Nokia is recognizing two already dominant design pattern candidates for mobile phones: Apple iOS and the similar to each other in this respect Nokia Symbian and Android. Then there is also a recent third pattern from Microsoft, with unknown yet success, and Nokia itself is preparing to launch a fourth one with its MeeGo platform as a highly important strategic bet by the company.
Major update: Marko Ahtisaari: smartphone evolution is only just beginning [The Guardian, Jan 31, 2012]
“There’s a point of view about design that all innovation in the interaction with the phone has been done,” Ahtisaari says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The phase we’re in now is like the 1880s in the car industry. Back then, cars had tillers – you would steer them like boats, with a wheel at the back. It took 15 years to settle on the steering wheel at the front controlling the front wheels. And we’re in the middle of that part of the evolution of interaction.”
“Look at iOS. Multiple pages of apps, and folder, with a physical home key. It’s very elegant; it was a great innovation five years ago. But the core interaction hasn’t evolved much. It’s simple but constant. It’s like a house where you know that you can always get to the kitchen from the living room – but you have to go through the front door.”
He adds quickly, “OK, so there’s been some changes. Now you can get there if you skip on one leg” – referring to the double tap’ introduced by Apple in iOS 4 for fast switching between apps via a “drawer” at the bottom of the screen.
“The other model, of Android and Symbian, is multiple, personalisable home screens with widgets. There’s some fragmentation in button layouts where different devices have them in different ways. The hope is that having personalisable screens is so organic that you end up using it via the home screen.” In the past year we have seen a different way to do it – Live Tiles [as used in Microsoft’s Windows Phone interface] – they’re abstractions of data, a panoramic view of your data. It’s a different approach – ‘glanceability’, such as in the People Hub.” He explains that “our goal in the studio is to design so that people can have their head up again. Touchscreen designs are often immersive; we’ll often see couples in a restaurant pinching and zooming, but not interacting with each other. And there’s a trend of having smaller and smaller targets on screen so you have to get closer and closer. If we can make the interfaces more direct, so you can have your head up again – this is something that, while it would never come up in a focus group, is deeply appreciated by people, because the most important things are happening not only in the vessel of your phone, but also with the people and the environment around you.”
That element of “glance-and-go” is one that has been emphasised by Microsoft, and now Nokia too.
His theme is that we shouldn’t think that iOS or Android (or Symbian) has ended user-interface evolution. The sun’s just coming up on that. “I think there will be more diversity in user interfaces rather than less. In automotive, you need to have some standardisation for safety reasons – you can’t have wheels in some and tillers in others. So you want a standard, or standards.” That doesn’t apply in phones: “Here, they will be more diversity in user interface because you can design more ways to use a phone. Some people would say that the iPhone is the new generic form. My point is more about competitive diversity. What’s really important is that this isn’t styling.” He becomes emphatic. “This aesthetic come from the way that we build the product.”
Update: Nokia N9 UX [?Swipe?] on MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan [June 24, 2011]
Follow-up: Designing smarter phones–Marko Ahtisaari (Nokia) and Albert Shum (Microsoft) [Nov 23, 2011]
Note: Version 1.2 of MeeGo OS is scheduled for April 2011 but the smartphone product won’t happen, either on Intel or ARM until around June 2011. See my post on Intel Oak Trail to beat ARM with MeeGo specific prices [Nov 25]
This is all according to its SVP Design and User Experience, Marko Ahtisaari [the indicated timing is for the video record of his plenary speech at LeWeb 2010 on Dec 8, also linked later on]:
|1.[2:25] Elegant, simple, extremely blown out – the iOS design pattern. Essentially a screen or screens full of apps and a physical homekey like the mouse key. You click it, you take your hand off the screen to do something on the screen, then may leave to go home. Beautifully elegant, extremely simple to learn with a few steps. And think of a forefront of a house where if you want to go from the kitchen to the dining room you know how you go to the front door. And if after dinner you want to go to the living room you again know how to do that, you go to the front door. Of course the physical button is this mouse click has been loaded with more and more functionality, but essentially a beatifully elegant system that is fantastically constrained. [3:18].||2.Multiple personizable homescreens where the bet is that the process of personalizing (filling out these home screens) is so simple and organic that it just happens over time and you end up using the device by these home screens – the pattern shared by both Symbian and Android, also the fastest growing pattern. There is not only one physical button but there are many, in fact there are many different configurations that are quite fragmented, as many people commented. And there is some way to flip to where you launch apps, but essentially it is about these personalizable home screens for both shortcuts and live information, or using tabs or so on those widgets. [4:08]|
|3.[4:20] Windows Phone 7 has introduced an interesting new pattern, too early to tell [how successful it will be]. But it just shows that there is demand for other patterns. [4:26]One important remark by Sofpedia’s Nokia Poised to Change Mobile UI Approach with MeeGo Devices [Dec 8] report: “Marko Ahtisaari suggests that the future would bring different UI patterns to devices, and that one of them would be based on notifications. Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 OS was built based on notifications.”||4.[4:28] This is basically what is the design team in the Nokia Design Studios is spending most of its time on doing: is introducing a new pattern. This will be launched with MeeGo in 2011. … [To give the idea:] … If you look at touchscreen immersive experiences, so most touchscreen devices, and what you start thinking is this way: you will see this at every single moment – so you walk in Paris, you see in cafe, [where] you see a couple [who] have been together for 10-15 years – they will be there head down, pitching and zooming. Touchscreen interfaces are immersive, they require our full attention. [5.15]I think we are missing a trick and also we are not doing good enough design unless we give people their head up again. What do I mean by that? Better one-handed use, better ways to use the devices, without them demanding our full attention. This means more eye contact, more ability to be present both with the people you are around, with right now the physical environment, as well as when you are navigating the physical environment and using maps. I think this giving people their head-up again is extremely important. [5:45]|
For the rest of the talk it is better to continue with a summarized transcript like reporting Live at LeWeb: Marko Ahtisaari [Dec 8] from Nokia Conversations, the official Nokia blog:
We need to give people their head up again. The ability to keep social interaction with the people that they’re physically with. That means a better ability to use the devices single-handed and them requiring less of our attention for peripheral interactions. Notifications, for example, could be much improved so they require much less from us.
The second big influence for the most competitive devices will be the way they are able to harness the collective intelligence of their users. Smartphone users create a lot of data. The collective use of Ovi Maps for navigation, for example, circumnavigates the globe 80 times a day. The average owner makes use of it 11 times a month.
We can use that data to make the devices more intelligent: for example, to avoid traffic jams and create alternative routes. We can also use it to improve the maps – if we see people going in directions that don’t exist on the map, we can see there’s something to fix.
But it’s not just maps, as we have more sensors on the device we can answer almost any question. The research on collective intelligence says that it needs a large, independent, diverse group of people to solve problems – that’s what we’ve got. Soon phones will allow you to arrive somewhere – say the LeWeb party tonight – and it’ll know where the bar is and where to find the discotheque.
So this is the most essential part of Nokia’s announcement. You can also watch the associated video records for more information and general rational for Nokia’s strategy with MeeGo:
– Marko Ahtisaari, SVP Design, Nokia — live Ustream record of his speech [Dec 8]
– Marko Ahtisaari, SVP Design, Nokia Q&A — live Ustream record of his interview after the speech [Dec 8]
Some notable excerpts from reports around the web:
Ahtisaari began his talk about two issues on his mind, the state of the smartphone market as well as the collective intelligence, how platforms get better as more people use them. He’s key point was, that while the smartphone market is hyped a lot in media, there is a ton of action elsewhere in the mobile space that is seldomly reported on. But he did say that Nokia is now on very impressive growth curve with its Ovi Store. Daily downloads are around 3.5 million, when they were around 3 million just 3 weeks ago and around 2 million in September. Furthermore, 250 000 people sign up each day.
Secondly, there’s a lot of collective intelligence being built into applications, for example the Ovi maps. They can receive a ton of information from people using the navigational tools, for example when cars go off piste, they know they might need to update the data on that map. But according to Ahtisaari, this is just the beginning.
Furthermore, Ahtisaari shared or perhaps reminded us about some of the reasons why developers should be looking at Nokia as their platform. Nokia is still the most global, yet local platform out there. Their phones work in over 180 countries, in close to 50 languages. Back in November we shared some of the Ovi store statistics and Nokia has one of the most impressive payment mechanisms for developers out there as well.
– Nokia praises iPhone, warns of ‘Cupertino distortion field’: Nokia at LeWeb both praises, trashes Apple iPhone [Dec 8]
While discussing the company’s plans for MeeGo phones in 2011, he produced rare compliments and said the iPhone interface was “beautifully elegant” and easy to learn. At the same, however, he saw Apple as unfairly creating a perception that Nokia was losing out and alluded to the stereotype of Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” stressing that Nokia’s reach was much wider.
“There is this Cupertino distortion field,” he said. “We compete with all phones all over the world.”
Nokia would take a small cue from Microsoft and try to shift away from constantly staring at phones. Smartphones today are “immersive, they require our full attention,” he said. Rather than strictly follow Microsoft’s approach, though, the goal with MeeGo was to focus on “one-handed use” where a device didn’t need full attention.
The Finnish mobile phone giant is … under pressure to fight back against Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android operating system, and a resurgent Microsoft mobile platform.
Mr. Ahtisaari was, however, preaching patience and caution on stage today.
On mobile interfaces, he said: “We’re at the point the automotive industry was in the 1890s, where cars had tillers — not steering wheels, which were 15 years in the future.”
He said he’d left his own start-up to join Nokia, “making a bet on the steering wheel.”
Nokia, he said, wants to “give people their head up again.”
Asked by conference organizer Loic Le Meur if that meant screens beamed onto our spectacles, or even into our retina (Mr. Le Meur was keen on the latter), Mr. Ahtisaari said that was a while off.
But he did suggest physical keys might become rarer on the MeeGo devices, with faces that were all screen, with no physical buttons, “allowing the apps to shine.”
… We already knew the MeeGo launch will be a vital one for the future of Nokia. Mr. Ahtisaari’s talk of design innovations today will mean it is even more keenly anticipated.
Nokia SVP of Design Marko Ahtisaari has admitted that the company still needs “to somehow regain the imagination,” though as always that route won’t involve Android. “We’ll go where we can add value,” Ahtisaari said at LeWeb 2010 this morning, “that’s not the case at the moment with Android.” Instead, Nokia’s design team is focused on new homescreen paradigms ahead of MeeGo‘s launch in 2011, with Ahtisaari arguing that the UI dynamics of iOS, Symbian and Android aren’t quite there yet.
Another focus is how sensor-integrated phones can learn from the individual user’s behavior, but also that of other device users in aggregate. “How do the platforms get better the more people use them?” Ahtisaari asked, pointing to Ovi Maps and its ability to not only intuit traffic and map information from multiple user feedback, but to track inaccuracies in core mapping data as it spots multiple users going off-course.
One future implementation, he suggested, was coupling GPS data with other sensor input, and using that to dynamically work out real-time activity. So, a sudden group of users in proximity could suggest the location of a party. The design team is also looking at how devices address updates and reminders of things like missed calls and new messages, though Ahtisaari didn’t show any UI mockups.