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Bad User: error messages matter on mobile applications too

Lately, it seems I’ve been experiencing a rash of extremely uninformative and even appalling error messages oPoorly composed error messagen iPhone apps. The latest one, shown in this post, made me laugh out loud. “Bad User,” I was told. I felt like a 1950s Catholic schoolgirl getting rapped on the knuckles with a ruler. Bad User!
It’s looking like more and more mobile apps are being deployed without thoughtful planning for program states users may find themselves in. Mobile applicationss, while more lightweight and easier to develop and deploy, still require as rigorous a process as a web application is treated to. As I mentioned in a previous post, Bad error messages still abound, one of Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics is to:
Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors. Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.”
While the error message referenced in this post does suggest a solution, it does not indicate the problem. In the instance I received the message, I was doing THE main function of the application,  so I had no way of understanding what was abnormal about the request or what I could do to recover. Of the reviews I’ve seen on the App Store, many of them complain about apps that don’t work and don’t tell why they aren’t working.
It’ s not enough just to have a smartphone app — thousands are out there. Following usability guidelines is perhaps even more important than in desktop applications because the context of use simply demands it. Don’t blow any opportunity to communicate with your users by calling them names when your app fails.

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Molly Malsam

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