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When you go to the Editors Picks in the iOS App Store, you assume you’re getting the best. But what qualifies an app to be “best”? Is it sales? Design? Fun factor? Verizon thinks that’s all a bunch of mushy crap that users don’t care about. The mobile carrier has started curating its own best-in-class app lists, using criteria that do matter to its customers: Will this app max out my data plan? Will it kill my battery? Will it get me hacked? 

Don’t look now, but specs are back—with mobile user experience as their trojan horse.

I’ve long believed that all technology solutions are, at their core, user-experience solutions. When TechCrunch declared the death of the tech spec a couple years ago, they had a point. PCs had passed an engineering threshold (in their opinion) above which all further technical optimization was essentially invisible to the mainstream user. All laptops are fast enough, light enough, and have a long enough battery life, so the fine print doesn’t matter to consumers anymore. 

That argument has its holes, but it has a lot more when applied to mobile devices. In a way, specs are still invisible when you go to buy a smartphone—people mostly just seem to want the latest one, whether it’s iOS, Android, or other. But when your usage patterns bump up against hard, wallet-hitting constraints like your data plan—or compromise your personal sense of security, like a hacking incident or a dead battery in an unfamiliar neighborhood would—then, suddenly, specs might matter to you again. 

Of course, a numbered ranking or curated list is much easier to understand than a glob of technical fine print. All the more reason to “surface” specs in this way—and all the more reason for an independent organization, rather than Verizon, to do it. Flattening tech specs into understandable, actionable user-experience outcomes—isn’t this what Consumer Reports used to do?

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Tagged: Computing, Communications, Mobile

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