Many users confused by multiplicity of functions on modern gadgets
By Tobias Schormann Jan 8, 2006, 18:49 GMT
Stuttgart - Many of us, and not only the nostalgic, think back to the days when a telephone was just a telephone.
These days a mobile phone seems to be able to do just about anything - take photographs, play games, play back music and act as personal assistant.
But these small technological miracles also have their drawbacks. As they become more advanced they do not necessarily become more user-friendly.
'Modern everyday technology is often too complicated for the average user,' says Ralph Hinderberger, who heads a German association based in Stuttgart that investigates user-friendliness in modern hi-tech.
Hinderberger sees the main problem in what he calls 'featuritis' and describes it as a 'technology disease' that is currently rampant.
'The tendency is for manufacturers to build an increasing number of functions into ever smaller gadgets, and this simply confuses the user,' Hinderberger says.
Mobile phone users are often unable to find the basic applications they want to use because of the complexity of the menus they are confronted with.
This is revealed in a study entitled 'HandyERGO' conducted by the technical college in Gelsenkirchen in Germany in 2004.
In the study, almost two thirds of the more than 1,200 subjects failed to send a simple SMS using a strange mobile phone.
Another researcher in the field, Lothar Muehlbach of the Human Factors Test Centre in Berlin, smiles wearily at slogans like 'simplicity' and 'easy to use'.
He spends his time testing new devices for their usefulness and regularly finds that the designers of new gadgets make mistakes. Manufacturers are constantly seeking to increase the number of functions, but the serviceability of their devices tends to let them down.
Looking at new hi-fi at a recent Berlin trade fair, Muehlbach found it could save the contents of an entire collection of CDs, but the display was so small that it was impossible to read what had been saved.
Muehlbach believes that there is clear evidence that many devices are simply not designed to serve the requirements of the end-user.
'Older people in particular are often overwhelmed by modern devices like the mobile phone,' says Hartmut Wandke, a professor of psychology at Berlin's Humboldt University.
Many younger people also find themselves in a state of confusion and irritation when learning to use a new gadget or trying out a different function than the ones they normally used.
Wandke believes that a user-friendly system should be self- explanatory and intuitive, but the reality is that users of mobiles and digital cameras generally have to work their way through page after page of an unreadable manual and then to configure their new gadget.
Hinderberger believes that manufacturers put additional obstacles in the way of users by retaining specific characteristics in their devices that are different from those made by the competition.
They hope to retain customer loyalty by this means.
Some manufacturers have acknowledged the problem, Hinderberger believes, but a lot remains to be done.
Wandke agrees, but says it is largely up to the user who should look out for user-friendly technology.
When buying your next mobile or digital camera, ask yourself which function you really need, as less is often more in this case.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur