iPhone doesn’t allow you to change the default hotspot name easily

Problem

We had a power outage at work and even though my work laptop has a battery but the wifi network needs electricity to work. After a few minutes of internet suffocation, I decided to share the internet on my iPhone and keep working. But it was then that I discovered iPhone wasn’t really built with the ambition of being in everybody’s hand. My company has an interesting policy of giving every employee an iPhone and apparently I wasn’t the only one who was sharing his phone’s internet. So I saw something like this when trying to connect my Mac to my iPhone:

Image

Everybody sharing their iPhone hotspot

Good for Apple, I felt like this:

Image

iPhone hotspots everywhere

So naturally I went to the most logical place to change the hotspot name to something customised in order to find it. But there’s no such settings:

Image

iPhone personal hotspot settings

There’s no such setting so the first thing I do after being connected to the Internet is search for how can it be done. Turns out you have to change your phone’s name in order to change the hotspot’s name. It may sound logical but is pretty limiting. See how HTC One allows you to choose your hotspot name (needless to say this opens up in hotspot settings where it belongs):

Image

HTC One hotspot settings

But for iPhone, you’re supposed to leave the hotspot settings, go to General > About and chance your phone’s name:

Image

iPhone 7 change name

A little unexpected but as a user put it “let down by apple yet again! i jailbroke my iphone 4 n installed an app called myWi it allows you to change ssid” (source).

The irony is that Apple is famous for paying attention to user experience but in practice there are many simple cases like this that are problematic.

Solution

Allow the users to edit their hotspot SSID name in the settings of Personal Hotspot.

HTC Sense Pushes Minimalism too far

Problem

HTC has customised the standard Android user interface with its proprietary product called Sense. This probably gives a competitive edge to HTC products, but it also introduces a level of independence from mainstream standards to HTC designers. This is powerful, but as I always say “with power comes corruption” and this one is no exception. Being the proud owner of various top HTC phones for the past 6 years, I feel disappointed about the recent bold decisions in the design of their flagship product HTC One.

The problem is that HTC designers have decided to remove one of the 3 crucial Android controls from the bottom of the screen. Most android phones have these 3 buttons as seen in the following image:

Image

From left to right they are:

  • Back: goes to the previous screen (or activity in Android programming terminology)
  • Home: returns you back to the home screen where you can see your desktop, widgets and run programs
  • Switch app: allows you to switch between running apps, kinda like ALT+TAB on PC or CMD+TAB on Mac.

Now somehow HTC designers figured out that they can remove the “Switch app” button and make room for their logo instead. The user is expected to double tap the home button in order to switch between apps. By the way the above image is from HTC One X, that is the father of HTC One. So here is how HTC One’s buttons look like:

Image

In the latest HTC phones you are supposed to double tab the home button quickly to be able to switch between apps. That is nothing new. iPhone works exactly the same. However, this has three issues:

  1. This behaviour is not consistent with other Android phones
  2. This introduces a mapping issue where two irrelevant actions are mapped to one control
  3. After 4 months of using this phone I still haven’t got used to double-tapping the right bottom corner of my phone so often so I have to use two hands (and have dropped the phone enough to justify spending 200 SEK on a protective shell)

Solution

The obvious solution is to return the Switch app button. There is a reason it was there, and let’s face it, removing a button to open up space for the logo isn’t the best way to keep the customers happy. Nor is it the best example of minimalist design.

Another solution would be to have the “Home” functionality when the user presses on the HTC logo while the Switch button is back to where it was before. So again we’ll have three buttons but the home button is “covered” with the HTC logo. That is an acceptable for the users. It’s not the best interaction but it’s still better than what we have now.

You can’t turn off the shutter sound in iPhone

Note: this article is a part of the series iOS issues.

Problem

There is no way to remove the shutter sound on an iPhone except putting the phone into silence mode! This makes a relation between two irrelevant features: your phone’s ring tone and notification sounds will be controlled by the same button that you are forced to use for shutting up the camera. If you take a photo in silent mode and forget to turn on the sound, you will probably miss your calls or notifications. If you remember to turn on the sound, you may take the next photo with the shutter sound.

A lot of people have this issue. And the only way they have found is to put the phone into silent mode. The main issue is using the same control for two different functions. This is a mapping problem.

Some people pointed out that phone companies have to embed the shutter sound by law in certain countries. Well the fact that they allow silencing it, is contradictory to this compliance.

Probably the reason is to make a sound so people will notice if you are taking a photo of them. But what if you are not taking a photo of them? From my personal experience, you’ll most probably annoy people around you when taking a photo. For example:

  • in a library you are taking a photo from a book title or magazine to read later
  • in the classroom when you want to take note from the whiteboard instead of wasting time re-writing it at the same time the teacher is teaching it
  • in the coffee shop when you want to take a photo from your receipt for archive reason
  • in your kids bedroom when you want to take a photo of your dearest while they are asleep
  • or just documenting a crime without taking getting attention or being a victim to it

There can be many other scenarios where you need to take a photo silently, but you can’t disable one of your phone’s core functionalities and remember to turn it on after that!

Solution

Add an option for turning off the camera shutter sound. Ideally with a drop down menu that allows changing the sound and silencing it.

Rebtel Android app doesn’t remember the mobile phone number

Problem

About two weeks ago as soon as I arrived at work one of my colleagues called me to blog about an annoying issue that he was experiencing with a mobile app called Rebtel. Apparently his multiple support calls only led him to believe that they don’t understand his issue, so he asked me if I can have one of these visual guides to the problem so that he can show it to the support. I was more than happy to hear his story but that day I learned something new: little detail can make a huge difference. Now let’s see what it was.

Rebtel is a cheap international call service (Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee that it will be really cheap as many users have been complaining about it). It has a mobile application that allows you to call and send SMS over the Internet. My colleague decided to give it a try and that is how lots of misunderstandings with his girlfriend started.

He has several numbers from his girlfriend but he doesn’t remember which one is the mobile phone. Rebtel has two user interaction flows for sending SMS:

  • from the contact list
  • from the SMS tab

In order to send SMS from the main contact list, open the Contacts tab of the application and first search for a name:

Finding a contact in Rebtel Android application

Then open the contact and choose Send SMS from the list:

Sending an SMS to a contact from the contact list in Rebtel Android application

Rebtel shows you a list of numbers and you have to choose one of them for sending SMS:

Rebtel asks you to choose the number for sending an SMS

OK, here is the glitch: from programmers’ perspective at this stage user is supposed to choose a phone and then he will go to the screen for writing SMS. But it’s not all that simple. The user doesn’t know which one is a number he can send SMS to. My colleague said that there were several occasions where he sent an SMS but didn’t get any reply and it created a lot of confusion but then later he found out that he didn’t send the SMS to her mobile number. This issue is not only for Rebtel. It can happen for regular mobile phones as well because it’s basically the same flow. The user has to remember which of these numbers are a mobile phone. Unfortunately it is not very easy to identify a mobile phone number from another country so easily. But it can be argued that you must at least remember those numbers for your girlfriend. I’m not sure if everyone can remember international numbers! Not my colleague at least! That is the idea behind labels and titles for each phone number in contact information. So let’s see what happens for the other SMS-sending interaction flow. You go to the SMS tab:

Sending SMS from Rebtel application

Then you touch that little blue contact button to find your contact. But there is a little different in this interaction flow! The list has a default number:

List of numbers for sending SMS to a contact from SMS tab of Rebtel android app

It can mean: the programmers of Rebtel android application could show a default number even in the other SMS-sending interaction flow but for whatever reason they don’t. But wait a minute. I had to try it by myself. I took the phone and clicked on the name of various contacts to see what is this default number based upon? I couldn’t find any pattern. For some contacts it chose a mobile phone number and for some it chose a land line number. In other words, this default number feature was just an illusion adding to the confusion of using this app.

I went a little further and actually set the default number on a contact. Then closed it and opened it again and tada: it forgot my choice and jumped to the wrong default number that Rebtel suggested. In other words, there is no way but remembering your contact’s phone number.

One of the things that I really like about professional customer support and salesmanship is: the customer is always right. I try to have this attitude when creating user interfaces. The user should never ever feel stupid because of a interaction with a machine. If the user feels bad or shoots himself in the foot, it is the interaction designer to blame not to user.

Now the joke of the day is: Rebtel told him that maybe his issue is because his phone is rooted. True story! My colleague said his phone is not rooted, but I believe even if his phone was rooted, why should another application maliciously change the behavior of Rebtel? In other words: why instead of putting the customer first and trying to solve his problem, why did they condemn the user for something that isn’t even true? My colleague was so frustrated not only because of this software bug, but also because of the kind of support that he got.

So, to sum it up there are at least 3 issues:

  • It doesn’t show a default number when you find a contact from contact list
  • It offers a semi-random default numbers for the contacts you choose from the SMS tab’s contact lookup
  • It cannot even remember your choice of default number and jumps back to what it likes to show as the default

Solution

My goal in this blog is not to criticize software bugs. I’m sure if the developers knew that such a simple issue creates so much frustration and dissatisfaction, they would fix it. But there is something we can learn from this story: always do user tests during the development. This is such a simple issue that even a 10 minute user test for sending SMS would reveal it. Yet the developers didn’t take the time to do a good job and instead of having a solid feature, they ended up with a cluttered and confusing user experience. Now I’m sure Rebtel doesn’t even care about reading this post (they didn’t reply my previous post either), but I’m sure my blog is not rooted! ;)

The solution is mostly about debugging but there are ways to improve the user interaction as well:

  • If there are multiple numbers for a contact, show an SMS icon in front of the ones that are mobile numbers. If it is not possible to tell which one is which, let the user send SMS just by pressing a SMS icon on the “Mobile phone” record of the contact rather than pressing the separate “Send SMS” button at the bottom of the screen.
  • Let the user know the last number he send an SMS with a little History icon next to the number. Also remember the last number as the default choice.

Rebtel fools the user making “free” calls

Problem

For a business model that depends on loyal users, distrust is a big issue. That’s the case for “Free Calls” by Rebtel, a cheap way to call abroad:

This is how it works:

  1. You login to the website of Rebtel and buy some credit.
  2. Somewhere on the website you enter your friend’s number from another country.
  3. Rebtel generates a number in your own country so that whenever you call that, your friend’s phone will ring in another country.
  4. Your friend hangs up on you as soon as he gets the call, but calls you back on the number that he sees from you on his caller ID. This number will be a number in your friend’s country.
  5. Then you can talk for “free”.

Sounds amazing, right? The only problem is that it’s not technically free. Both you and your friend are paying for the call you make to your local numbers. From Rebtel’s perspective, this call is free because you don’t pay Rebtel anything, but from the user’s perspective this is not free and in fact can be quite expensive. Depending on your subscription plan, sometimes calling your friend directly in another country can be less expensive than using Rebtel’s “free call”.

I was granted a 10$ account from Rebtel to try their service, but I should commit honestly I wouldn’t pay for such service.

As a common user scenario, let’s say an American wants to call a Canadian. Both countries are English speaking and neighbors so it’s not a rare situation. Just to make it more like real life, let’s take a look at the prices from AT&T, one of the biggest telephone companies in the north america: 6$ per month for unlimited calls!

Reference, Date: 2012-03-11

If you have a mobile plan that allows you to call any number in your country for free, and your friend has the same, and both of you are in a list of certain countries, then you can use Rebtel to make a totally free call. It may be a more complicated process to start the call, and the call quality may not be good but hey it’s free! ;-)

Unfortunately the rest of us have to pay something to our operators even though it’s “Free” from Rebtel’s point of view. This dishonesty in Rebtel’s messaging made a lot of customers unhappy because first they see the “Free Call” in the ads and website then they end up paying piles of money to their local telephone companies. Many people don’t complain about it swallowing the frustration by believing that there were stupid not to read how this system works. But users are not wrong. Rebtel is a complicated service and it is not very honest in its messaging. But some complain. Hear some of the frustrated users: link1link2, link3, link4, … These are just a few of hundreds of complains around the Internet. The most common opinion I found about Rebtel is that it is a great idea, but the “Free Call” is deceiving and many users learned it after they payed piles of money so it created a very bad first impression. However, I guess many users just become suspicious hearing the “Free International Calls” without using the Internet. They don’t even try the service before reading reviews.

Read more about Rebtel on their own site: Direct Call, Collect Call

Solution

International calls are quite expensive until the world embraces next generation networks. As many users have already complained, Rebtel’s messaging fooled them. Rebtel is a complicated system, just as the real phone operators. First of all Rebtel should not use the phrase “Free Call” because from user’s perspective it is not really free. Of course if you are one of those users with an unlimited local call subscription and your friend has the same benefit, maybe we can call it “Free Call”. But otherwise (which is the majority of the cases) users pay one way or another. If they don’t pay to Rebtel, it doesn’t make it free! In the user centered design (UCD), concepts should be seen from the eyes of the user and reflected as they understand it.

Rebtel needs to be more transparent about how the customer is charged. Even though it has a page for “rates” and shows the price on its applications, it doesn’t mention anything about the price of the local call. That is the extra step that an excellent service provider may take to provide a trustworthy service, but of course there are a lot of technical difficulties to overcome. For example it is extremely hard to know what subscription the user is using and how much it will cost them to call a local number. In this case the user should be informed as much as possible.

Rebtel’s target user group is the people who want to pay less for international calls. For them every penny counts. If they are being charged for an extra and Rebtel is aware of that, it should show a big warning informing the users about the risk they are put into and how they can calculate the exact price of the call. I suggest something like this:

Warning!

This call is not totally free. You don’t pay anything to Rebtel but you pay the tariff to call this number (+44LOCALNUM). Please contact your phone operator for more information about the exact price you are charged for placing this call. The same applies to your friend for calling this number: +1FRIENDLOCALNUM. Your friend pays it to his or her operator according to their tariff.

Note

I’ve talked about this issue with Rebtel’s product manager and marketing about a year ago. They seemed reluctant to change the messaging despite of a plan to completely redesign their website. They believed it is working and the cash-flow from the users can be interpreted as they are happy with it. Obviously that is not the answer I was looking for, but it says one important point about interaction design: the core thoughts that develop a product will hardly change by the people who maintain it. In other words: “get it right from the beginning or it will be really hard to fix later.”

Update (2012-04-21)

A friend of mine told me that Rebtel has changed its web design and messaging after this blog post. I took a look and yes it has changed so the above snapshots are not valid anymore BUT even though they took the time to change the site, they still have the same fishy messaging:

Rebtel still fools the users with new colorful messaging

Yeah talk as much as you like, anywhere in the world, with OR without 3G/WiFi! I wonder if Rebtel’s marketing team has ever tried that on their budget? Apparently Swedish law cannot prevent such deceiving advertisements otherwise companies like Rebtel or Firstdate would not last for so long. But there are other Swedish companies like Spotify which are very honest in their messaging.