Technology has made many great strides during my lifetime – from connecting people on opposite sides of the world to making it really, really easy to reserve a table without having to place a phone call. One new arena technology is starting to explore is the importance of context to end-users.
For example, I’ve noticed lately how efficiently I work through an overflowing inbox when I’m using my phone. Mobile phones are not an email-friendly medium – it’s hard to type naturally with only thumbs (although, some people have adapted well), the touch-screen keyboard is less accurate than a computer keyboard, and the relatively small window makes reading (and re-reading) my work less easy. And so I give myself permission to be succinct, responding with a few lines at most, cutting straight to the chase.
When I sit down to my desktop to work through my email, however, it’s a completely different experience. I feel like every email deserves to be a lengthy literary masterpiece, thoughtfully crafted, well-formatted and meticulously edited. Emails that could be answered quickly take minutes. Emails that need extra attention get stuck on the back burner, waiting for that magical day when I have enough time to say everything perfectly.
But when I open that same attention-needing email on my phone, I’m suddenly constrained by the small keyboard and my thick thumbs. So I respond, quickly, clearly and with brevity. Problem solved! My correspondents don’t seem to notice or care where my email was composed. And for me, it feels like a weight off my shoulders.
Email is email, no matter how I access it. But in one situation, I feel stressed and burdened by the responsibility, and in another, I feel free to be efficient. The only thing that has changed is the context. It leads me to wonder: What can desktop email clients learn from their mobile counterparts?
It also serves as a reminder to me of how important it is to consider users’ expectations and experiences across multiple media platforms when building software. Desktops and mobile devices may access the same information, but they are not alike. Each has a different feel and a different set of constraints. How does that affect the end product?
I hope we can one day start leveraging context to change user expectations on purpose. And I hope that day comes soon.Tweet
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