids—still perfect for streaming media over WiFi and playing games.
  • And when the Nexus 4 soon retires it too will more than likely serve out its remaining years in the hands of the kids.

These modern devices are far more versatile. Besides being given to friends and family as hand-me-downs, ‘retired’ smartphones are great as media players and games consoles as I’ve already mentioned, but there plenty of other suggestions, from baby monitors to remote controls to a digital recipe books. Or you could turn the smartphone into a single function device, such as an in-car GPS or digital photo frame.

(This isn’t really surprising since smartphones are closer to computers than telephones, and there are many uses for old desktops and laptops: media centre PC, file server, web server, surveillance system, kids homework workstation etc.)

How have you re-used or repurposed your old smartphones?

What I’d do if I was on “Dragons’ Den”

The Dragonss Den dragons circa 2007
Over the holidays I watched a re-run of one of my favourite British TV shows, Dragons’ Den. Every time I watch the show I think the same things about most of the contestants: “no, you’re doing it all wrong!”. Now of course some people get it right, usually leaving with the investment they were after. But most don’t.

Here is how I’d approach it.

Pitch the business not the product

So many contestants show off their invention or idea, rather than talking to the Dragons about the business opportunity and how the Dragons can help them build the business. They talk mostly about the product of the business, not the business itself. How can a real, sustainable business be built around the product or idea?

Occasionally it is such an innovative idea that it’s obvious how they can build a business around it, but often the contestant’s inner geek rears its ugly head and they bang on about features and gadgets and how good the idea is. To make maters worse, often they’re solving a problem that doesn’t even exist.

The Dragons don’t actually care about the product, they want to know what the business is; How will it make money? How much money? How long will it take to make the money? What’s the sales channel? Will it even make money?

If you enter the den you need to clearly articulate these aspects of your business model, including:

  • Who is the target market?
  • Who are the end users?
  • Why would they want it? What would they use it for?
  • What else out there is an alternative? (who are your competitors?)
  • What will they pay for it?

You don’t need to be a business whizz, after all that’s why you’re going to see the Dragons. The Dragons say it quite often, if you have all the answers, if you’ve got it all figured out, what do you need us for?

So you don’t need to have all the details (such as market research regarding size of the market, or complex pricing models) but it helps, especially when it comes to valuing the business opportunity, what your business will be worth. You do need to have thought about it though. You need the solid foundation on which everything else will be built.

Be prepared to talk business

To be fair most people who appear in front of the Dragons do seem like they have prepared (though some probably aren’t the best to be pitching the pitch themselves) but have they prepared the right thing?

Extending from the point above, they’ve probably practiced demonstrating the invention, got it all working and can talk about it in detail…but they can’t talk about the business side of it.

To do this may mean doing some homework, like reading up on the basics of a business plan. Talk to other business owners and see how they ‘got there’. Don’t just talk to your friends or other inventors, who are likely to be also too focused on the product or are just telling you what you want to hear.

I’d probably try approaching a relevant business to ask for investment, to hear what they ask and what they’d want to know from me, before appearing on international TV!

Think about other products

A successful business needs more than one product. What else will the business do once that first product moves through its life cycle? You don’t want to be a one trick pony. Think about what else can be done.

One case that comes to mind is a guy who invented a new type of emergency flotation device for boat owners, where personal objects such as your keys will float to the surface using a small balloon. The thing that got the Dragons most excited was the prospect of a whole line of products based on the technology, scaling the original product up to potentially a system that could be used to lift the whole boat.

Again it’s the difference between inventing a clever thing as opposed to developing a business.

Court them not just their money

Sure the money the Dragons will invest is important but I would be more focused on the value of their knowledge and experience in running a successful business. I’d be up front about areas of my business plan that could be improved, with their help. For example, where manufacturing is involved their expertise could help lower manufacturing costs and increase profit, without even changing the product or business model at all.

I’d make this part of my pitch; not only do I need this much money but also what expertise I think the business needs.

Take the offer!

The worst thing I see on this show is a contestant who manages to get an offer of investment from a Dragon (sometimes multiple offers) but turns it down, typically because the equity share is higher than they wanted. That’s insane.

I know it’s hard to relinquish control of ‘your baby’ but if you have a successful business person saying they want to help you, you should jump at the chance! I recall one contestant saying “it’s better to have 50% of something great than 90% of nothing” and I think that is so true.

By the way, I’m assuming that most of the contestants are like me and have little business experience, so I think it’s ludicrous to knock back what will probably amount to your ‘big break’. After you make this business successful, and you’ve learnt heaps, then you can go off and start another business and maintain total ownership, if you want.

Don’t tell them how to suck eggs

Following that last point, you don’t have the same level of business expertise As the Dragons–otherwise you wouldn’t be in there. So don’t argue with them, and don’t tell them they’re wrong.

If you do you’ll make a fool of yourself. There have been several cases of contestants who didn’t make a deal with the Dragons–or did but it fell through off air–who ended up finding other investors off the back of the exposure from being on the programme in the first place. But nobody wants to work with an arogant dick and they especially don’t want to give them money.

Now, I just need to come up with an idea for a business :)

The consequence of touch

The other day I saw what is probably going to be an increasingly common sight. On the way to lunch, I passed an internet cafe that had icons decorating its glass shopfront. The icons were of consistent design, squares with rounded corners, very Apple-esque but they weren’t icons I recognised from existing products or services. That is, I guess the shop owners made them up to look ‘high tech’.

Anyway, as I walked past, a little boy–probably about 4 or 5 years old–was walking along the shopfront pressing the icons with his hand. As he pressed each one, and got no response, he got more frustrated. He’s obviously used a touch screen device such as an iPad, and so just assumed that these icons on the shop windows could also be ‘touched to activate’. When a simple touch failed to work, he progressed to running along the row of icons, touching all of them in quick succession. Still nothing happened.

Will all future generations be so disappointed by our non-interactive built environment?

Hello Joe!

This is my boy, Joseph Liam Kennedy, born today at 5:46pm. He bounced into our lives a healthy little man of 3.59kg and 47cm.

Mum and bub are doing great, and Grace and Evie are overjoyed to finally meet “baby Joe”.

Looking forward to showing off the newest of the bunch, after everyone has a well earned rest!

You know you’re frustrated with your word processor when you…

…choose to literally cut and paste (well, ‘stick’ at least) your document together.

Manually editing a document using scissors and tape

Lately I’ve been wrangling a research report into shape and I’m finding it so much easier to just print stuff out, cut it up, organise and rearrange it, then stick it together with sticky tape. Then I’ll go back and edit the document electronically.

Alternative titles for this blog could have been “You know you’re getting old when you…” or “You know you’ve been playing craft and colouring-in with your kids when you…”. (Actually that last one is very apt since I have been loving colouring in with my daughters lately!)

Fuglification by five: automotive

Have you ever noticed how car designers can really screw things up when they create a new ‘generation’ of a model? Quite often there’s a serious fuglification factor involved.

It’s like the old adage “never buy version 1.0 of a Microsoft product”, it sometimes takes a few updates/facelifts before the new generation achieves a balanced, harmonious look. And sometimes it never does, just stays plain fugly.

Here are five examples. (I’ll admit up-front, some of these vehicles weren’t absolute stunners before fuglification but they were at least adequate, even handsome.)

Mazda 3: 1st Gen to 2nd Gen

2008 BK Mazda 3 [image credit: wikipedia]2009 Mazda 3 [image credit: wikipedia]

Definitely a case of a lovely looking car hit with the fugly stick. Especially the hot MPS version, which is a real shame. The 2nd gen is bigger (which I think is a running theme here in this list) but looks gangly and is smiling like a doofus. Fail.

Nissan X-Trail: 1st Gen to 2nd Gen

2006 Nissan X-Trail [image credit: wikipedia]2010 Nissan X-Trail [image credit: caradvice.com.au]

OK when I said some of these cars weren’t that great looking before, I was talking about the X-Trail. The first version wasn’t pretty, but the second is fugly. And bulbous…it’s got a big arse.

Subaru Liberty: 4th Gen to 5th Gen

2007 BL Subaru Liberty [image credit: subaruliberty.com]2010 BM Subaru Liberty [image credit: wikicars.org]

Ahh the 4th gen Liberty, a really elegant design. But they had to make it fugly with the introduction of the lunchbox styling of the latest model. Sure it’s bigger, allowing Subaru to compete with the large sedans, wagons and SUVs in the family market, but it looks bad. I feel ill.

Holden Commodore: 3rd Gen to 4th Gen

2006 VZ Holden Commodore SS [image credit: drive.com.au]2009 VE Holden Commodore SS [image credit: drive.com.au]

The VZ was a refined evolution of the 3rd generation shape, a very nice looking vehicle. The VE that replaced it may be technically superior (it’s a “billion dollar design” after all) but it’s fugly. The HSV models based on the VE are much better looking, but the standard models look misshapen and boxy. I was disappoint.

Toyota Hilux: 6th Gen to 7th Gen

2007 Toyota Hilux [image credit: wikipedia]2008 Toyota Hilux [image credit: wikipedia]

Where I grew up, real men drove a Hilux. Preferably a 4WD dual cab version. And the 6th generation were nice a design. But they got well and truly fuglified with the next model, especially the 2WD versions which look tubby and moronic. You’d look a right berk doing donuts in a paddock in one of those!

Introducing “CIDeR” (or why I don’t like the term “usability testing”)

Almost three years ago I wrote stop calling it usability testing, essentially making the argument that the term “usability testing” has a lot of baggage and gets mistaken for other things.

I still don’t like using the term in most cases, and I’ll explain why. But in the intervening years I have come up with an alternative, which I’d like to share with you. Within the UX team here at NDM, I’ve been referring to user sessions as CIDeR (Collaborative Iterative Design Refinement) sessions. I’ve had some success in convincing my team-mates and the term is starting to permeate out into the business.

My colleague Lexi Thorn conducting a CIDeR session

Why CIDeR?

Typically our users are involved in our design process by way of a series of one-on-one sessions where users are shown stimuli of some kind, to elicit feedback. The purpose is to guide the design process and allow decisions to be made (usually) regarding the user interface. Successive rounds are used to allow the design to evolve based on user feedback, in effect making users collaborators in the design process.

Hence the name:

  • Collaborative – The user is an integral part of the process, as are our colleagues from other disciplines. This word also helps break down the ‘UX guy is expert’ and ‘participant is lab rat’ dynamic that can accumulate.
  • Iterative – The approach works best if it’s a process of constantly evolving the design or the idea. This word helps convey to the business that this isn’t a one shot deal, there will be several rounds of user involvement, with some thinking and designing in between.
  • Design – Typically these sessions are for the purpose of producing something tangible, whether it’s designing a website or a concept. This word grounds the name/description.
  • Refinement – We are working towards producing something. In conjunction with ‘iterative’ this word impresses upon people the fact this is a process, and in conjunction with ‘design’ it gives a sense of progress.

Oh, and of course there’s the added benefit of being able to say “let’s have some CIDeR and think it through” when the team reaches an impasse or isn’t sure how to proceed.

We involve users in our process in many other ways, from up-front ethnographic research through to large quantitative market research, and lots of things in between, but the bread and butter would be the CIDeR sessions. Hence it’s important for us to be clear what this work is and what it delivers—to our team but also to our business.

Why not “usability testing”?

There are four problems with the term usability testing as a label for the type of work done in a CIDeR session, some of which are refinements of the point I made last time:

  • Promises conclusive, definitive results – The term sounds too absolute. As you’d expect from “testing”, after all other types of testing deliver conclusiveness or they’re considered a failure.
  • Implies a focus on just the UI and usability – Much of what we do is more than usability of the user interface. We’re digging deeper, talking through preferences, perceptions. Part of this is due to the fact that for news products, the content is as much a part of the interface as the buttons, links, labels and code.
  • Suggests summative application – To many people, when you say “usability testing” they think that’s something to be done at the end, a validation exercise to make sure we can go live. This isn’t at all the case for most of the work our team does, which is more about exploration over time; a fluid process rather than check-list item.
  • Coloured by past experience – Any term that has been around for a while, and widely misunderstood or misused, will be horribly tainted by the experience stakeholders have had with things labelled with that term. This is certainly the case with “usability testing”. I often see this as a tendency towards quant; people expect task failure rates, ‘time on task’ and other rigid measurements and won’t give up on those kinds of outputs from our work. Again, these are rarely the things we are looking to obtain.

Don’t get me wrong, if you practice a method that does live up to all of these things, and you call it usability testing, good on you. Our team rarely does, so I don’t want to set an expectation in the minds of my stakeholders that that is what they’re going to get. We needed a new name.

How does CIDeR work with other techniques?

The CIDeR approach is qualitative and indicative, rather than conclusive. Which means that some findings (ie opinions, perceptions, propensity to buy/use) may not be representative of the larger population, and as such it is necessary to:

  1. exercise care in taking these findings on board, using them in the right way, and
  2. make use of quantitative methods, either before or after CIDeR, to determine the implications for the broader audience.

Sometimes a more formal method for involving users in the design process is used, which we do call “usability testing”. A more rigorous approach is taken to assessing how easily users are able use a given design, typically later in the design process. Because this technique is dealing strictly with usability, it is acknowledged that relatively small sample sizes (~5) can be used to draw conclusions about the usability of the design for the entire audience.

Questioning regarding opinions or propensity to buy/use, however, do require larger sample sizes. So, alongside both the CIDeR and “usability testing” methods, quantitative research may also be employed, typically to gauge reactions to a product proposition or design. This focuses more on supporting decision making at a product level as opposed to the design or user interface level.

“Pour me a glass!” or “Ewww that’s left a bitter taste”?

What do you think of the name CIDeR? Would you use it in place of the term usability testing? Why or why not? All feedback greatly appreciated.

(Originally posted to the USiT blog, reproduced here with some minor alterations)

the personal website of Patrick Kennedy