Friday, June 27, 2008

Nokia UI Best Practices - riiight

Nokia became #1 in handsets for a few reasons, but one was the fact that the early breakthrough phones were very easy to use. I remember my old 3210 was a revelation compared to the NEC brick which preceded it. People still say today they purchase Nokias off the back of that reputation for ease of use - I'd love to know whether they continue to do so after an upgrade to S60, but the latest S40 edition justifies that faith still (though it went a bit wobbly for a while, I'd say).

However, I would still say that most people in Nokia do not get the importance of a good UI - including (presumably) all of the S60 design committee. I came across another stunning example of UI design with the new S40 edition 5 emulator, which attempts to show a scale picture of a real phone around the QVGA emualtor screen - but it does it in a window which is fixed at a height that can only show half the emulator:

Even if your monitor is taller than the 767px the window is fixed at (and these days, almost all are), you still have to jump to the scroll bar and scroll down to be able to press any button (even the up/down roller on my mouse mapped to up/down key presses in the emulator, causing lots of unplanned key events and frustration). Furthermore if you press a key, like say '1' on your PC's keyboard, it doesn't pass in the same key code as clicking the '1' on the emulator keypad (which is the ASCII for the digit 1, like a real phone) - instead you get some ridiculous key code which crashes the MIDP getGameAction method.

The whole mess is utterly ridiculous and infuriating. There's no need for the whole phone image, or the lovely whitespace around it - just show a QVGA screen and some semblance of a keypad, all visible at the same time - and map the keypad properly. Showing the phone gives a false sense of confidence that the emulator may behave like the phone itself, which it doesn't (fully).

Which brings us to the Nokia 'Mobile Design Showcases' doc they just released. As you may have expected from the intro here, I don't agree with all of it - though some of the showcase 'best practice' apps are excellent.

I saw the PDF shortly after trying out Fring, one of the showcase apps, on a Nokia E61 - possibly the perfect phone for this type of app. Under the hood, they have done an excellent job integrating with Skype etc - great job. The UI, however... not so good. Huge wasted opportunity in fact. It functions, but really it could be loads better - it's all LCDUI forms and custom items.

So another UI win for Nokia. Will the S60 UI get better now they fold in the UIQ (initially easy to use, but rapidly worsening by v3) and MOAP (shocking, just shocking) design teams? Given that more than half of the team at UIQ have now been "open sourced", probably not...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stats Abuse: Mobile TV

Just read an interesting excerpt Helen Keegan pulled from a report on Mobile TV. I don't 100% disagree with her conclusion, that mobile TV will end up being one of those functions that is 'just there' on your phone (though I doubt actual usage will match on-phone cameras, her other example).

I do, however, strongly disagree with some of the summary text of the report itself which states "The demand for consumers to watch mobile TV is there, with 65 per cent of respondents stating that they are willing to spend time watching an advert if it meant that the mobile TV or video content they consume is free or discounted".

Er, sorry? Without seeing the exact script for the interview it is impossible to say for sure which way that is wrong, but it most certainly is misleading the way it is presented here. The only interview question that can come close to a definitive answer about whether there is demand for mobile TV is "Would you watch TV on your mobile phone if it was available, easy to use and low enough cost that you didn't need to think about it?" - and even then, there would be the usual discrepancy between what people say ("Hmm, yeah I'd give it a go") and what they actually do (eg. watch once then never bother again).

Asking a question like "Would you watch a mobile TV advert if it made the mobile TV service free or cheaper?" is an entirely different kettle of fish. The interviewee will automatically assume they are in a hypothetical situation where they are already watching mobile TV, and will try to find an answer for the nice lady accordingly - given that situation, more than half would be willing to watch an advert. That is the only conclusion the question can lead to - not whether there is demand for the service, just that if someone was using it they probably wouldn't mind an advert if they saw a net cost reduction.

You have to hope the people conducting the survey knew this, else they shouldn't be conducting surveys - in which case, the only question you can ask when reading this rubbish is were they paid to 'prove' the case for mobile TV, or did some PR droid mangle the findings for a nice soundbite in the summary?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Though, re: last post, to be fair on Apple fans there is some good news

Apple fans are an optimistic bunch who can see manna in the dullest of things so hopefully they feel ok, but if they need a cheer they can rest assured that their Mac's are vastly more secure than the enemy's Windows PCs. News has just come out of an enormous flaw which can trash incautious users of Windows installations, from that browser that is a scourge of security experts and leaks like a sieve etc - er, Apple Safari. That same browser which Apple fairly aggressively started to push out to users who never asked for it alongside updates of iTunes, Quicktime etc. Yay.

Sorry, in a bad mood today. To redress the negative vibe: they do sometimes still make nice easy to use software and their stuff normally looks nice.

Finally, the phone the world has been waiting for

The Nokia 7510 fashion phone, of course! And by 'fashion', they mean like those shops selling cheap and nasty stuff with the word "Fashion" in the shop name somewhere, or a big flourescent orange star in the window with 'fashion' written on it in black marker. It's not as ugly as the Levis phone, but really it just looks like a cheap bit of badly designed plastic - maybe it's just a preproduction mockup but it'd need to change a lot to get exciting...

Allegedly someone else also launched a new phone, but as it is basically the same as the old one but meeting the barest minimum of rumours, I'll leave any commentary on it to better analysts. For me the only entertaining thing reading the coverage was how many things Apple have back tracked on. Local apps bad, webapps the only way forward? That must be why eBay have a new local app then. 3G a waste of time? Yup, got that now and suddenly it's the fastest thing ever and a revolution blah blah. Blackberries bad because of all the layers of servers? Well, er, new Apple enterprise sync stuff is basically same thing, but hey, now they are Apple's layers. etc. Oh, ok, I lie. The other entertaining thing came from the coverage of sites claiming this was now a Blackberry killer because it had better Exchange support. Really, please. People use Blackberries because they can type fast on the keyboard and the UI is optimised for the sorts of things they want to do - push email alone isn't enough. Amazing how obvious that one is but maybe people get paid by the word or something, and have to gush out whatever rubbish comes into their heads.

One thing I have noted using my iPod Touch though - which has all the good bits of the iPhone without the bad, IMHO - if the iPhone (damn, I said it) accelerometer is anywhere near as bad as the Touch's, I think it'll prove to be a trully terrible gaming platform - apart from puzzles like MahJongg maybe, and possibly Sim City or something. You can't do most games with a fairly accurate touchscreen and some flaky motion detection.