Open Question: How important is a mobile device's "feel"?

The limitations of mobile seem to put the focus on interaction, not tech specs.

Open QuestionWhether you buy into Apple’s “post-PC” spin, the rise of mobile computing does seem to shift the perspective from raw tech specs to overall experience. That’s likely born from mobile’s obstacles: it’s harder to text than type, it’s harder to swipe than click, and it’s harder to scan when your big beautiful monitor has been replaced by a mini screen. The sheer horsepower of a mobile device doesn’t mean much if you can’t interact with the thing.

Most of us have adapted to mobile methods. Our thumbs are nimble and our swipes are filled with purpose. But it’s also clear — to me at least — that adaptation is only part of the equation: a good mobile experience is connected to the overall “feel” for a device. (Note: My definition of feel goes beyond hardware. The speed, responsiveness and elegance of the software shape my opinion of a device.)

Am I alone in this thinking? That’s what I hope to find out through the following questions:

  • When considering a mobile device (phone or tablet), how much importance do you place on technical specifications?
  • How about the device’s overall feel — does that factor into your decision?
  • Do you have to hold and interact with a mobile device before purchasing it?
  • In your experience, which mobile devices have the best feel? Which have the worst?

Please weigh in through the comments.

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  • Noibs Guy

    The answers to your questions are not as important as the sample of people who respond. People who read Web columns like this want to believe they are the be-all and end-all of consumer tech gadgets.

    Unfortunately for them, Apple has demonstrated that if you want to generate mega profits for your stockholders, that market segment is not very important.

    Specifically, people who spend time on the Web reading geek columns pay a lot of attention to hardware specs and hardware performance. Regular people just want to do things with their mobile devices in the easiest, most intuitive way possible. There are magnitudes more “regular people” than there are tech geeks.

    Example: Apple current crop of MacBook Airs were the best selling Apple notebook computer in the previous quarter, despite having second or third generation CPUs. They are still selling very, very well. The people who buy them just want something light, quick and elegant with the easy-to-use Mac OS X, and don’t pay much attention to the CPU used. Geeks, on the other hand, continue to disrespect the Airs because of their CPUs.

    So, the extended answer to your question is that for the people that count (in terms of profit margins), it’s all about the “feel” of the device and much less about the tech specs. Another example: Geeks hate the low resolution of the front camera on the new iPad. Regular people love the device and they are selling like hotcakes.

  • monopole

    I’d segment “feel” and “experience” into two segments “selling” and “day-to-day”.

    The selling experience is all the wizzy bits which are impressive in store and in the initial out of box experience. (The packaging is arguably the perfect example of this) This includes all the eye catching features apps you never use a second time (other than to impress friends).

    The day-to-day experience corresponds to the what happens when the honeymoon is over and you get down to real work. Often, at that point, the wizzy bits which were so impressive in the store become useless or outright annoying. On the other hand features and weak points that get used everyday are appreciated.

    The discordance between the selling experience and day-to-day experience will become more apparent as we progress into ubiquitous computing in which the hardware and software will seek demand the least attention.

  • marketing still always wins… people wont feel/see/buy unless you can capture their imagination. many better products in all segments have failed due to not winning over market attention.

    wrt ‘feel’ however, my personal preferences are intuitive interface and adaptive screen visibility.

    Yes, apple (and others), that means visibility in sunlight. If not from all angles then ability to view with minimal adjustment. It means not feeling like you are getting retinal burn from reflected light. It means taking ownership of font size adjustments when displaying content.

    Nokia had the UI right way back when but seem to have lost it of late, at least on the N8. Apple seems to be winning presently. It is about the right kind of access for functionality based on need and know-how. Just because a device is able to do something new doesnt mean it has to be front and center. Provide a demo mode to show what can be done and how to get access.

    Oh yeah, sometimes all we need is a text editor. Waiting to load the entire OS and/or burning the battery up with all sorts of whizz-bang is crazily counter-intuitive.

  • There was two technological/market “vectors”, that impulsed me to start iFacturas to build billing apps for iPhone and WP7. And made me convince people to join the ranks, and take a risk together with me.

    The first was iPhone 3GS – I felt that this version made touch UI feeling right. With a smoothness I could imagine bills being swiped.

    The other was Microsoft SQL Azure.

    So yes, the feel is utterly important!