Level Indicators - Accuracy or perceived quality?

New York Times technologist David Pogue recently had an interesting question answered by a reader in the know:

"Q: How come cellphone signal-strength bars are so often wrong? A: Like the battery indicator, the signal strength on a cell phone is deliberately weighted toward the high end. I worked on a phone development project several years ago. [The carrier's] first request was to toss the perfectly calibrated battery indicator in favor of one that sat at 4 bars for around 75 percent of the charge.”

Huh. Well, if there's an opportunity to increase a product's perceived quality at zero additional monetary cost, the producers of that product will probably take it. However, the real cost is misleading the user - anyone who's really counting on these indicators might find himself in a bad situation. ("But it was at 100% an hour ago, how can it be dead now??") And going too far with this kind of miscalibration will break the illusion when the user realizes it can't be trusted, making the product seem lower quality. So it's a tricky balance - and one that, to be safe, we should always assume is going on behind the scenes.
[via Good Experience]

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