Interface Design Blog: the good, the bad, and the utterly unusable...

Oldie but oh-so-goodie – Lavender Concept Phone Design

Posted on | June 9, 2010 | No Comments

I had been spoiled designing for iPhone and some of the nicer Android mobile phones, but recently I had to do a few projects on simpler, smaller, much less elegant devices running J2ME.  It got me thinkig of that thin line that separates the beautiful, slick devices from the ones that lack the ‘wow’ factor completely and would be only bought based on their discounted pricing.

Being a designer myself, I would definitely pay the premium (within reason) for a mobile phone, just to have that feeling every time I pull it out of my bag or pocket that I am holding a highly functional and usable yet beautiful product, a culmination of hard work and talent on behalf of both engineers and designers.

I looked again at the concept Lavender phone from a young designer named Andrew Kim that made a splash some time ago:

Lavender Concept Phone - Andrew Kim

Lavender Concept Phone - Andrew Kim

Clearly, the perfume functionality is very questionable, and functionality is not worked out in detail, but I just love the overall feeling of completeness of this phone.  Unlike many phones on the market, it boasts a beautiful cohesive design, where everything is just where it should be.  Though, of course, it is much easier to achieve the cohesiveness in concept products than in production models.

Gmail keeps getting smarter

Posted on | May 6, 2010 | 1 Comment

I love Gmail.  I love that it keeps all my emails INDEFINITELY.  I love that I can find any email from 5 years ago just by typing in a keyword.  I especially love that all these features allow me, a dumb forgetful attention-challenged user, to not bother with folders.

My love suffered a minor blow a few months ago with Gmail introduced Buzz.  Much is said about Buzz, most people I polled don’t use it and generally find it annoying, even if mildly so.  So that was a bit cooling.  For a moment there I wondered where Gmail was headed.

But today my love has been re-ignited in a major way:  Gmail is even smarter that I suspected!  I wrote in my email that I am attaching a file, then wrote a few more paragraphs, forgot all about the file, and clicked “Send”.  And this is what I saw:

Gmail detects the words 'attachment', 'attaching' in your emails

Gmail detects the words 'attachment', 'attaching' in your emails and warns you if you forgot to add the attachment

I am truly impressed by this.  It’s a great example of a system helping the user where it matters – safeguarding us where our fickle human memory fails.

Designers Needed

Posted on | May 1, 2010 | No Comments

I went to the first TEDx at Berkeley last weekend.  It was an exciting and well organized event, very “Berkeley” in spirit, as my former coworker at Life360 (a Berkeley Incubator startup), and a Berkeley graduate, described it.  The event brought people of various disciplines together, but the underlying theme that united all speakers was ‘Doing the unprecedented’.  Speakers ranged from underwater photography guru Eric Cheng ( to UC Berkley Men’s Octet… Very fun.

One talk that stood out for myself was Fred Dust’s (Partner at IDEO) discussion titled “Designers Needed”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the presentation anywhere online to repost, but the idea was simple:  much design improvement can be done in all areas of our lives, and there aren’t enough designers to take on these jobs.  Solution:  by applying a few most important design principles, anyone can make good design decisions.

I cannot agree more.

Many developers and early stage entrepreneurs, given the lack of funding, take the first stab at design of their websites and apps.  Later on, they often bring in professional designers who end up taking apart V1 and redoing everything entirely.  A lot of time and money could be saved by applying a few basic principles of good design at the beginning.  Putting effort into understanding what drives your users, practicing empathy for your company’s customers really pays off in the end.

Compete smartphone usage survey results

Posted on | March 12, 2010 | No Comments

Compete recently surveyed smartphone users to understand usage trends and also willingness to adopt mobile marketing programs such as coupons. You can find a snippet here:

Smartphone Owners: A Ready and Willing Audience

“It is clear that smartphones are being used at nearly all points of the day… the device never being more than an arm’s reach away, brands and advertisers are taking notice and using this mobile medium to relay all types of information.”

Updates from the MobileWorld conference in Barcelona

Posted on | February 17, 2010 | No Comments

The largest mobile-focused conference in the world is being held now in Barcelona, Spain: MobileWorld.

Tech Industry Catches It’s Breath – NY Times
“It’s like with evolution, where you have a mutation and then a great explosion of diversity,” said Scott A. McGregor, the chief executive of Broadcom, which makes chips that go into a wide range of consumer electronics. “Then, you have a period where you see which creatures can survive the big change.”

Facebook announces mobile strategy and announces Facebook Zero mobile-web interface.

The quick summary is that Facebook is providing a mobile-web interface to it’s web site that works across most phones and languages, will support SMS for messaging, and will continue to expand their presence in the mobile app space through new applications and also developer services (a la Connect). It sounds like mobile is a core element of their strategy, which makes sense if the goal is global user adoption.

Opera Demos Its iPhone Web Browser, It’s Damn Fast & Will Be Submitted To Apple
“Opera demonstrated yesterday in Barcelona an iPhone version of its mobile web browser, Opera Mini, and it’s damn fast. How fast? Well, about five times faster than your current safari mobile on a 3GS. The trick resides in the way it processes websites.”

That’s great, but as many have noted it is not likely that Apple will allow this to be released on the iTunes app store. Additionally, I’m not sure how I feel about how it works. All Opera browser internet requests would be routed through Opera, who would act as a proxy to retrieve the content and send it to the browser in an optimized format. Regardless, this is a pretty interesting technology.

Skype in a Struggle to Be Heard on Mobile Phones
“Most operators and network equipment makers still perceive Skype and other Internet phone call providers to be potential freeloaders, stealing their customers while they invest billions of dollars to build out and upgrade mobile networks.” (Skype announced a partnership with Verizon in the US at the conference)

Google CEO Eric Schmidt at MWC Puts Mobile First
“”Here, right now, we understand the new rule is ‘mobile first’ in everything. Perhaps the phrase should be ‘mobile first’ simply because it’s time to be proud of what we have built together. Our job is to make mobile be the answer to everything.”

What is the meta-story?

  1. We’re seeing the largest internet businesses move aggressively into the mobile space
  2. The mobile-web will be at least as important as mobile apps, and the large web properties are converting their sites to work accordingly
  3. There is a shake-up in progress of the smartphone value chain. The role of the platform, OEM, carrier, and application developers is shifting, and this is resulting in questions about which apps will be allowed on each platform (skype, opera, etc). It also creates tension between the carriers, oems, and platforms all of which would like a bigger piece of the pie at the end of the day.

There is still one more day to go in the conference — we’ll see what else develops.

Microsoft Unveils New Mobile OS: Microsoft Phone 7 Series

Posted on | February 15, 2010 | No Comments

For over two years, the world has wondered when Microsoft would make more of an effort to recapture their mobile OS market from other devices including RIM, Apple’s iPhone, and the Android platform. Today Microsoft launched the first initiative in that effort: a completely new mobile OS called “Microsoft Phone 7 Series.”

We’re still waiting to get our hands on a device to try the new OS out. While the list of carrier and device partnerships is extensive, it will be some time before phones running the OS are available in the market:

“Carrier partnerships are far and wide, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, while hardware partners include Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Qualcomm. We’re told that we likely won’t get to see any third-party devices at MWC, though Microsoft is showing off dev units of unknown origin, and the first handsets are supposed to hit the market by the holidays of this year.” – Engadget

In the mean time, here is the latest coverage:

Hands-on demo of Phone 7 from MobileCrunch

Microsoft Phone 7 Series Official Product Page
“A different kind of phone…coming holiday 2010.”

Engaged hands-on review of Phone 7
“f you’ve used the Zune HD, you know what this is like. Lots of bold text on the device, lists with text cut off on the sides of the phone, and additional screens to the left and right driven by arrows pointing you in either direction. “

NY Times Coverage of the launch:
“The product marks a rare moment when Microsoft scrapped previous versions of its software in favor of building something new from scratch.”

It will be quite some time before this platform is able to make an impact on the marketshare of mobile platforms. But it will have an impact on the behavior of incumbent platforms. How will this affect Apple’s strategy in managing the iPhone platform, carrier relationships, and developer community? How will google seek to set obstacles in the path of Microsoft in the ecosystem?

Commentary on comscore’s feb 2010 mobile subscriber statistics

Posted on | February 9, 2010 | No Comments

Comscore reported February December mobile device and usage market trends today.

There are some interesting bits of data in there which are worth taking note of:

  1. Android is gaining market share *fast.* It has gained marketshare more quickly than the iPhone lately, though it still represents a relatively small market. This is good news not just for Google, but also for developers and publishers.
  2. There are vast differences between the most popular mobile phones, the most popular smartphones, and the mobile phones most used to access the web and mobile applications. I wish this report included a by-device breakdown of usage, because I suspect there are huge gaps between how RIM, Android, and iPhone devices are used today. eMarketer did publish some statistics about smartphone usage patterns showing that Palm, RIM, and Windows smartphone users don’t use apps as much as Android and iPhone users.
  3. Microsoft continues to suffer mobile OS marketshare losses, declining from 19% to 18% in only one month. Expect a major market entry by them shortly. They will not simply ignore the mobile phone/application/web market, it’s too big an opportunity.
  4. There were no surprise entries in the list from LG, Samsung, etc in the smartphone category. Expect these manufacturers to fight hard to gain smartphone marketshare in the US throughout 2010.

A question:

If RIM has the highest penetration of the smartphone market, why isn’t there more buzz from developers about this platform? What does RIM need to do to be more successful in creating a developer community? Or is it a device which is popular mainly with the enterprise crowd, not consumers?

Something to think about in planning your own mobile initiatives.

iPad and ebooks

Posted on | February 2, 2010 | No Comments

Last week, just about anyone in the first world waited anxiously to see what kind of tablet computer Steve Jobs would unveil. Afterward, there has been a little controversy about the iPad.

But what’s the big picture here?

One thing to consider is that Apple has an amazing competency in the education market, and they may seek to capitalize on this market as a way to introduce the iPad to the mainstream.

Apple has already forged partnerships with several of the largest publishers including notable textbook publisher Macmillan. Kindle has so far failed to capture the education segment of the ebook market, and the current eInk based device is insufficient for many textbook uses (no color, small screen, etc). iPad, for all it’s shortcomings, *may* be a better device to satisfy the textbook market need.

This is a large market, and it is theoretically possible that Apple could incentivize iPad sales by offering not only educational discounts on iPad, but also discounted textbooks to students. A typical college student currently spends between $600 and $1,000/year on textbooks, which means there is enough “meat” here to offer large discounts. Imagine a $199 iPad including $99 in free textbooks. I can think of a few students who might jump at this chance.

What’s missing now is compelling ebook content. The large number of existing ebooks are not very interactive — they are little more than glorified text files. But the EPUB format, which iPad supports, is very sophisticated. Based on XML, full hypertext capabilities and rich media support is included (but not Flash ;). And iPad is actually a *great* platform for interactive books, given this content is created by the publishers. Something right out of Alan Kay’s “Dynabook” concept.

Now that would really be revolutionary.

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