The “User Experience” on Mobile Handsets
There has been a lot of media attention recently on the “user experience” for handsets. Much of this attention, of course, originated with Apple’s iPhone.
More recent excitement was generated during the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona with the launch of Google’s Android open source operating system and software platform for mobile phones and Sony/Ericsson’s XPERIA X1 for the convergence of communication and entertainment. These new entries promise to transform how consumers use data services on 3G and 4G networks with exceptional user interfaces that drastically improve the usability of data services driven by applications such as web browsing, interactive messaging, mapping and navigation, music, and of course video. Just as graphical user interfaces on personal computers transformed how personal computers were used; the same type of transformation is now occurring with mobile handsets (see Android demo at the end of this post).
Case in point: During his keynote at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega stated that “51 percent of iPhone owners have watched a YouTube video.”
This is one sound bite that clearly demonstrates how changes in the user interface on the handset impact the user experience. Just like YouTube, most of these new applications are “open” IP-based applications which, in fact, are supported by packet data services on the mobile network. Indeed, improved usability will drive usage. However, unlike the early personal computers which saw an increase memory usage and CPU cycles, new applications and interfaces on the handset means increased usage on the packet data network. Already, data traffic on the data packet network has quadrupled over the past year alone. Expect non-linear growth when new handsets supporting a wide-array of IP-based applications come to mass market adoption, especially when bandwidth-hogging applications like BitTorrent become more widely used.
So the near future of traffic will be a variety of real time and non-real time applications. Some of these applications will behave fair; some, just as in wireline networks, will not. We’ve generated reports on cell site traffic that show how a single BitTorrent subscriber can “hog” the radio bandwidth at the service expense of currently active users on the same cell site.
Regardless of how fancy the user interface is on handsets, the underlying network infrastructure has to deliver the applications fairly and with the service quality expected. The mobile packet data network has to move to a more dynamic and intelligent network, in order to ensure the user experience of these new handsets. Service fairness includes dynamically adapting to network traffic conditions, instantaneously, and delivering IP-based application services on individual subscriber basis.
So, in my opinion, whenever there is a discussion about the user experience there must be an accompanying discussion on how the mobile network will deliver these new applications. How the network ensures fairness and service quality of applications and services, on an individual subscriber handset basis is at the heart of delivering and meeting the demands and consumer expectations of the “user experience” on mobile devices.