User Testing my Dad: WhatsApp or Hangouts?

26th February 2016 by

User Testing my Dad: WhatsApp or Hangouts?

So, I regularly call my parents who live in Spain. Practically each morning we chat to each other as I go to work and before they go out to the shops or for their morning coffee. Since we’re so far away from each other it’s so lovely to keep in touch like that. I really enjoy having a chat with them and it’s become a little running joke that they are so old they can’t use the apps properly.

My Dad really likes to try apps out. He likes to see what they do, and will download and ‘fiddle’ with anything that comes out. He has a Chromecast to watch TV, a WiFi radio where he listens to the Archers, he has all the latest apps, is on Facebook, has a Twitter account, likes to talk to his friends. He literally has every app for this purpose. Whatsapp, Messenger, Hangouts, Viber and even this thing called Roger (which is a bit like a Walkie Talkie app).

When we chat each morning, he (or my mum) hangs up, because I’m usually driving so after I start driving I don’t like to touch my phone. So, depending on which app they are using, it can take anywhere between 1 second and 1 minute for them to work it out. Between them. Just to put the phone down.

In anyone’s book, that’s just poor UX. But also it’s funny. So we keep going.


Let us compare the two side by side

Whatsapp and Hangouts screenshots showing button clarity is better on whatsapp

The layout is pretty similar, and on the face of it, it seemed simple. The main difference with the two services is that Whatsapp only does voice calls. Hangouts does video calling too. Except in hangouts I have to choose between a phone or video icon on the screen before (so why give me the option to turn on the video again as a main CTA?).


“You’re so quiet Lucy?”

If I asked you…or my Dad in this case, to put the phone on speaker – it’s made far easier in Whatsapp. There is one clear button to press, labelled speaker. On the hangouts one, it’s not considered such an important call to action, so is tucked away in the top right hand corner. Tapping that brings you up an iOS looking white menu…where I see that the speaker is not ticked, so I need to tap that to switch.

Screenshot of Speaker switch in Hangouts

Seems like that could be simplified a little more like WhatsApp has one tappable button. The speaker can be on or off really.

So yes, we have a little more functionality in Hangouts, but by already making me choose voice or video on the screen before, I kind of already told you what type of call I wanted to make.


More functionality = more complexity?

Looks like I can add people to the call, and I can turn my video on and off on hangouts, but on WhatsApp, I’m calling one person at a time and not using video.

Is this a deliberate simplification based on user needs? It could be. Voice calls on WhatsApp were on top of messaging functionality. Hangouts used to be Google Talk, and initially a messaging platform who have expanded to using video calling. I suppose they realised they needed a voice call function in there as well, and now making a call is made harder than on one of their competitors. I wonder what percentage of calls use which functionality.


Other small things which make this work

  • There is a little reassurance you’re NOT making a voice call on the WhatsApp screen – it clearly says WhatsApp call.
  • The phone number is there too in case the person has more than one number. I’m not sure how useful this is when you’re already calling from the persons WhatsApp screen.
  • The two mute icons are different. With Hangouts, there is both a state and icon change. Which seems much harder to work out if it’s on or off at this stage.

Screenshots of mute being pressed in whatsapp and hangouts

In conclusion

It’s little wonder my Dad prefers to use Whatsapp, it’s cleaner, the nicely labelled buttons make more sense to him, and there isn’t anything which increases his cognitive load to the point it takes him one whole agonising minute to hang up!