I originally reviewed this book in Sept, 2002. Though the book had been available for a while, my review was the first. I'm revisiting my review in order to mention that within a week after I posted it, seven or eight glowing reviews suddenly appeared, as if in response to my pan. Still, I stand by my original:
There are few books available on the subject of designing usable products for handheld devices -- a fast-growing discipline -- so I was eager for the publication of this book. Via his web site and his other organizing activities, the author has done a lot to foster a growing community of handheld device UX specialists, but his book was a big disappointment.
I hardly know where to begin.
The book is poorly organized and would be greatly improved by the addition of sidebars, pullquotes and other methods of coding and grouping information. A more comprehensive index would help too. As it is, it's difficult to scan and nearly useless as a reference.
In many ways, the book is both too general and too specific. Less than seven pages are devoted to "Designing for WAP for Mobile Phones," which is not enough space to cover the topic at even the highest level, yet those seven pages are full of strangely specific guidelines that fail to consider the real world range of WAP applications and contexts. For example, his list of "important principles" includes the remarkably specific recommendation to "use 'Main' instead of 'Home'. 'Home' is ambiguous - is it the carrier's portal, or your application's start page?" The implicit point he's making is certainly a good one (i.e. be careful about how you link to the various things that can be interpreted as 'Home'), but he doesn't seem to understand how to write at this more useful level of abstraction. As a result, many of his recommendations as they're written do not apply in the real world.
The few nuggets of useful information in the book are often incongruously buried -- in the middle of paragraphs, in the middle of chapters discussing other things entirely. He drops these useful tidbits here and there and spends no time supporting them with evidence, research or even an explanation of his own rationale. In an early chapter (called "Handheld Devices"), he includes just a single short paragraph(!) under the heading, "Design for Small Screens". In this paragraph, he makes a few recommendations (e.g. "never use blank lines" and "use dashes... to create separations in content"). These are useful, but they belong in a different chapter, and they should be supported.
The meat of the book is the author's discussion of what have essentially become the tenets of the UX/IA/ID field: usability testing, prototyping, the iterative design process, etc. But these discussions consist mainly of repetitions of the obvious, amounting to a thin survey of what you will find in the standard texts of the broader field (by Neilsen, Norman, Raskin, Tufte, Wurman, etc.).
The book does contain some moderately useful bits about wireless technologies and devices in general, but not enough to justify the price tag.
The upshot of all this is, 'Handheld Usability' does not provide a broad enough overview of the discipline for the curious or those just getting started, and it doesn't go deep enough to help mobile UX professionals like me.