Apple iOS, Windows Phone 7 Win Usability Contest - InformationWeek

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8/9/2011
11:56 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Apple iOS, Windows Phone 7 Win Usability Contest

In an experiment with smartphone novices, Microsoft's WP7 and Apple's iOS mobile platforms outshine BlackBerry and Android, say Harvard researchers.

Professor Dennis Gallatta at the Harvard Human Factors in Design lab recently put together a simple series of tests concerning the usability of today's major smartphone platforms. In the test, Gallatta rounded up some people who have never used any of the four smartphone platforms and had them perform three basic tasks: make a call, add a contact, and send a text message.

The experiment, which was recorded and posted to YouTube and shared by WMPowerUser.com, has the novice users rate each task's difficulty level between 1 and 5. Tasks that scored a 5 were the easiest, and those that scored a 1 were the most difficult. In total, both Windows Phone 7 and iOS rated a score of 11 for the three tasks, with Android placing third with 9, and BlackBerry OS landing last with 8 points. The conclusion made by the researchers is that WP7 and iOS are "more usable" than the other two platforms.

Obviously this experiment has a number of limitations and other factors that should be considered before calling these results conclusive. First, the sample group is very small. Second, the test only includes three tasks and skips some of the more advanced features for which smartphones are known. What about opening the browser and surfing to a website, or browsing the app store, downloading an app, and then opening it? Or what about taking a picture and then sharing it on Facebook or Twitter? Those would seem to be good usability tests in my opinion, as they require multiple steps.

Despite the limitations of the experiment, it is interesting that Windows Phone 7, which has a pittance of the U.S. smartphone market, ranked as easy to use as Apple's iPhone software. If WP7 is that easy to use, why aren't more people adopting it?

Last week, InformationWeek's Paul McDougall reported that the overall share of Microsoft's mobile platform in the U.S. dropped from 8% in January to 5.8% by June. That includes sales of both Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile 6.x/5.x devices.

At the end of 2010, Microsoft said it had sold 1.5 million WP7 handsets. That represents the number of devices sold by Microsoft to carriers around the world, not the number of people who actually purchased handsets from those carriers. Microsoft didn't say how many people have bought its phones. By late January, Microsoft raised that initial number to 2 million. It has been quiet since then.

Analysts and industry watchers have been attempting to calculate the number of WP7 handsets sold to actual end-users, but no solid figures have emerged.

On August 1, Seattlepi.com reported that the total revenue of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division was $8.716 billion. The Xbox 360 was responsible for $8.103 billion of that figure, leaving just $613 million for the revenue brought in by both Windows Phone 7, and Microsoft's older Windows Mobile 5.x/6/x platforms, which continue to sell at the enterprise level.

Speaking personally, I find WP7 drastically easier to use than BlackBerry OS and Android OS. Microsoft has done some really great things with the platform, integrating features across the phone instead of leaving them isolated. Microsoft has also done a commendable job of rallying developers to support the platform.

Perhaps the upcoming Mango release will reinvigorate the public's interest in Windows Phone 7.

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