Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Mobile App Usability Tale…

It’s often taken for granted that mobile apps are so simple that they don’t need online documentation or help. That may be true but it’s risky to assume that that’s always true. Here’s a case where it wasn’t.

There’s a game called Fruit Ninja (thanks, Sandra, I think…), also available on the iPhone. The object is to slice flying fruits in half with a sword, represented by your fingertip on the iPhone. The kicker is that the game periodically throws bombs at you. Slicing a bomb detonates it and ends the game.

I mentioned Fruit Ninja to a friend, who’ll remain nameless to spare him a lot of teasing (except from me, of course). I was on the phone with him last week and the subject turned to Fruit Ninja. He said it was fun but “what are you supposed to do with the damned bombs?”
It turned out that he had assumed that he was supposed to slice the bombs, like the fruit, but that there was a special way to do so to keep them from exploding. There isn’t. Hit them and they explode, period. I explained how to handle the bombs; he used several four-letter words, and said thanks…
I don’t want to read too much into this incident. This may be the only time it’s even happened. But this guy is a systems engineer for a large aerospace company, very bright, and he still misinterpreted the interface. My point is simply not to assume that everyone will understand how to use a mobile app.