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...