Wednesday, February 13, 2008

S60 + Touch = ...?

Sadly, when the answer to that equation was shown, there were no surprises - if you hack a touchscreen onto a badly designed mess of a UI, you get a badly designed mess of a UI which can be controlled with touch. The iPhone experience was not a game changer in Finland after all.

Touchscreens were in vogue at GSMA, but mostly they were reruns of what we had seen before - some more Prada/Viewty variants from LG (not bad, not great) and some more testing of the waters from Samsung who are doing interesting things but have yet to really hit their stride, having been a very successful maker of attractive but relatively basic flips and sliders until now.

I can forgive SE for throwing out a few more UIQ3 phones without a radical overhaul, as they obviously need to make good with what they have and recoup some of their investment - whilst (hopefully) forcing the UIQ designers back to the drawing board at gun point with specific instructions to unravel the many usability downgrades they inserted in the jump to UIQ3, whilst adding in some consumer pizazz. The old UIQ 1 and 2 handsets won many friends because UIQ used to be an excellent PDA platform; the move to UIQ3 tried to go consumer by improving the graphics (great) whilst sacrificing some of the nice features and confusing the workflow a bit (not so great). This nicely hilights the problems inherent in making a platform designed to do one thing try and do another.

Which brings us back to that other Symbian platform, S60.

"The disappointment when people see the hardware design of a new Nokia – then notice that it's running S60 inside - is quite palpable"

Nokia's recent strategy has been to trojan horse S60 into consumer's pockets, making nice sexy phones which consumers buy because "I always buy Nokias, I just know how to use them". To date they have shifted a lot more smartphones this way than they ever did when they sold them as smartphones, a difficult label describing the sort of phone very few non-phone geeks every wanted. Time will tell if this strategy eventually backfires as aghast consumers assume Nokia has lost the plot completely and shift to someone else in the next upgrade cycle - some strange individuals do like the platform and its ever-changing warren of menus, after all.

I am reminded of the handset policy at my girlfriend's employer, a multinational, which some years back decided to provide all customer facing employees who asked with the very nice Nokia 6170, an S40 mass market phone. They felt compelled to standardise on Nokias because "everyone knows how to use a Nokia". As the 6170 started to get on a bit, they decided to migrate employees to one of those nice new enterprise phones Nokia had started selling, the E50 - an S60 smartphone, no less. Two months later, after mass complaints, they took back the E50s and moved on to the 6300, a nice and businesslike S40 mass-market phone. Staff are once again very happy.

S60 has always struck me as something Nokia has put money into, so it feels compelled to keep selling it, and enough people seem to buy it that we end up in a self perpetuating cycle. Sure, some people like it, but most people that I know who've had the misfortune to buy one don't buy another... the exception seems to be in marketing, where about 50% of the S60 users I know work. They probably need to feel 'cutting edge' or something.

Seeing the iPhone, sometimes labelled a smartphone, they must have thought "OK, best response is to pull in every touchscreen resource we have in the company (from the Maemo teams, R&D projects etc) and drop all of them into S60". Exactly the wrong approach.

S60 really doesn't really feel like it was actually designed by anyone, but in as much as it must have been it was designed to be a UI for a handset with a standard numeric keypad, a few seemingly random special buttons and a decidely unresponsive screen. This does not sit nicely with the idea of a touch screen.

We have already seen how Nokia's platform streamlining has jettisoned a very good Organiser platform (S80) by folding/crowbarring it into S60, alienating past fans, so there was ample likelihood they would mess things up further. This they appear to have done.

The iPhone is slick, responsive, fun to play with and contains just enough software to do most of what most people want to do reasonably well - but even if it doesn't do everything that they might need, users will enjoy the process of discovering it doesn't do what they need.

Nokia's S60 platform is confusing, obscure, constantly changing and always hugely underpowered and unresponsive, with software to do everything you might ever want to do, but after moving round the menus quite a lot you'll probably give up trying to find out how and just use it as a rather slow poor phone. Nokia's S60 Touch seems to extend this experience by allowing you to move round the same menus with your finger smearing the screen, whilst preserving those little experience-defining moments like the pause screens and waiting animations that you know and hate.

It will take a massive sales hit to understand that this approach will not, in the long term, work out. They must innovate and diversify into handsets that are once again fun and/or efficient to use; even S40 is creaking under the weight of the features loaded into it now. Sadly Nokia have such huge sales volumes that they can coast for a long time without realising this, and their customers will be all the poorer because of it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Samsung PR Drone Distracted While Writing Soul Release

The Soul is apparently the "completion" of the Ultimate Edition line, which means we shall no doubt be regaled by some new line of editions even more ultimate than Ultimate. There's clearly a lot to be excited about with this phone as it (perhaps greedily) has a whole three graphical UIs in it! The release writer lists all of them:
  1. The Thematic UI, which can be completely customised by the user;
  2. There's a User Created Skin system, which does sound a lot like one of the parts of the Thematic UI but we can pretend it's a whole second UI if they'd like;
  3. Er, what's that over there in the corner? Must have been the cat walking past. Where was I? Oh yeah, it's 12.9mm thin!
Some have claimed a single consistent and simple UI is enough for one phone, but maybe three will work out well for Samsung. The little direction pad thingy might be good too. Only time will tell...

I tried to confirm that this wasn't just lazy SlashPhone release rewriting, but three days after the release date Samsung's UK web site has no Soul, at least in the press section, and the Group section (tagline: "you will meet SAMSUNG the digital are (sic) leader") didn't have any Soul either.

Apologies for the recent series of short sniping posts, but beyond Sony-Ericsson endorsing the Beast (under a layer of new UI) there's not so much interesting going on at GSMA, just more of the same... there's a post to be had in SE's current OS position but not one I'm up to writing now...

Mobile Magazine smoking something strong

Just amused myself reading an "interesting" "news post" on Mobile Magazine, which suggests Nokia might start using Windows Mobile when v7 or v8 comes out. Possible, of course, maybe some time after a swarm of flying pigs decides to carry so much snow down into hell that it freezes over.

Couldn't help but be reminded that, in the UK at least, Cannabis is now three times stronger than it used to be (according to experts at the BBC). Related?

Friday, February 08, 2008

When Is A Pie Chart Not A Pie Chart?

Girls usually aren't impressed by socks stuffed down trousers, because when it comes to the crunch the fake package won't be as satisfying as what was promised. The guys in California seem to enjoy swallowing whatever they are fed by Mr Jobs, however, even when he is feeling so unconfident that he has to stuff in half a sock drawer.

Wikipedia: "A pie chart is a circular chart divided into sectors, illustrating relative magnitudes or frequencies or percents. In a pie chart, the arc length of each sector (and consequently its central angle and area), is proportional to the quantity it represents. Together, the sectors create a full disk. It is named for its resemblance to a pie which has been sliced."

Steve isn't using a pie chart there - he's just using a pretty picture that looks like one. The amount of effort put into exagerating Steve's manhood here is impressive - Goebbels would doubtless have loved it. As I'm anal about the abuse of statistics, I thought I'd list the key ways that this slide sets out to manipulate the viewer:
  1. It isn't a pie chart -if it was, the centre point would lie directly in line with the widest point of the ellipse (even with the 3D tilting). It doesn't, it's way above - destroying any proportionality between the sections and therefore any value in the chart as a genuine representation of the numbers displayed on it. Instead, it's a lie - socks stuffed down Steve's trousers.

  2. The circle looks slightly tilted in 3D, with the bottom of Apple's section most visible - making their section look slightly bigger. If it were a real pie chart, that wouldn't evoke comment, but as it's a fake this has clearly been factored in as well.

  3. Apple's section of the fake pie is in green. The eye has higher sensitivity to green because it has more green detectors than red or blue, so this gives a small visual boost to Apple's section. There's nothing wrong with that, but it shows the level of viewer manipulation that the designers were considering.
Sure, everyone lies in advertising, but it begs the question - if you're confident that your numbers are good, why would you go to so much trouble to make them look bigger? Could it be because the "4m in 4 months" line is not really what it says (way more than 1m were sold in the first monnth, so actually sales are declining from a high start). Could it be that a lot of those 4m haven't actually left the shop shelves yet? Who knows.

It's a lovely product, and it is selling well. Mr Jobs, making yourself look like a confidence trickster does no-one any favours.