Friday Nov 02, 2012

Feeling Old? Before Middleware, Gamification, and MacBook Airs

Think we're done with green screens in the enterprise apps world?

Fusion User Experience Advocate Debra Lilley (@debralilley) drew my attention to this super retro iPad terminal emulator app being used by a colleague to connect to JDE. Yes, before Middleware, this is how you did it. Surely the ultimate in hipster retro coexistence? Mind you, I've had to explain to lots of people I showed this to just what Telnet and IBM AS/400 are (or were).


TN5250 Telnet iPad App

MochaSoft TN5250 Terminal Emulator iPad App

This OG way of connecting to apps is a timely reminder not to forget all those legacy apps out there and the UX aspect to adoption and change. If a solution already works well and there's an emotional attachment to it, then the path to upgrade needs to be very clear and have valuable and demonstrable ROI for users and decision makers, a path that spans emotion and business benefits. On a pure usability front, that old school charm of the character-based green glow look 'n' feel could be easily done as a skin, personalizing an application for the user so that they feel comfortable with it. Fun too particularly in the mobile and BYOD space!

In fact, there is a thriving retro apps market out there as illustrated by this spiffy lunar lander app (hat tip: John Cartan), part of a whole set of Atari's greatest hits available for iOS.


Lunar Lander App

Lunar Lander App

And of course, there's the iOS version of Pong.

Check out this retro Apple Mac SE/30 too. I actually remember using one of these. I have an Apple Mac Plus somewhere in my parents' house. I tried it out recently, and it actually booted, although all it was good for was playing the onboard games.

Looking at all these olde worlde things makes me feel very old, but kinda warm inside too. The latter is a key part of today's applications user experience too.

Thursday Sep 30, 2010

No More Fart Apps. Would We Ever?

I loved Lucy Kellaway's (she of the Financial Times) article "Words to describe the glory of Apple" comparing the language style used by Apple and Microsoft and wondering if language style impacts the bottom line. If you don't want to register for the article, then the podcast version is here.

iFart Screen

Ms Kellaway tells us that Apple's language makes for content that is "fun to read", "elegant", and "makes you laugh". It has a tone that is "direct', 'comic", and "elegantly threatening". She contrasts this with the Microsoft language used for the new version of Internet Explorer, "architected to run HTML5, the beta enables developers to utililize standardized markup language across multiple browsers" and the rest. This is "standard stuff" from Microsoft, and Luce is "irritated", "bored", "alienated", and "restless" with it.

Actually, I think the article is unfair to Microsoft, who do care about language and the example used is not representative of language used in other Microsoft products - games, for example. Plus, the audience for their words is different to Apple's; basically it's a marketing pitch to Microsoft's partners, encouraging uptake of a beta release.

The Apple language that Ms Kellaway admires is taken from the App Store Review Guidelines (full PDF version); a set of guidelines more likely to be read by geek and hobbyist developers working from home than the corporate equivalents. Such language is not used in other Apple products themselves. In fact, language quality is not an acceptance criterion for App Store submissions at all. That of course, is telling in itself. Why not let the market, the users, decide on the language? In line with this, the Human Interface Guidelines from Apple for the iPhone has a common sense approach to language style. For example:

In all your text-based communication with users, be sure to use user-centric terminology; in particular, avoid technical jargon in the user interface. Use what you know about your users to determine whether the words and phrases you plan to use are appropriate.

For example, the Wi-Fi Networks preferences screen uses clear, nontechnical language to describe how the device connects to networks. Very reasonable from a user experience perspective. But, then Lucy says: "You might think there was a clear commercial advantage to be had in writing clearly and stylishly. But you would be wrong."

Not quite. There is a relationship, though it may not be all that visible to key decision-makers. That's because the commercial advantage does not come from writing clearly or stylishly per se, but its application. It comes from writing content that users actually want, in a way that they can understand, using terms and language that suits them; and that facilitates easy search and retrieval. The result is a quicker transfer and comprehension of information leading to better productivity for users and less training and support costs. And that's a competitive advantage.

In the enterprise applications space the opportunities for a product language tone that is "fun", "comic", or "elegantly threatening" doesn't exist in the same way it does for the iPhone app development community (and let's face it - for all the BS about the iPhone - most apps are little better than free low-tech toys designed by rank amateurs).

But that's not the point. The point is the language should suit the audience for the information. We need to spend less time worrying about our internal language style and all its nuances and rules and concentrate more on how users - our customers - themselves want it to be, and actually use it. Bringing terminology in line with user expectations and concentrating on a few basic writing principles grounded in research on information search, retrieval, consumption, and problem-solving would yield far better bottom line results than fretting about a rigorous adherence to every single aspect of a style guide for no other reason than it's there.

Tuesday Apr 13, 2010

iPad and User Assistance

What possibilities does the iPad over for user assistance in the enterprise space? We will research the possibilities but I can see a number of possibilities already for remote workers who need access to trouble-shooting information on-site, implementers who need reference information and diagrams, business analysts or technical users accessing reports and dashboards for metrics or issues, functional users who need org charts and other data visualizations, and so on. It could also open up more possibilities for collaborative problem solving.

User assistance content can take advantage of the device's superb display, graphics capability, connectivity, and long battery life. The possibility of opening up more innovative user assistance (UA) solutions (such as the opportunities afforded by the natural UI or maximizing graphical UA possibilities like comics) is an exciting one for everyone in the UX space. Aligned to this possibility we need to research how users would use the device as they work.

About

Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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