Sanyo cell phone for Sprint Nextel
“[American] consumers last year paid $8.6 billion for so-called data applications on their phones, up 86 percent from the year before, according to wireless trade group CTIA.

But they’ve also shown a growing frustration with how confusing those added features can be. A J.D. Power & Associates survey last year found consumer satisfaction with their mobile devices has declined since 2003, with some of the largest drops linked to user interface for Internet and e-mail services.

That has providers working hard to make their devices easier to use — fewer steps, brighter and less cluttered screens, different pricing strategies — so consumers will not only use data functions more often but also be encouraged to buy additional ones. […]

“IPod was not the first MP3 player on the market, but once they figured it out (the user interface), they became the predominant one overnight,” said Michael Coffey, vice president of user-experience design at Sprint Nextel. “Whether you make it a marketing message or not, the public will discover that usability and choose your product over a competitor’s.”

Charles Golvin of Forrester Research said a recent survey indicated few cellular customers choose a phone based on its usability, typically because they either don’t think there’s anything better or don’t think they need those services.

But Golvin said for the market to truly grow, the programs and phones themselves are going to have to become more graceful and not just the purview of tech-junkies.

“Early adopters are less retarded by the user interface,” he said. “As we’re moving from the early adopters to the more mainstream customers, it will make a huge difference.”

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