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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mobile Experiences - The new paradigm

After seeing the Palm Pre I realised something I kind of knew for sometime, but could not really express in words, now I think I can. The iPhone introduced a new paradigm in mobile user experiences, multi-touch and gestural navigation. This is obvious somehow, but I always had a small problem with the iPhone UI in that the control of it was quite basic, a sort of forward-back-up-down-in-out UI. I have referred to it as a pretty mess, it works but does not scale very far. When I first saw it this lack of scalability bothered me, on the other hand like many others I was totally mesmerised with the fluidity of touch, but I first somehow dismissed the multi-touch and gestures to be a gimmicky. I was wrong, it is the beginning of the touch paradigm.

Let me try to elaborate. There has been 3 paradigms of handhelds user experiences. The first was dedicated function keys, where each of the key functions had its dedicated key and leading to either too many keys (remote controls) or impossible to use user interfaces (Japanese Watches) phones with dedicated keys simply did not provide the function scalability needed. In 1994 Nokia introduced the first soft key phone, with the 2110 this became paradigm shift, and in about 15 years all phones with keys have followed this into its defacto standard 3 soft keys (OK, Menu and Back, of which OK is surrounded with 4-way navigation). Two years ago Apple brought out its iPhone. It introduced the first finger only operated touch user interface. The touch screen, its integration and responsiveness was at such a quality that it immediately laid the fundamental for a change in the mobile landscape. The fact that it was a paradigm shift, I only now discovered when I played with the Palm Pre. The Palm Pre was designed among other by Paul Mercer, a friend and brilliant UE designer. He had the good taste to recognize that multi-touch is a paradigm, and just copied what Apple did and then took it further, much further. The Palm Pre is the first touch UE offering a new UI style, which is essentially is a new way of handling core navigation, like navigating in list, across applications and in and out of applications.

Seeing this led me to mature my thinking. There is three layers in User Experience or a UI Style. The highest level I call Bling (this is because, it caters to the visual senses) it contains the visuals, colours, content density and partly motion. The next level below it is Control (This caters to the mind or rationale) This is where the efficiency is created, where one gets stuff done, one navigates into applications, within applications and between applications. It is where services should be integrated. It is much more than functionality, more than an application. The lowest level of a user experience is the Utility level. In this level one experiences such thing as application installation, network control, power management. It is where latency is managed. This level of user experience is almost totally provided by engineering, except when operating at world class level, when UE designers and Engineers co-operate deeply.

Now if we look at empiric's, my opinion is that the Asians, with Samsung, LG at the forefront have realised that they need to invest in user experience, but it has been exclusively done at Bling level. Companies like TAT has greatly helped to create this layer in experience, the motions are fluid, there is fun animations , things look good.

At the control level we have more fundamental innovations, they are things like pinching, flicking, flipping into 'back' of application like in iPhone Weather or flipping below, like in the Maps app. In the PalmPre there are the cards and their shuffling, the Chucking, meaning closing the app. These are fundamental design solutions, solutions I call 'of course design' when invented it is the only reaction user have. They provide deep long lasting innovation, they are the gear shift and steering wheel type of innovations. They cannot be customised from customer to customer.

What now is going to be killer interesting is will there become a legal fight in the Control layer or not. It did not happen in the past paradigm 'soft keys', when Nokia let the others do soft keys, to the great benefit of humanity in my opinion. Apple clearly raised their voice with multi-touch gestures, when the Palm Pre was launched, which in some ways reduces their differentiation, but greatly expands the opportunity for people to be able to operate these new devices. At Fjord we spend alot of time innovationg in the control layer, it is hard work as coming up with 'of-course design' does not happen very often.

When I look at Google's Android it lacks Bling innovation, it lacks Control Innovations, but all innovation has gone into the Utility layer. This somehow fits with my impression of Google. They are a utility, and with utility I do not mean a commodity or anything negative, more in the direction of Air and Water, necessities for life. By focusing on utility in the beginning one can build a very solid user experience paradigm, Android somehow reminds me of the early days of GMail, just another e-mail service that just worked, now 4 years later it is becoming a cloud based content platform integrating core elements of your digital life. What makes the Google strategy powerful is its utility focus, as fragmentation is smaller further down, but it is still far more fragmented than on the PC or Web side, making progress slower, but I suspect Google is in no rush.

Now one can ask will there be new paradigms in mobile experience, the answer is of course, I for one believe we are going to see smarter keys. Text input on touch screens are simply too bad. People like moving keys and the sensory feeling they provide.

06:21 PM | Permalink

Comments

Hi,

The three dimensions you described reminded me of Donald Norman's three dimensions of attractiveness: visceral, functional and usable (behavioral) and high in prestige (reflective)

"Visceral level people will be strongly biased toward appearance, behavioral people towards function, usability, and how much the feel in control during use. And Reflective level people (who would seldom admit to be one), are heavily biased by brand name, by prestige, and by the value a product brings to their self-image – hence the sale of high-priced whiskey, watches,, automobiles, and home furnishings. "

http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/emotional_desig.html

Amir

Posted by: Amir D at Feb 24, 2009 12:33:36 AM

I like your simplified segmentation model of Bling, Control, Utility. Especially Bling. :)

Posted by: Robert Cooper at Feb 24, 2009 5:05:01 PM

I'm with you here in terms of terminolgy. (bling = awesome) I also feel the dimensions you describe strongly corrolate with the Hierarchy of consumer needs as defined by Jordan.

http://www.uselog.com/2005_06_01_archive.html

What is the best way to get in touch with you? I'm cooking up a research project to scientifically validate a thing or two within mobile user experiences which I would like to discuss with you sometime?

Posted by: Robert Winters at Feb 26, 2009 1:16:03 PM

Bling, Control, Utility. Well put. Keep writing!

B)

Posted by: Pertti Huuskonen at Mar 12, 2009 12:55:51 PM

Great stuff - Nielsen has plugged you in his newsletter, which is how I found it.

One other area which I mention in my post about your article is learning.

What I wrote is: "It occurred to me that my supplier was missing a trick by not offering paid lessons on how to get the most out of your phone. Am I missing something here as I have yet to see a site which does this job (or does everyone not want to admit there's some stuff they just can't work out?)"

Posted by: paul canning at Mar 23, 2009 4:34:26 PM

I like the description of the three different levels. For the utility level:

"This level of user experience is almost totally provided by engineering, except when operating at world class level, when UE designers and Engineers co-operate deeply."

I think it the user experience designers should also play the role of innovation by asking what is best for users, co-operate with engineers to shape new "engineering methods".

Posted by: Sebastian Ho at Mar 23, 2009 7:00:04 PM

As with everyone else, very nice way to put the three levels.

I think we're going to see some very interesting innovation come from android based interfaces. As you mentioned google handles the utility level extremely well and with that solid grounding it opens up a magnitude of possibilities for the upper levels (bling and control). One area which is going to be extremely exciting is as mobile devices are able to give the experience designer more and more data to use within the interface. For example, if you got a device thats loaded with a gps, digital compass, accelerometers, light and proximity sensor(s) and a gesturally capable touch interface you are presented with a hell of a lot information you can interpret in order to gain a greater understanding of how the user is interacting with and responding to the device.

Posted by: Kim Burgess at Mar 24, 2009 3:44:06 AM

Hi Christian,
As being one of your former colleagues, I would have to correct one element of information: Nokia 2110 was NOT the first soft-key based mobile phone. E.g. Hagenuk (where I was working at that time) launched their MT 900 with 2-soft-key User Interface in 1992/93. I guess Siemens might have been 'out there' even before this. But you are absolutely right that people remember that Nokia was 'first' with the soft-key based user interface :-).

Some historical data here (sorry, it is in German): http://phonelounge.de/?p=30

Best regards and smiles, Christian

Posted by: Christian at Apr 7, 2009 7:54:40 PM

After using the first using iPhone for a couple of days I went back to my Sony Vaio and was repeatedly frustrated when I tried to flick the web pages in firefox. I had a touchpad on my laptop and it immediately seemed incredible to me that this was not the default behavior.

I think that this, more than any other, was the reason that I switched from a PC to a MacBook.

Alex.

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I guess Siemens might have been 'out there' even before this. But you are absolutely right that people remember that Nokia was 'first' with the soft-key based user interface :-).

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