Mobile Youth Report (OTA ’09)

The DragonsI was invited to run a session at a mobile developers conference Over the Air (OTA’09) by Daniel Appelquist. I saw a great opportunity to bring a panel of teenagers in and give the conference attendees an opportunity to pitch the Dragons – after all, feedback is a gift!

The Panel (pictured here) are Nick (17, nearly 18), Rachel (17), Sophie (14), Aidan (14, nearly 15) and Peter (13). All live within the M25and are well educated mobile-savvy Teenage Dragons. See link here for more pictures of the session aswell as the “people, places and things I like” presentations that they each put together prior to the session:

The products that were pitched were
1. Locomatrix – a mobile, outdoor, gaming platform that allows users to design their own games. ‘Jumpers for goalposts for the Wii generation… Bringing gaming back outside’

2. Qootia – interactive digital signage platform that enables user interaction with content on big displays – i.e. moving on from traditional billboards, advertisers can deliver messages that viewers can interact with using their mobile phones

3. Wikitude from Mobilizy – presents the user with data about their surroundings, nearby landmarks, and other points of interest by overlaying information on the real-time camera view of a smart-phone (with a touch screen). “Geo-tag the world”

4. Traveline / Next Buses – gives the next bus times anywhere in Scotland, England and Wales straight to the mobile phone

Before I share the insights with you, I must point out that this was a sample of 5 teenagers – all rather well – heeled! In addition, the users viewed demos of the products rather than being able to try them out themselves. These insights help to deepen our user understanding but must not be used to make broad statements about what teenage users want. This is a good starting point for further insight gathering activities – user design workshops especially.

1. Useful won over Entertaining
Whenever I review digital products I advise that the offering should be highly useful, highly entertaining, or preferably both – a useful product must still offer an entertaining user interface. The highest ranked products in this session were the Next Buses / Traveline service and Wikitude.
– Sophie thought that everyone she knew would use the Wikitude service as it was so useful
– Nick said the Next Buses service was “a good idea and practical”

2. The importance of the user experience
Our current teen generation have grown up with technological innovations and as such, they have experienced some poor experiences with early lifecycle products. If the user experience is too clunky, slow or laborious, they will quickly give up trying and move on. For each of the products, questions were raised about how they would start using the offering and how much they cost. Katrina commented in her documentation of the session that “although apt at figuring out gadgets for themselves, quick, visual instructions that clearly illustrate concepts and functionality are key to capturing teens’ attention.”
– Peter asked about Locomatrix “Why would I pay for an application for a game I can just make up/imagine for myself?”
– Peter was also concerned that some of the applications would only work on certain phones.
– Rachel commented that she would be unlikely to take her phone out while she was waiting at the bus stop as she didn’t want to be mugged

3. The teens were good at building on the ideas that were presented
I am a firm believer in facilitating end users to help companies build out their offering and keeping users engaged throughout the whole development process. This panel had good ideas for each of the products presented to them and I would recommend further innovation & design workshops with the teens to flesh out the ideas further.
– Aidan suggested that Traveline/Next bus “would be more useful if you could link it to live updates across all other forms of public transport; most of my friends use Tube, trains and buses and often a combination of 2 or more for a single journey”
– Nick suggested that the Traveline/Next bus should “add a countdown system” and also that Wikitude should add “user feedback and comments” to make the content more engaging and social.

4. Some apprehension towards the overlay of the virtual in to the real world
– On the winning application – Wikitude, Nick commented that “The beauty of travel to new places is the fun of exploring and discovering new places. Doesn’t this app take away the authenticity of that experience?”
– This challenge was echoed by Aidan with regard to the Locomatrix offering: “Why would we go outdoors to play a lo-tech mobile game when we have amazing visually and intellectually challenging computer games?”
– Nick was also concerned about taking virtual gaming outside (Locomatrix) “doesn’t that contradict the whole idea of bringing reality out from behind the screen?”

5. Be Cool!
Peter was concerned over the Locomatrix offering – “it wouldn’t look cool to be gaming outdoors”. He suggested that it could work better with a younger age group. Rachel thought some of the video presentations for the products were “very cool”, however it did not distract her from questioning the presenters on the content and usability. Once again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to engage your potential users and ask them what they think is cool. We oldies often get it wrong!

6. Reality hit for offerings where users can build their own games
There are some great examples from the virtual gaming space of users creating content – a great recent example I have seen is Roblox. Aside from the necessity to make the user interface really intuitive, it must be remembered that the majority of users will consume the offering that is presented to them while a smaller group engage in the creation of content. When I reference “building content”, I mean to the degree that Locomatrix enables users to build their own games rather than the lower level of self-expression when for example users choose items from virtual stores for their avatars. This was reflected in this teen panel, where one of the teens seemed to like the idea of creating his own games and the others were rather confused.

Katrina, who was documenting this session, puts this well as she considers Screen wars: Consoles v Mobile Apps: “Modern day teens into gaming have been brought up on Sony PS, X-box and Nintendo and have become accustomed to:
– HD graphics and cutting-edge technology as standard computer game issue.
– “Intelligent” games/challenges with increasing levels of difficulty.
– Having their pick from a wide range and variety of games designed FOR them.
While mobile gaming apps can’t (yet) match the high-tech specs of console games, they need to offer something else to attract and sustain the attention of a demanding teen gaming community. Moreover, how much does this target market actually want to be involved in co-creating a game when off-the-shelf professional games are quick and easy to access, relatively affordable and easy to use?”

7. Don’t pull the wool over their eyes!

Most of the teen panel struggled with the idea of Qootia. From previous insight sessions that I have run, today’s teens are really savvy and they are prepared to openly engage with brands if they feel the benefit of doing so and/or if they think the brand/product is “cool”. Tomaz from Qootia was pushed by the panel who were trying to understand the offering and he did suggest that it could be “useful for finding ‘lost’ friends at music festivals or for killing time while waiting at the bus stop”. They got that, but they still couldn’t quite understand what the user experience would be. It would have come to life for them if a clear scenario had been presented, for example, a multi-player big screen game brought to you by a particular brand advertiser where users could work their character in the game using their mobile. Suggest that someone sponsors me to run a further session in to mobile and digital advertising as it would be fascinating to get teens views in this area – I have good insight from the virtual world environment.

8. Blackberry vs iPhone
The two older teens were devoted to their blackberries and the younger teens desperately wanted iPhones. From research that I ran over a year ago, the blackberry was storming the teen market because of free Instant Messaging and ease of using facebook. The adult debates around platforms were echoed by the teens as Peter expressed frustration about Wikitude “Most teens don’t have an Android or iPhone”. One of the panel further quizzed the presenter of Wikitude about why handset manufacturers can’t include a compass and location based services in their handsets.

Audience Feedback
The session was very well received by the audience with comments like “…Teens asking great questions – answers are less clear…this kids panel is better than venture capitalists when it comes to grilling the presenters…strong feeling people are better at communicating their technology rather than the benefits and uses of it…best tips on product marketing and development that I have heard in a while…”

Panel Feedback
The panel continued to mix with presenters and attendees after the sessions having great discussions around the business models, careers in the developer industry and how to pitch effectively to the youth market. They got to practice giving constructive feedback (as “I like it / don’t like it” was not an acceptable answer!) and while they were nervous about being in front of an audience, they really seemed to enjoy and revel in the opportunity to speak publicly and have their views heard. Infact, the audience were hanging off their every word! The parents that accompanied their teens on the day all felt that it had been a great development experience and all were keen to be involved in further sessions.

Presenters Feedback
Each presenter received atleast one piece of teen feedback on their product that surprised them – some smacked their forehead in disbelief that they hadn’t thought of it earlier! Each agreed that it was really worth engaging users and realised how easy it can be to do so – (with experienced facilitation of course!).

Thanks to Katrina Damianou for documenting this session and to Sam Easterby-Smith for taking the pictures.

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