February 20, 2011
The iPhone distinguished itself with a single home button for returning from an app to the launch screen. While its functionality may have been strained a bit as the platform has progressed. e.g., having to tap twice to bring up the app switcher, its single UI depression concession made a statement about minimalist simplicity that few platforms (webOS may be one example) have answered.
In contrast, Android launched with four major UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) and Windows Phone launched with three (Windows/Start, Back, and Search). Exactly how many – if any – buttons is optimal can be debated by user interface experts or considered personal preference. As is the case with much of what I consider Android variation, the media has jumped upon the tendency for different vendors to implement the Android button order in a different way, even in different handsets from the same manufacturer.
I don’t see that as such a major issue, but the Search button, in particular, always struck me as gratuitous. Yes, we know Google is a search company, but that doesn’t mean I need a search button omnipresent on my device. And I was somewhat disappointed that Microsoft followed suit (since, of course, Bing is really important, too).
Now Google, if not having so much seen the error of its ways, will give licensees the option to forego any and all buttons in Honeycomb tablets and presumably Ice Cream handsets. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Matias Duarte, a notion that buttons are trickier to place on a tablet versus a generally vertically oriented handset, or simple feedback from partners.
The drawback is that now, in addition to potentially having different button layouts, Android devices may now have different combinations of buttons and gestures for the same task. Regardless, these devices now have the potential to look cleaner and more streamlined because of the change. Perhaps that’s one of the liberties that Nokia will feel free to take as it balances its unique customization privileges against compromising the consistency in the Windows Phone ecosystem.
Tags: Android, buttons, differntiation, Google, IIce Cream, iPhone, Matias Duarte, Search, Start button, tablets, user interface, webOS, Windows Phone
October 20, 2010
In previewing some of the features of the next Mac OS, code-named Lion, today, Steve Jobs decried the idea of using a touch screen on a notebook. Apple’s CEO cited the ergonomic burden of having to constantly reach forward to touch a vertically oriented screen and said that the proper orientation for a touch surface is a horizontal surface. Hence, Apple is expanding the multitouch gestures invoked from input peripherals such ad the MacBooks’ trackpad, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.
However, the iPad is not generally used in a horizontal orientation — just check any of the Apple Pad billboards. There is a bit more to the story than just orientation. First, despite the iPadian nods to touch manipulation Apple is planning in Lion, desktop operating systems simply are not designed around the same kind of large on-screen UI elements and design that characterize the iPad experience.
This becomes obvious on a touchscreen Windows system long before arm fatigue sets in. (If you don’t have a touchscreen Windows system but do have a Winsows PC and an iPad, you can test this by using the Splashtop Remote Desktop app or any number of screen sharing alternatives.) Apple could, as many PC makers have, tweak the controls, but then the apps would still be a UI generation behind stuck in the traditional paradigm a on Windows
Second, the iPad is far more of a passive consumption device than a Mac.I’m not sure how many touch gestures the average iPad user makes versus mouse movements for a Mac user, but I would guess that the latter number is generally much higher. So even if. Apple were to create a Mac slate and tweak the UI elements, using such a computer would not be the smooth, gentle experience of an iPad.
Tags: Apple, iPad, Lion, Mac OS X, touch, user interface
March 22, 2010
One aspect of 3DTV that holds particular for me is the impact that it may have on user interface. For example, 3D could lead to a complete rethinking of the electronic programming guide.. I’ve seen one early demos of 3D information overlay from cable supplier NDS that show how 3D could affect on-screen information presentation, and have heard many tales of woe about the difficult debates that have occurred in the industry over the proper depth location for closed captioning when watching 3DTV.
Last week, though, I got to see at least one demonstration of a 2D user interface at the Panasonic public demonstration near Penn Station in New York. nVidia was showing off its 3D gaming system using an otherwise unmodified version of Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed racing game. The 3D effect wasn’t too different from playing a racing game without the glasses although the whole picture seemed to be inset within the TV, and the difference really became clear in “cockpit view” where your perspective is through the car’s windshield. The user interface elements floated above the action in a pretty basic but effective way. As games and other content become more optimized for 3D, I suspect we will see more experimentation with translucence and other 3D effects.
Tags: 3DTV, NDS, nVidia, user interface
September 11, 2009
Watching the camp Second City Television show in my youth, I laughed at the show’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre segments, in which John Candy, as the evil Dr. Tongue, would create “3D” by swaying a cat cradled in his arms toward and away from the camera — a high technological bar indeed.
Nevertheless, at the IFA conference in Berlin last week, Sony and Panasonic emerged as leading advocates for the adoption of 3D television based on a more modern approach; each had its own spin. Sony relied on its knowledge of movie making via Sony Pictures (now integrated into its “make.believe” corporate branding along with Sony Ericsson) whereas Panasonic noted that it had a production facility in Hollywood for mastering Blu-ray.
Sony also won showmanship points by distributing RealD glasses and showing 3D clips during its press conference. That’s fair game in my book even though the technology it plans to introduce in the home is actually the same as Panasonic’s, which uses active shutter glasses that Panasonic was showing behind closed doors on its 150″ plasma. Passing through those doors, I noticed the impact of the 3D effect when there is high contrast between foreground and background, lending credibility to its claim that plasma is well-suited to 3D. (It also bodes well for OLED, which both Sony and Panasonic are pursuing.) While the Avatar clip actually fell a bit flat (pun unintended), there was a confetti scene so realistic that I felt I could reach out and grab it. Panasonic also answered Sony’s eye-popping Gran Turismo cockpit scene from its press conference with its own impressive driver’s-eye footage.
Sony and Panasonic are also driving forces behind Blu-ray, and another piece of the puzzle to roll out at IFA was that the Blu-ray 3D spec is coming soon. Indeed, 3D will absolutely need content, and as was noted during the Blu-ray Disc Association press conference, 3D content will be distributed in many ways. But even that may not be enough to overcome some of the hurdles such as wearing glasses. That is why Philips has decided to sit back and sell 21:9 TVs that I can’t believe wouldn’t find an audience in at least the custom installer market in the U.S.
As my colleague Paul Gray at DisplaySearch (whom I ran into on the show floor) notes, 3D may not close the gap in TV pricing declines, but I still see the question of Blu-ray’s arrival is more of a when (and certainly within the time frame of seeing the effect without the glasses) than if. 3D has particular value for movies and sports, two TV genres that helped drive HD adoption.
But one area that 3D could enhance that hasn’t seen much attention but where it could provide much value is in the oft-neglected user interface, where it could help in swimming through the overwhelming flood of metadata that consumers will need to navigate. Hillcrest Labs has already shown a quasi-3D user interface using its Loop remote dubbed HoME, but it strikes me as the tip of the iceberg as to what companies could do with real 3D capabiliies. Without significant redesign, the prospects of finding personal relevant video in the age of broadband video are frightening, even more so than Count Floyd.
Tags: 3D, Television, user interface
February 23, 2009
Gizmodo highlights an interesting demo video of how Apple could use iTunes to do a far more efficient and effective job of app management than is resident on the iPhone itself using the richer object manipulation capabilities of the PC. Some capabilities I’ve been hoping for that are demoed include reordering screens and selecting multiple icons. I’m not sure I need the “space locking feature.” But on the other hand, it doesn’t include the screen-naming feature I’d like to see.
I think Apple would have been more open to this back at the debut of the iPhone where the device was more dependent on the computer for tasks such as activation and sideloading. Gradually, though, as the iPhone becomes a more robust platform in its own right, the notion of the computer as the digital hub – at least for peripherals – seems to be fading. What replaces it? Perhaps the PC is disintegrating into fragment computing – notebooks and netbooks depending on the mobile usage model, MIDs to rival consumer electronics, and a home server for housekeeping and personal media distribution around the home.
Tags: digital hub, iPhone, user interface
March 3, 2008
Over at Coding Horror, my old friend Jeff Atwood has a great post about Vista’s file copying performance and why consumers perceive it to be slower than XP’s despite an improved algorithm and solid benchmarks. It’s yet another chapter for the operating system that is struggling against formidable competition, it’s predecessor, and abetted by a parent doing what it can to make its unaccepted child more popular while still supporting its older brother.
In any case, it’s great reading for user interface developers.
Tags: file copying, Microsoft, user interface, Windows Vista