Glowing Gadget Reviews Cause Users to Overlook Device Shortcomings
When it comes to mobile phone functionality perception is often stronger than reality. At least according to a recent study that suggests a little positive reinforcement can lead mobile users to ignore usability issues when testing new phones.
Eeva Raita and Antti Oulasvirta, researchers at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, say users presented with positive product reviews on a mobile phone before testing the device overwhelmingly ignored actual difficulties they encountered in its functionality.
“But what was surprising is the strength of the effect, and the fact that favorable expectations boosted usability ratings when the objectively measured usability was very low," Raita told TechNewsDaily.
In a recent experiment, subjects read either a positive or negative product review, or were provided no product review before a hands-on test. The product reviews were written by the research team but were designed to resemble an authentic product review from the Internet.
Subjects who read positive reviews gave the phone 74 percent higher usability ratings than the two other groups - even when they had trouble using it.
The users who read positive reviews of their gadgets beforehand "gave the device significantly higher usability ratings compared to others even in a situation where they failed in almost all of the test tasks," Raita said.
The tasks – performed on an HTC Touch Diamond phone, a Windows-Mobile-6.1-based Pocket PC with a TouchFLO 3D interface – were divided between hard and easy and included sending basic and complicated text messages, watching videos on different websites, and listening to streaming music and music already downloaded to the phone.
Raita says the HTC Touch was chosen because it was relative unknown in Finland at the time of testing.
The bottom line, says Raita, is “users forgive usability problems to a device they have expected to be good."
This is significant because many phones are purchased without first-hand knowledge, forcing users to trust advertisements, brand reputations and product reviews.
Interestingly, the other two groups involved in the testing – the ones that read negative reviews or no reviews before testing their devices – gave similar impressions, suggesting positive information is a stronger influencer than negative.
“For the time being, we have only some speculative ideas concerning the difference in the effect of positive and negative expectations,” said Raita, who added that the researchers had started a long-term study to answer these type of questions.
“Our interest is to better understand how experiences, expectations and perceptions influence each other and evolve alongside technology use,” said Raita.
The research will be detailed at the 54th annual meeting of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) held in San Francisco next week.