Mobile phone interfaces should get with the social times

The user interface employed by mobile phones has not adapted sufficiently to accommodate the communication needs of the average user in the 21st Century. But help is at hand from social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter that can serve as inspiration for designers of handheld devices looking to improve on the way we communicate.

So says Pieter Streicher, the managing director of, who maintains that “it is ridiculous that many aspects of the mobile phone user interface haven’t changed in ten years, especially when it comes to contact management and SMS functionality.”

As the mobile phone becomes more and more ingrained in our daily lives, and as it gets harder and harder to separate work from family and leisure time, designers and manufacturers need to help users with systems that categorise the types of content users are dealing with. Social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow users to manage their contacts, build lists and ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ people.

The creation of groups of contacts on mobile phones would allow people to separate work and leisure time. They would have the ability to respond to calls differently at different times, so if a work call is received after hours, it could be replied to via an SMS asking the caller to communicate via SMS. Similarly, social calls could be responded to by SMS during work hours, again requesting the caller rather send an SMS.

As with Facebook, users should be able to divide contacts into different groups, each with their own settings and preferences, adds Streicher. He would also like to see people having the ability to quickly and easily block callers on a once-off basis, or permanently. Or be able to discreetly fire off an SMS template to the caller if, for example, they are in a meeting and unable to take the call.

Some of this functionality is starting to appear on phones as third party applications, such as the Advanced Call Manager from Melon Mobile, but by and large, they aren’t fully integrated into the contact manager yet.

There was some hope a few months ago that the First Else from Emblaze, a new phone with a brand new operating system (OS) would be a game-changer, but that has come to nothing with the news last month that development of this smart phone has been shelved.

On the whole, handset design is lagging consumer behaviour and in particular, doesn’t take the popularity of text messaging into account.

Social networks have pointed the way to some fundamental improvements that should be made to all handset operating systems:

  1. Most handsets only offer the option to delete SMSs one-by-one, or to delete all of them. With message volumes increasing, an option to delete a list of selected messages, or a whole thread, would be very useful.
  2. Handsets need to begin offering users a fresh way to search the content on their phones. As more businesses use SMS to send customers important information, and as consumers use their handsets to download all sorts of information from maps to contact details, so should the search functionality be able to quickly and easily work across all applications to find the desired information.
  3. Delivery reports are currently handled very poorly by most handsets. The reports are stored separately to the messages, and usually only a limited number of reports are kept. These should be integrated with the sent message, allowing the user to quickly and easily see whether a message has been delivered, is pending, or has failed.
  4. While some smartphones like the the iPhone do allow you to list SMSs as a threaded conversation, similar to the way instant messaging (IM) software behaves, this capability should be introduced as a matter of course to better reflect how people use messaging.



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