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The GUI that almost conquered the pocket

Farewell then, UIQ

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UIQ needed to go in two directions at once. The high road would have permitted richer, VGA devices for the niche now being carved out by RIM and Apple (and in much lower volumes, the HTCs). The low road would have allowed ODMs to produce simpler and slimmer devices aimed at the mass market. UIQ plumped for the latter.

P900 thumbnail

Big and buggy, the P990i was harder to use than its predecessors

Funnily enough, the latter fell into my hands recently: one of the last two UIQ devices to make it to market. The G700 is a very good phone indeed, a reminder of the richness of a touch UI and the robust software beneath it. Take one of these critters (or its Wi-Fi, 5MP brother the G900), and add the outstanding Profimail (for push IMAP), DreamLife PIM software, the impossible-to-categorize but extremely useful Projekt and a gem of a message-reader called SMS and MMS Diary, and you'll forget that the CPU is dated, and that the platform is dead. Not only is this software mature and useful - it doesn't half make things easy if you can prod the screen with your thumb.

Sony Ericsson G700 and G900

Not too shabby: the final two UIQ phones

Ironically, the new G-series phones are not quite as slick or easy to use as the P-series of yore. Two closely-related reasons explain this, which are emblematic of what happened to smartphone user interface design in a world of shrinking possibilities.

Firstly, UIQ like everyone else, focused on volumes - and dedicated its efforts to producing a "one-handed" phone. In doing so, and neglecting the richer UI, it was simply following the trend. Nokia dropped the S80 and S90 UIs, while Microsoft too turned Windows Mobile into a two-key one-handed UI. Fans hoping to get keystroke accelerators to their pull-down menus saw the pull-down menu structure disappear completely. Oi!

Secondly, UIQ sought to make (pardon the loathsome jargon) a "platform" of the UI: one attractive to licensees. This meant that UIQ must work in penless, non-touchscreen devices - UIQ couldn't assume that manufacturers had a 5-way jog dial for example. Or even something as basic as a dedicated "go back" key.

The P-series was easy to use because of the tight-integration between the hardware (particularly the jog dial) and software - and it was just such integration that contributed hugely to the success of the Blackberry.

As the smartphone pie shrank and the manufacturers chased the mass market, the phone UIs simply got dumber. And the general purpose smartphone became harder to use: it effectively ensured the success of "appliances" from RIM and Apple.

So farewell then, and good luck to any staff who ever sailed the good ship UIQ.®

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