Thursday, January 23, 2020

Usability Matters for the Surface Neo and the Surface Duo

Concept images of Surface Neo and Surfsce Duo devices


In my book (Usability Matters), I cover details about identifying reasons for building apps and planning app development.

Before the new surface devices arrive and trying to avoid the hype, in this post, I want to use the structure and pointers from the book to highlight important areas about which to think.

Assuming you have an existing app and are thinking about adjusting it for these new devices.

Are these devices going to be available where your users are?
These devices are unlikely to be available globally when launched, or even in a few months after. Using the launch of previous Surface devices as a guide, expect them in North America and parts of Western Europe first. If that's not where your users are, then you may be able to wait and learn from the real experiences of others before needing to do work yourself.

Are your users likely to get these devices?
I don't know anyone who reasonably expects these devices to be cheap. They're new, cutting edge devices pushing the boundaries. Such devices aren't something that usually comes cheap. Other Surface devices do not have price tags that make them accessible to everyone. It's tough for device manufacturers to make money from selling devices*, and this also points to an expected higher price point.
If your users aren't already using high-end devices, it's unlikely that they'll start using these devices (or similar) as soon as they're released.

* As an aside, I heard recently of a manufacturer planning to leave the handset business as it is so hard for them to make money.

Will the devices provide opportunities appropriate for your app and users?
At the moment, it's hard to know. What will happen when "real people" get to use these devices? Will they use them in the ways you or Microsoft expect? You will need to research to find this out. While this may not be possible for you yet, what you can do is make sure you understand what your current users are doing. To do so will require adding usage analytics into your app if you don't have them already. 

What is your goal in attempting to understand and develop for these devices?
  • Is it curiosity?
  • Are you a Microsoft fan who is only interested as this is something they're doing?
  • Do you aim to ensure an adequate experience when someone uses your app on such devices?
  • Do you hope to take advantage of the unique opportunities the new form factors will provide in terms of ways of working or using a device?
  • Or, are you looking for a possible boost from being one of a (potentially) small number of apps specifically built or updated to work with these new devices upon their launch?
If you understand your motivation, you'll be able to work towards achieving the related goals. It'll also help you avoid setting inappropriate goals or retrospectively thinking you were setting yourself up for a different possible outcome.

What can you learn from other, existing, two-screen devices?
While there will be differences between the Surface devices and what's currently on the market, there are lessons that can be learned from the similarities or otherwise.

How might you need to think about redesigning different screens for larger sizes?
Do you need to think about dynamic layouts, different orientations, or assets of different sizes?
Will you need to make any changes to your existing logic regarding assumptions about devices based on screen sizes, the number of screens, or device input?

Have you thought about your expectations?
Document your expectations. Then you can act accordingly. Check how they reflect reality or need adjusting as more information comes out.

How are you planning for these new devices and being ready for them?
Set aside times and monitor timelines to learn about, research, and experiment with them. Think about how SDKs, tools, emulators, controls, design concepts, device specs, and announcements about distribution and availability.


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