Feeds

Where is the perfect phone UI?

Keeping Clippy the Paper Clip at bay

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Marc Andressen must fly in the same elliptical orbit as our favorite socialite here, Esther Dyson. Earlier this year he claimed that browser innovation was dead.

Actually, there's no shortage of innovation on mobile browsers, and Opera, OpenWave and Picsel have all shown or published some terrific software this year for phones. The latter two are interesting because they show quite radical new possibilities for human interface design. And that's just the software alone: a simple feature such as jog-dial can add immeasurably to the usability of a device.

But having weighed up the leading 'platform' offerings, in the form of Series 60, UIQ and the PalmOS-based Treo 600, I can't help thinking we're well short of a user interface that's anywhere approaching 'optimal'.

For me the surprise has been the Treo. Of the three, the Treo unequivocably makes phone the 'home', which is surprising as it's the one of the three that wasn't designed by a phone company.

Out of these three the P900 in flip closed mode was the easiest to use, thanks in large part to the jog dial. But the Treo 600 scored points over both Nokia's Series 60 and UIQ not only made the phone the natural starting place for using the device, but it did the most to extend the experience by making other features close to hand.

On the Treo, users can slot speed dials or speed text shortcuts, or URLs, or pictures into the bookmarks pages, and the bookmarks are only a jog away. On both Symbian platforms, Nokia's Series 60 and UIQ, the phone is simply another application. On the Nokia platform, the phone is particularly poorly integrated. Presumably for reasons of compatibility with its legacy UIs, Nokia presents a Janus-like interface, flipping users between a "desktop" (confusingly called a menu) and the phone application. Even One-Touch dialing is a separate application, and that simple screen populates rather slowly.

It's rather an unfair comparison, as Handspring isn't giving away its UI, while Symbian (with UIQ) and Nokia (with its Symbian-based Series 60) very much are, and expressly want to give licensees the ability to develop their own differentiated user interfaces. We were glad to see Sendo develop its own 'Today' view on the SX1 and add an extra status bar to the standard Series 60 screen. And it's also fair to point out that both UIQ and Series 60 can be improved with a third-party add on, such as Tracker or ActiveDesk. (My own Tracker page has three speed SMS buttons, three speed dials, links to five more applications and one to a PDF of the MUNI transit system.)

However these aren't the radical steps that we could be seeing.

Optimally I'd like to see UI designers adopt a binding that's much more closely based around what people do, rather than what the computer is doing. I'd much rather have a list of my last eight activities. For example a list that reminded me that I'd received a call from my colleague Ashlee, made a jotting about HP, had edited a Word document, had sent an email to Ashlee with the attachment, and so on.

Why hasn't anyone done this yet?

If it was really smart it would know what I'd been doing on my Mac, too.

My P900 review also brought out a small but frustrating glitch with UIQ: the guideline that applications revert to a default state when another application is activated. Again, this represents an opportunity for HI designers. While Clippy the Paperclip is rightfully vilified, intelligent helpers could anticipate common actions. In fact, they already do: "redial" is an example so subtle we don't even notice. While the suggestion "It looks like you're writing a letter" is perhaps responsible for more drowned puppies than any other question in history, it wouldn't be too obtrusive to be asked "Shall I try his home phone instead?". And that's because the phone already knows what you're trying to do, more or less.

The interesting part of this field is that phones don't have so much of a legacy in UI terms. We're still at the experimentation phase. We'll see our share of Microsoft Bobs and Mac OS X Docks, but I think the phone designers have been paying much closer attention to what users want to do than OS companies. (Apple Computer, and the late Be Inc. being a noble exceptions) . Whether they get the opportunity to do so, or whether they simply end up crafting static web pages for the carriers' branded services, is the big question.

Have we omitted any great research ideas, or new software. Drop us a line, and let us know. ®

Related Products
Buy the Handspring Treo 600 from the The Reg wireless store

Business security measures using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
This flashlight app requires: Your contacts list, identity, access to your camera...
Who us, dodgy? Vast majority of mobile apps fail privacy test
Apple Watch will CONQUER smartwatch world – analysts
After Applelocalypse, other wristputers will get stuck in
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.