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Why Mobile Devices Are Used Differently in Asia

IDEO’s Moggridge shows that design always comes down to human behavior.
September 23, 2009

I’ve often heard makers of mobile applications and devices at conferences in the United States talk about all that’s done in Asia, but efforts to port similar technologies to the States never seem to work. For example, Sky Dayton’s company, Helio, had a cool device and a partnership with powerful Asian operator Docomo, yet their technology could not take off.

In a talk today at EmTech@MIT 2009, Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, outlined some of the difficult considerations that go into designing for a connected world. As always, user behavior proves to be king. In Asia, he noted, many people have long commutes in situations where it would be rude to talk or make noise. The commutes, however, are perfect for fiddling with buttons and learning complex mobile apps. Moggridge attributes the popularity of certain types of text-heavy mobile apps to this ultimately behavioral condition.

In the United States, Moggridge sees nearly the opposite situation. People in the U.S. are likely to have long car commutes, where fiddling with buttons would be dangerous, but they can talk to their hearts’ content.

He concludes that developers who want to transfer technologies between cultures need to consider behavioral differences, and they need to be sure to test with users.

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