I love Gmail. I use it everyday. It’s the first thing I open whenever I launch my browser. I actually have several Gmail inboxes open at any single time–this includes my main “gmail.com” email and another Gmail for domains account. I also use the mobile Gmail application on my Nokia Series-60 phone. What I like is its seamless integration with Gmail features, like labels, seach functionality and address book. And since it’s a native Symbian application (and not Java), it’s fast.
But there’s one thing I don’t like about Gmail for mobile. Once you’re connected, it seems to assume you have a constant connection to the Internet. And therefore, in the even that I walk out of a WiFi hotspot’s range, my mobile phone incessantly asks me for a connection until either (1) I select a valid connection, (2) activate a new connection, or (3) turn off Gmail.
In case #1, I should be in an active WiFi hotspot, in the absence of which I have to resort to #2, which means I have to pay connection charges (minimal, but annoying if it accumulates unnecessarily). Since I don’t want to spend extra money on unnecessary connectivity, I often select option #3. However, since the software incessantly asks me for a connection, this usually involves some keypad calisthenics, which requires me to bring up the task manager, hit the “kill” button (the erase button on the S60) and hit the confirmation button. All this while shooing away the connection window every nanosecond or so.
What’s my point in all this? I think it’s all about a usability issue. These days, you would rarely see a piece of software that doesn’t bother you for an Internet connection to update something. In fact, most would rather just go ahead and initiate a connection without your knowledge. My issue here is about the software doing something on its own, and it’s something I would rather have it not do. Software these days are too smart that it makes you feel stupid. Sometimes you have to fight with it in order to maintain some semblance of control.
It makes me feel as if developers (and businesspeople who own the services) are assuming too much. Suddenly, everyone is assuming that we all have a running Internet connection wherever we go, whatever time it is, and that we don’t care how much we spend. Well, some of us want to keep our privacy, thank you. We want to be able to control when we get online, how we get online, and how much we spend getting online.
This would be a good question to ask yourself when you’re in the process of developing an application, or just about any business (online or offline). Do you assume too much? Do you do too much of the thinking for your clients or intended userbase? Is everything becoming too automated that manual intervention would suddenly become tedious and cumbersome?
Don’t take anything for granted. Just because you’re overflowing with bandwidth doesn’t mean everyone else is enjoying the same connectivity. Just because you have massive processing power doesn’t mean everyone else’s computer is fast.
This is the core of most usability tests–try to drop all assumptions and take take things afresh. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your intended client. Try to see things from the perspective of someone who knows nothing . Try to put yourself in his situation. Will your application or service still be as cool, interesting and usable as it is from your own point of view?
Oftentimes, it’s looking from outside that we can see as objectively as possible. When you assume too much, you tend to narrow your field of vision too much, and you could lose sight of the more important things.