Microsoft recently gave a demo of their upcoming mobile phone OS, Windows Mobile 6.5, at the Mobile World Congress Conference in Barcelona. The keynote lasted one hour and can be seen here http://tinyurl.com/d59acl or you can look for shorter demos of the OS on YouTube such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-w9fP6terY
Balmer gives the introduction, he says the focus is on UX and new interaction techniques. Worryingly he says they’re bringing the PC experience to the mobile, but I’m not quite sure what this means. Designing the user experience for the desktop and for a mobile platform should be very different, and the Windows experience is not exactly a model of UX that you’d want to see anywhere else anyway. Not a great start.
Throughout the talk, the words innovation, interaction and user experience are repeated, however just saying the words does not make it true. I found no presence of innovation in Windows Mobile 6.5, it definitely seems like they’ve tried to bolt on touch capability to their existing OS. I found more innovation in Apple’s iPhone cut and paste feature than in the whole of this Windows Mobile demo.
This keynote covers three aspects:
1. Windows Mobile 6.5 – the new OS
2. MyPhone – the web service to manage your phone.
3. Windows marketplace – the app store for the phone.
Andy Lees comes on stage, a senior VP at MS. He shows a promotional video. Even in this promo video the interface lacked elegance. Flicking between photos causes the image to simply appear, no sense of gesture or physicality which the iPhone offers. This also happens on the Home screen, the user issues a command via a gesture, but the result just appears as if a mouse click has been issued. The response does not match the style of the input. No thought, no care.
1. Windows Mobile 6.5
Next up is Prithvi Raj, he says the new OS “brings my work life and personal life together”, previously Windows Mobile has been business focussed, clearly they want a slice of the iPhone market.
He alleges that the team have done user research, for example they have discovered the three reasons why people pull their phone from their pocket. From their pocket? Does this mean they only asked males? Most females I know do not keep their phone in their pocket. I presume he really means, ‘all the engineers on our team look at their phone for one of these reasons’, or even worse ‘I take my phone out of my pocket because …’. I’m starting to doubt their research approach, regardless, the reasons people look at their phone (according to MS) were:
1. To know the time
2. To find out where should they going (next appointment)
3. To find out why has their phone been buzzing / beeping in their *pocket* all day long. Pocket again?
What I find interesting about this is that all three reasons are to check or read back stored information (time, appointments and missed calls / text), not to actively use the phone. Also, these reasons seem more in line with older mobile phone use, not smartphones. Not sure I fully trust these results or how they were obtained.
With their ‘user research’ completed, they have made use of these findings to inform the design of the Lock screen. This screen shows the current time and the user’s next appointment, but to see why their phone has been buzzing, the user has to click another button at the top of the screen. When they click this, any missed calls or texts appears, but their next appointment disappears. So, after all that user research revealing the top three reasons why people looked at their phones, Microsoft’s design makes it impossible to see all three at once on the screen.
Despite user research, only 2 of the 3 key items are viewable at any one time
One observation worth noting is that the unlock slider is at the top of the screen, this means you’ll need to use two hands to do an unlock (one to hold the phone, one to swipe), not one like an iPhone, as it’s slider is within thumb reach. Also, when trying to unlock the phone, the slider didn’t follow the user’s finger, it only goes part of the distance.
Once the phone has been unlocked (similar to Apple’s swipe gesture to unlock), we are now in the Home screen. The Home screen is the user’s landing screen, where they can get access to all their information. The first thing that strikes me is that this is a textual list, it doesn’t look like an inspiring place to spend time, nor does it make the phone particularly usable.
The Home screen, lack of usability and satisfaction
Let’s stop and contrast this with the iPhone. The iPhone home screen has a grid of icons, each is identifiable by it’s spatial position, colour, and missed calls / texts are highlighted with a red badge. MS have went with a monochrome text-based list which means the user has to click and hold their finger until they’re over the menu item they want. This approach results in slower navigation and fewer items the on-screen at once, so more scrolling for the user.
I know this is beta, but the visual style was unbelievably terrible, the text message screen look like a screenshot of a compuserve bulletin board from the ’80s. Again comparing the mail app to the iPhone reveals how the iPhone uses appropriate use of colour and meaningful information, the Windows mail app lacked usability and user experience.
Not content with the Home screen, MS think we need another, er, home screen. This one is called the Start screen and seems to be like a graphical version of the text-based Home screen. Confused by all the screens? Turns out it’s not just us, I watched several presentations on YouTube from various MS staff and many of them have confused the name Lock screen with Home screen or Launch screen or Start screen. Typical MS, confusion over simplicity.
The Start screen features a honeycombe design, but I can’t see the research justification for this. The iPhone allows 16 icons per page, plus the 4 permanent apps at the bottom, the honestcombe design only allows for 9 to be viewed at any one time. This must result in more unnecessary scrolling, and may also make it difficult to remember exactly where an icon is, i.e. “I know it’s in the middle somewhere, but not sure exactly”, versus the iPhones “I know it’s on page 4″.
All Windows phones will have a windows hardware ‘home’ button on them. Organizing the icons is not as easy as the iPhone, the only option seem to be to move an icon to the top or bottom of a page, but no ability to place them where you like, which is important as once you get more apps, you may want to cluster them by usage or category.
The Start screen, a graphical version of the Home screen?
Raj demonstrates his calendar and steps us through his day by swiping each event in turn. This seems more complex than the iPhone solution where your day is presented as a list with all events in view. So to me the Windows mobile calendar seems to take longer to access and reduces the viewing of my appointments to one item at a time rather than by full day. User research?
In the e-mail app, we still see scrollbars down the side, on a mobile device why would you do this? Have they learned nothing from previous criticisms of Windows Mobile? This is a mobile app, screen space is a precious resource, they could even have resorted to their usual tactic of copying what Apple do only making it worse (topic of next blog). The top of the screen also looks cluttered with meaningless monochrome icons, complete with a Windows desktop X button in the top right.
In the e-mail app the presenter says that you can move between e-mails by swiping across the screen. In true MS style, the page just appears, not like the photo browser on the iPhone where your swipe feels like a physical action as the image is given momentum proportionate to your swipe speed.
Again, Andy Lees says it’s the same expereince on mobile as the desktop as it’s the same IE engine. Flash is supported, a direct shot at the iPhone, however it seems to be Flash Lite which is not well regarded (i.e. useless). Lees states that 40% of people are *confused* as to what they’re seeing on the mobile screen compared to the ‘big screen’. Not sure what he means, is he saying because Flash is not supported on mobile devices? I’d like to know where he got this figure from, one place springs to mind.
An IM comes in during the demo and one of the presenters says ‘I hear a beep’. A beep? Is that how important audio is to them? He could have said audio notification, audio alert, auditory icon or similar, but no, a beep.
When scrolling through the contacts list Raj says that he prefers to look for people by their picture rather than their name because it’s easier. If that’s the case then why do you have the text on the Home screen and not icons? Let me guess, different teams worked on different apps and the team lead has no idea about consistency or UX?
It is possible to respond with voice, but I guess only to certain supported clients?. What is the user need for this? It can also send messages to Xbox 360 users in-game. Have they ever watched someone enter a text message using the Xbox interface, it’s torture.
Interaction – Finger Stylus
I find it interesting to note how the Raj in this case uses his finger for interacting with Windows mobile. In most cases he has turned his index finger into a stylus by steadying it with his thumb to hit the small icons and target areas. iPhone users use their finger flat, hand down and natural. They may say that the new Windows phone is touch enabled, but it certainly isn’t designed for the natural ergonomics of the human hand. I will call this Microsoft interaction design method Fingus (Finger as a stylus).
Compare hand ergonomics, MS on the left, Apple on the right.
MyPhone is the web companion service for your Windows Mobile phone. It offers 200MB to backup information, but the iPhone for example has up to 16GB, why offer a backup service that doesn’t backup all your stuff? Seems like there’s potential here to loose data, i.e. I thought it was backed up, but MS’s app didn’t do it. He says if you loose your phone then you can get a new one and all the data is restored, but how if you can only backup 200MB?
They give an example of adding a picture to someone’s contact details from the web, but the iPhone makes this really easy right on the device. Why are they showing me this, they’ve just proved how much worse their apps are than Apple’s?
27m 07s into the video, his phone freezes and has to resort to a backup phone. Great stuff. All that was missing was a BSOD on the mobile.
Users don’t have to go to Marketplace for their apps, but they might. Scenarios please? They then show a video of customers endorsing Windows phones, senior people at Samsung, HTC, Sprint, Toshiba and Orange among others. I’m just waiting for The Onion to make a spoof based on this promo video.
Balmer says there are over 20,000 apps that run today (legacy I presume). I don’t care about these, I want apps that are designed for these touch phones.
Lees says that cutting edge design, innovation and user experience are very important, but I really do fail to see how any of these have been demonstrated today. All I saw in this demo was a poor imitation of a product that really did deliver on all three of those criteria. He goes on to say that the device need to be optimzed for mobile content, but the MS presenters have been harping on about how they are bring the same experience from the desktop to the mobile. Can these two companies agree on their design direction? He says MS and HTC are working closely together, I have to wonder.
Microsoft say that it is easy to identify a Windows Mobile phone in stores as we’ll see the Windows flag on the device, as least they’ve made it easy for us to know which phones to avoid.