The iPhone is not a great mobile phone, but I still love it.

This post is my reply to Jude Rattle’s own post, titled “I don’t love my iPhone”.

I actually agree with many of Jude’s points:

1, 2 & 5) Typing is in some ways harder than it used to be when you were used to physical keys and T9 text-prediction.

3) The switch between portrait and landscape mode can be annoying, especially when lying down. There should at least be a preference to disable for in each app.

4) When the iPhone is off, it is off, and will not start itself up on time to wake yourself up as an alarm clock. Which also means it is totally off, not in some standby mode.

7) The battery life is not great: my iPhone 3GS last little more than a day in normal use, years ago I had a Nokia 3210 that lasted 4-5 days.

So the iPhone is not a great mobile phone, I would actually agree with that.
Many users who only need a simple basic mobile phone, would be better served by cheaper and less fragile devices, such as my old Nokia 3210.

But what surprised me in that post was that it was not mentioning what makes an iPhone so much more than a mobile phone.
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Hackathons, developer’s conceptions, and how it negatively affects good UX. #ota09

The culmination of the Over the Air 09 conference is a developer competition. Over the 24h of the conference, developers are invited to code some application, with many prizes setup up by the organizers and the sponsors.

Sponsored categories ask for example how to provide a demonstration on how a sponsor’s product / API can be used. For example “Best BBC. com hack”, or “Best Lonely planet hack”. There are also general categories “Best use of WebApp/widget”, “Best hardware hack”, and the weirdly phrased “Best User Experience / Service Design”.

Sounds cool? Yeah, kind of. But to me such competitions, hackday or hackathon tend to encourage the worse of the typical developer mindset, which is often antinomic to delivering a good UX.

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Over The Air 09: first impressions

I attended the first day of the Over The Air conference yesterday, which proved very interesting for two reasons. First, I heard about some of the new and upcoming developments in mobile tech (widget, widget, widget, it seems…). Second, this was a Developers conference, and very much so. So this doubled as a field trip in developer land, ethnographic style.

If there was any doubt about the audience being developers, just counting the number of ladies would remove it. I estimate the ratio to be close to 1 woman for 15 guys, a very far cry from the approximate gender parity of UX crowds.

The session were mainly technical, full of info about APIs, (in-)compatibilities, standards etc. Some UX session were also present, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed by them. It’s not that they were not good, far from it actually, special props to Bryan Rieger with his incredibly clean, beautiful, and effective slides. It’s just that given my background in UX and the MSc I just finished, none of this was really news to me: I was simply not the intended audience.

Like any good event, #ota09 got me thinking on a couple of points, that will be the basis of a few blog post.

First up: Hackathons, developer’s conceptions, and how it negatively affect good UX

Zune HD, or what’s makes a UI great (or not)

The new Zune HD is out (still US only), and the reviews are out.

Zune are an interesting breed. The first one was just fugly (remember brown as *#&* and lime green?). The second one looked better, and I have to say I quite like the hardware design of the Zune HD. FINALLY some device with its own design personality, not another iPhone cheap look alike.

Reading the review, and watching the videos of the UI, it seems Microsoft’s team produced a beautiful UI, full of eye candy and animation. However, it presents a really glaring flaw.

the Zune HD new UI offers a nice way to quickly access favourites (or “picks”) or recently added media, straight from the start menu. iPod users traditionally need to have manually put their own smart playlists, and then dig down into music > playlist > to find them. This is definitely a good idea that Apple would be wise to take inspiration from.

Now let’s focus on the screen that will be displayed the most on a portable music player: the “now playing” screen. Here is photo, sorry I couldn’t find a better screenshot.

Take a good look at it. I’ll wait.

ZuneHD now playing screen

Image "courtesy" of PCmag

It doesn’t look bad at first glance. I won’t go into details and esthetics, probably largely a matter of personal taste, but there is a glaring omission on this screen.

Let’s see what the same screen looks like on an iPhone.

iPhone's now playing screen

Oh, and BTW, Muse's new album rocks!

Do you see what the Zune UI is missing?

It does not have any controls! No way to directly play/pause, adjust volume or change track!
The one and only way to do that is to press a hardware button to open a new screen / menu with those features.

Such simple, obvious, and very frequent actions are hidden away!

When I read about this (on Ars), I just couldn’t believe it. I do not think it takes extensive user research to find out that controlling what’s playing it a frequent user need, yet Microsoft ‘s Zune UI team did not realize this.

Well, as far as I’m concerned, I would give up all the nice animations and background pictures for direct access to those elementary controls.

So the lesson of the day: all graphic work is pointless if you can’t figure out what the user needs to do, and prioritize access to those features accordingly.

By comparison, newer iPhone/iPod allow you to use all those control without even taking the device out of you pocket, thanks to their very handy and light remote built-in on their earphones.

On a side note, while Zune quality keeps improving, it still seems they are competing with last year’s iPods. An iPod touch is now much more than a portable media player, thanks to its App Store and the 60k + applications it offers. On the Zune, there are now plans for third party apps, and the few ones Microsoft themselves will offer will be ad-suported. Yes, first party apps with ads, this might be a first.

More than apps, devices keep pilling features, in a very tangible show of the much heralded “convergence”. Even the tiny iPod Nano record video now!
It seems clear to me than single purpose devices are a dead end. I can’t wait to see what the much rumored Apple tablet will look like, but you can be sure it will do more than just a web/eReader.

#UXcampLondon session: What do you do? Explaining our jobs to ourselves and others – David and Martina

UX_titles.jpgThat session is one of those that can only happen in a bar camp: it was pretty much improvised, consisted mainly of a group discussion. I found it however very interesting especially since a couple of participants were less deep in UX than the rest of us, and provided a somewhat external outlook, very much appreciated given the topic.

In the field of UX, you pretty much have as many job titles as you have individuals (each of these post it is one!), and it is very difficult, even for us, to clearly see what each of these mean.

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#UXcampLondon sessions: Johanna on Google Wave

I enjoyed the presentation, but just like after watching the official introduction at Google IO, I am not sold on Wave.

The technology behind it sure seems impressive, but I have yet to see (or understand?) what concrete benefits it brings. I have not yet seen any use that would not have been filled by either email, IM, a forum, or google apps.

Wave is remixing all of those into something new, which is bound to be very disturbing as it will be in a uncanny valley where we think we know what is there (for ex. someone typing a message), while the reality is different from what we expect (you can edit you correspondant message while he types it).

Seems to me they try to have one single tool to achieve very different things, which is generally a recipe for failure.

Disclaimer: This is based on my poor recollection of the session, and may not be an accurate or comprehensive description of the presenter’s ideas. I also use those posts to share my own idea on the topic.

Johanna highlighted many issues with email, and there are not doubt many, but I don’t agree on all of the ones mentioned. For me the fact that my messages or love letters may be opened a century from now by my grand kids is not a benefit. My emails are private things, and I only want the recipient(s) to see. I can use public blogs, forum etc if I want to share.
However, I agree that the current situation has serious issues: much vital information in organisation is only present in emails, is not searchable by all who need it, and is lost when one person leaves.

A key point of Johanna’s presentation was about “orality”. But IMHO, not all correspondence should aim to be more oral.
“Words fly, writings remain”: I precisely use email when I want things written with no way to modify them, like when I want a trace of an expense approval from my boss.

Overall, I am not sure Google has really understood all the reasons why people use email, and were the strong points of email are. I would say emails are used for many different purposes.

Analysing the many characteristics (availability, intimacy, instantaneity, collaboration, multimedia, persistency…) of all our modern communication tools
is a huge task, but one that I feel should be accomplished to be able to assess Wave fairly.

I’ll probably write more about those topics in the future.

For a start I should definitely use it myself :-/

Hello world!

This is it. #UXcamplondon pushed me over the edge, and I’m back in the blogging world.

Got tons of ideas from #UXcamplondon that I want to get out of my brain. This blog is meant to contribute to the conversation, so comments are most welcomed.

Hope you’ll like what’ you’ll read.

Also: this blog has been put together in a rush. I am supposed to be working on finishing my MSc dissertation, so some work has been delayed (theme, advanced configuration etc).