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Monday, 23 March 2009

Changing paradigms with UI for mobiles

An excellent article by Christian Lindholm, formally of Nokia and now working for Fjord, neatly wraps up where mobile design has come from, where we are and where we might go.

He says that there are three levels to the user experience of mobiles:
  • The highest level I call Bling (this is because, it caters to the visual senses) it contains the visuals, colours, content density and partly motion.
  • The next level below it is Control (This caters to the mind or rationale) This is where the efficiency is created, where one gets stuff done, one navigates into applications, within applications and between applications. It is where services should be integrated. It is much more than functionality, more than an application.
  • The lowest level of a user experience is the Utility level. In this level one experiences such thing as application installation, network control, power management. It is where latency is managed. This level of user experience is almost totally provided by engineering, except when operating at world class level, when UE designers and Engineers co-operate deeply.
He says that most of the current innovation is in the top two layers with only Google doing much with the utility layer - and this makes sense because "they are a utility". What they're doing reminds him of the early days of GMail, which wasn't different to Yahoo or MSN four years ago (except for the space) but has now "becoming a cloud based content platform integrating core elements of your digital life".

He cites the most recent second layer paradigm shifts following on from iPhone's 'bling' touchscreen as pinching, flicking, flipping "into 'back' of application like in iPhone Weather or flipping below, like in the Maps app. In the PalmPre there are the cards and their shuffling, the Chucking, meaning closing the app".

These shifts every phone maker takes up as they operate like 'search, top-right' on websites or other new design 'norms': "they cannot be customised from customer to customer". Fortunately we have yet to see commodification of these new paradigms, through patent enforcement, to the detriment of users.

Where he sees next development is in smarter keys: "Text input on touch screens are simply too bad. People like moving keys and the sensory feeling they provide".

This rings true for me as it's what I went for with my new phone, which is a new one from Hewlett Packard. It has a great slide out keyboard which doesn't just have slightly bigger keys but also gives that slight finger feedback which I found absent on others.

One other area which he doesn't mention is in learning. It occurred to me that my supplier was missing a trick by not offering paid lessons on how to get the most out of your phone. Am I missing something here as I have yet to see a site which does this job (or does everyone not want to admit there's some stuff they just can't work out?)

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