Tool Time vs. Goal Time, or, the Fallacy of the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Ad

No doubt you’ve seen the video ad for Microsoft Windows Phone 7 (if not, you can watch it on YouTube).

Now, this is not a post about the quality of the Windows Phone 7, or any other phone for that matter. It’s a post about the confusion between the concept of tool time and goal time.

Tool time is the time that, if dragged out longer, does not improve the quality of the experience. It’s an inverse relationship. Goal time, on the other hand, describes a positive relationship between time spent doing something and the quality or outcome of that activity.

Here’s a concrete example. You’re thinking of buying a new phone. You go to, oh, let’s say your nearest most favoritest phone store. You play with the phones. You take pictures, you compare the camera quality. You read every review you can get your hands on. You talk to all your friends about what they like or don’t like about their phone. That’s goal time. The more time you spend doing this, the more informed your decision will be.

You’ve settled on a phone. You go back to the store. It’s the Holidays shopping season. The line is out the door. They have a new temp person working. The computer has weird quirks. The lady at the top of the line is trying to find her check book. You’ve waited for this moment. You’ve done your due diligence. You can’t wait to tear open the package to play with your new phone. If the line went any slower, it would go in reverse. You’re ready to scream. Now, that’s tool time.

This is a real life example, but we can easily translate this to online. Whatever you’re buying, the time it takes for you to browse around, to decide on the right item, etc. all that is goal time. That’s why sites have reviews and items that you might also be interested in, and what other people have also bought, etc. All of that is geared towards helping you make a decision, and well… buy something, spend money, and then spend even more money. Tool time is the check out process. You may not mind spend ing 45 minutes browsing around, reading reviews and checking out alternative products, but I would bet that a 45-minute check-out process is something that belongs in eCommerce hell.

Why am I talking about this?

The Windows Phone 7 ad seems to imply (to me at least) that the people burying their nose in other kinds of phones, risking their lives and neglecting their sex lives, are doing so because of tool time, whereas the Windows Phone 7 is “designed to get you in and out and back to life.”

Let’s first give credit where credit is due, the ad got something right. It hits home for… possibly all of us. Who here hasn’t crossed the street with their face in their phone, trusting with full faith that every driver on the road is sane, sober and obeys traffic lights? Who here hasn’t slept with their phone and looked at it first thing in the morning?

I won’t talk about our addiction to our mobile devices here, that’s another post, but I’m going to say this: not every instance where someone is “forgetting about life” is due to how hard, or easy, it is to use their phone. It could be that they’re playing Angry Birds and thisclose to getting three stars on every level. Just… one… more… try….

In fact, I’m going to go as far as saying that when someone’s immersed in something, a mobile device, a book, a movie, they’re enjoying it, they’re lost in it. (Not bad, not good, just is). Maybe, just maybe, they’re not thinking about “getting back to life.” (Again, I’m not suggesting what they ought to do here.)

From a User Experience Design angle, if someone is so hooked by what you’ve created, to the point where a hot woman standing by in a silk lace teddy wants some action, and they don’t want any, well… you done did good! I mean, how many other things could possibly be  capturing the guy’s attention here? Very few. I’m going to bet that one of them is not… oh, finding out how many email messages he has.

Again, like that iPhone 4 customer in that awesome video said, I don’t care what phone is better or worse, for what purpose and for whom (and that’s an entirely different discussion). A phone is a personal choice, and it’s become borderline deranged how some of us have gotten worked up over it. Root your Android, enjoy your tactile keyboard, and let me have my geebees. (I may tell you your phone is inferior, but that’s only because I like bantering.) Besides, we’re fighting the wrong fight anyway.

All I’m saying is, don’t confuse the time you spend doing something and the quality of the tool. For a more in depth discussion of tool time and goal time, check out  Jared Spool’s article: Dividing User Time between Tool and Goal. Really.

Now this, is what I call Quality Time