“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

How much do we need to know?

So recently I was introduced to the new Samsung Windows Phone 7. As a huge iPhone zealot I was obviously under impressed. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I was impressed with how utterly different it is from all it’s rivals. The amount of creative energy it took to conceive of this entirely new collection of patterns & frameworks is indeed commendable & impressive.

One thing hay really impresses me is how the IxD patterns, styles & frameworks fit so well with their existing design & development tools bound within Expression Studio. The new layout controls are so easy to use & even customize. I. General this has been the case of working within any XAML system. (I just wish there was Blend for Mac & I’d take the system seriously.)

What this post is about though is about two specific aspects of the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) environment: the panorama and the pivot. One thing I have appreciated about recent Microsoft developments is how they have been linking the design of their user experience to their developer environments. One way they do this really well is through XAML. Once you learn the verbal language, you have learned the developer language of UI patterns and systems. This is where panorama and pivot come in.

A panorama is a collection of panels that usually scroll horizontally. It is called a panorama because the elements of each panel are separated from the header of the panorama and the background image of that panorama. This gives it the feel of a continuous entity. Here’s a screen shot attempting to demonstrate this:

What the image above is trying to suggest is that the title “music+video” spans across the panels of zune, history, new and apps as does the background image. What you can’t see is that as you pan horizontally across the panels, only a piece of the total title bar moves, so that when you get to “new” or “apps” you still see a portion of the title “music+video”. This convention of using the title bar and the background image are the only clues revealing to the end user that there is more to be had in this view. One other clue. Whenever you are on 1 panel the next panel to the right is just partially revealed, again letting you know there is “more” (but not how much more).

Similarly a pivot is a nice convention, more akin to tabs. The pivot panels have a sub heading like the panorama items, but their heading is listed next to each other. Further they can be icons instead of words. This however, goes against the UI guidelines that believes that content is interaction and not chrome. Here’s a sample:

As you can see here the different panels are more like the same view of different data sets as opposed to different layouts and data sets all bound by a same navigation scheme, thus differentiating the panorama and the pivot. In this example you only see Paris & London, but you can imagine, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles being added as well. In this case if New York was the next city after london, you would only see that part of “new york” that can fit on the remaining screen. The text does not shrink and in fact it is this clipping that ends up being your only clue that there is something more. There is nothing ever telling you how much, nor even like panorama a interaction animation that might hint ever so slightly at the number of panels.

Compare this to the use of dots on the bottom of an iPhone home screen, which tells you that you can pan to the next panel and how many panels you have:

To be fair and honest, I’m not sure what is or isn’t necessary but looking at the stark differences between these two design concepts begs a question that I think I may take to my class next quarter on perception and cognition on whether it is important to know how much you can scroll/pan with the information that tells you that you CAN.

In general, the new design of MS is an attempt to change the nature of mobile touch-based affordances and so I will hope to look at this during my class for a section next quarter. The new flat graphics, focus on text as interaction touch points and actuators, and more all represent a significant change worthy of inquiry.

What do y’all think?

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this critique, Dave.

    There is one thing I’d like to add – my biggest complaint about the Windows Phone 7 UI is the lack of differentiation between plain text (titles, descriptions) and “clickable” button text. There’s no way to tell what you can tap and what is just informational. This gives the UI a nice, clean, modern feel.. but really subverts the ease of use and functionality. It also sets a design precedent that’s almost impossible to follow for other apps. The iPhone gave designers a solid library of patterns and widgets that can be used to build almost any app.. I don’t see that in the OS UI for Windows Phone 7.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A3SDHNENBO2UM7MUCLY34DKXYE me4

    I bought the Samsung Focus WP7 phone because I liked the metaphors associated with the the UI.

    Even though there might be inconsistencies, this is only version 1 (7.1, specifically).

    I would wait until Mango comes out (Version 7.5, September) to be able to say that these inconsistencies are ‘baked in’, or are ephemeral.


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