Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beauty - More than Skin Deep

Jason Lackey

Much of the noise in the industry since the coming of the iPhone has been around UIs. I suspect that this phone caught many sort of like the impact that created the Chicxulub Crater caught diplodocuses chewing their cud in some ancient swamp - more than a little off guard.

Suddenly, design became more than just a hardware thing, the importance of design came to the UI as well. One of the more eyecatching examples, HTC's Touchflo 3D, pictured above, certainly is beautiful to look at but sadly is far from perfect. Sometimes slow to respond, often inefficient in terms of use of available space, the UI also suffers from inconsistancy, ended up being just a shallow, thin skin over something different, in this case, Windows Mobile. Thus the user has to adapt to two different ways of doing things, two different looks and feels, two different ways of failing or doing the wrong thing.

However, it looks really good. One of the things that pegged the lust meter for me for the Touch Pro T7272 I have on my desk here is in fact that sexiness of TouchFlo 3D.

Recently, Phil Goldstein at Fierce Mobile wrote about the need to go deeper than just the surface in the quest for UI goodness, and he is right. Although there are companies such as Yappa which do a good job of adding necessary eye candy to UIs, Phil quotes Avi Greengart, "Having a prettier set of animated weather cards isn't going to be enough."
There are different approaches one could take. One, like the iPhone and some of the more recent Blackberry offerings, would be to concentrate on executing well against the traditional way of doing things. Make the phone stuff work intuitively, make it easy to get at contacts etc.

Another approach, which Noah Kravitz of Phonedog wrote about recently, would be a "people centric" view. Instead of breaking up the user experience based on whether it is phone calls, emails or SMSs, the contact becomes the fundamental reference point or key field, and things are arranged around your communications with a particular contact.
Given the difficulty that handset makers have had with executing well against well established paradigms, it would be surprising for the first efforts at the people centric thing to be real stellar. However, new approaches like this and others will undoubtedly change the way that we think about and interact with mobile phones.

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