Understanding Non-Literacy as a Barrier to Mobile Phone Communication

by Terence

Nokia has done some interesting research into the barriers faced by the non-literate in using mobile phones.

To me, this was the most interesting (though probably pretty obvious) part of the research:

How non-literate users get by
The simple answer is that non-literate mobile phone users can call, but cannot message or use the address book. The subtleties are more interesting than this.

Two basic tasks were easy for almost all our participants to complete: turning on the phone and answering an incoming call. Beyond this, there were various degrees of success. Dialing a local phone number is relatively easy, but problems can occur when there are variations such as dialing a national or international number, or using IP telephone prefixes. Dialing an incorrect number may require starting from the beginning of the task since the cancel button is not always understood.

Our hypothesis is that once the non-literate user has learned how to make and receive phone calls to their close circle of contacts, their primary reason for owning a mobile phone has largely been met. There is, therefore, less motivation to spend additional time rote learning other features on the phone, unless someone can proactively demonstrate the worth of the features, and spends the time to teach them the steps required to complete the task.

Phone features that require text editing such as creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message present too great a barrier to use.