you are a long-time reader of the::unwired, you know that I'm using Pocket PCs
and its forerunners since 1998/2000 but you also know that I've moved to the
Windows Mobile Smartphone platform, aka non-touchscreen devices, when the first
HTC Smartphone, the HTC Canary aka the original Orange SPV, came out in 2003.
Before, I've used Pocket PCs and the first Pocket PC Phone Edition (aka the HTC
Wallaby) but also non Windows Mobile mobile phones in parallel and since I
discovered to the non-touchscreen Windows Mobile Smartphone, I never went back
to touchscreen smartphones as my primary voice device, except if I was testing a
device for a review. For me, Windows Mobile Professional devices are connected
PDAs which I love to use as text entry and E-Mail devices as well as surf pad
while I'm stationary.
However, for one week I'm using the soon to be released O2 Xda star as my
primary mobile phone for both - voice and data communication since I want to get
a better understanding how well HTC's new TouchFLO works for me and I can say
it's a great add-on to the Windows Mobile Professional platform. It's still not
perfect, might lacks some functionalities but it improved the whole user
experience and makes the touchscreen use way more comfortable!
But during my recent use I also figured, why I moved to the Smartphone (now
called Windows Mobile Standard) platform and why the Pocket PC Phone Edition
never was my first choice of mobile phone platform: It's the GUI which is still
not single-hand use optimized.
I already wrote about single-hand vs. two-hand use in my previous column but
today it's not about the keyboard use but about the general touchscreen Windows
Mobile user interface experience which is, unfortunately, still so last century
and PDA-driven. Sure, since Pocket PC Phone Edition 2002 many things became
better and the current Windows Mobile 6 Professional version might be the best
Windows Mobile platform we have seen so far. But if you look at it with the user
experience in mind, it's not what a mobile phone interface should be today. The
main problem, I have with the touchscreen Windows Mobile interface, is that it's
neither thumb-use optimized nor single-hand use optimized and basically that's
what I requires from a mobile phone. I don't want to use a mobile phone with two
hands but with one hand only. If I'm in the bus or subway, holding the handhold
with one hand, I still want to be able to use my mobile phone - with the other
hand. And if I'm using it with one hand, I don't want to aim to hit the task I
want to execute but I want to simply execute it. I don't want to concentrate to
do simple tasks like opening an application. I don't want to spread my thumb
across the whole device to open and close an application or to select menu items
within an application.
The basic problem I see is, that today's Windows Mobile touchscreen user
interface hasn't enhanced from the original stylus-based user interface and the
current GUI uses the whole screen to force the user to perform tasks. The basic
Windows Mobile touchscreen GUI is still using the four corners to open, close
and execute applications:
In my humble opinion, the four main points the touchscreen user interface
offers/requires to use, are definitely too much but it can be even worse. The
task is simple: Open the SMS application and create a new message. Before
sending the SMS, select a delivery request:
How many taps - across the screen - has a user to do to send a simple SMS
message? At the end, my finger slid across the screen like a figure skater is
sliding across the ice. Left, right, up down, right, left, down, up, etc...
And, too many tasks are still too stylus centric but not thumb-use optimized.
Menus has sub-menus and gets pretty nested that you either have to use the
thumbnail and aim precise or you better use the stylus and we are back at the
two-hand use. Alternatively you can also use the D-Pad which breaks the whole
user experience since you have to release the thumb from the screen.
Another example of too small menus: Have you ever opened the Calendar and
tried to select another day in the current week?
Again, the D-Pad is your friend but not the touchscreen - not if you try to
use it with your thumb.
But there are also enhancements like the phone pad became much better over
the years and now you can easily select from your contacts by using the thumbs
only. This was a real pain, back with Pocket PC Phone Edition 2002 but now,
Windows Mobile 6 Professional integrates the contacts database nicely into the
GUI but at the end, Windows Mobile 6 Professional emulates a standard mobile
phone keypad and uses Windows Mobile Standard's SmartDial functionality:
Sure, using the whole screen instead of just two softbuttons, as used for the
non-touchscreen version of Windows Mobile, offers way more interactivity and a
wider range of possibilities. For instance selecting a text to copy and paste it
is easier to do with a touchscreen device but if I break it down to what I'm
doing more - writing SMS messages or copying and pasting texts, I know again why
I found it so hard to use the Windows Mobile touchscreen platform as my primary
Touchscreens are great mouse replacements for mobile devices but in my humble
opinion, user interfaces needs to be designed that way that a user hasn't have
to use a mouse replacement.
Sure, some tasks also depend on the situation - like mobile use vs. portable
use. If I want to browse the web while I'm walking, I prefer the keyboard based
Standard platform. If I'm sitting on the couch, the touchscreen based
Professional platform, either with the stylus or thumb, has its advantages as
well but since a mobile phone is a highly mobile device for me, I prefer a
reduced user interface with fewer areas I have to tap and click.
What's the bottom line and learning from the above? Well, generally I think
Microsoft needs to unify the Windows Mobile Classic/Professional and Standard
user interface and the base should be the non-touchscreen Standard GUI. From
this starting point, Microsoft can enhance it for touchscreen devices, like
providing touch sensitive context menus. That's a quite useful functionality for
touchscreen devices but such a pop-up menu needs to be enlarged as well. It
might needs to be a full screen grid-view menu, similar to HTC's new Touch Cube
interface which is really thumb friendly but it shouldn't be a PC-like
line-based menu which is only good to be used with a PC mouse or stylus, but
nearly impossible to use with thumbs.
As a result of one week testing I can say, that I'm pretty happy with HTC's
TouchFlo enhancements (even if it still not perfect) but I'm still disappointed
by the Windows Mobile users interface, which was fine when it was a PDA and
competing with other PDAs like the Palm Pilot. But today, where we live in a
mobile phone-driven world, the requirements changed but the Windows Mobile
touchscreen interface never executed the change.
But well, maybe it's me only who still has a bitter experience with Windows
Mobile touchscreen devices; what's about you?
Cheers ~ Arne