UI wise, what is Jolla preparing

We know no much things about Jolla UI. They said that it will be different from what we know, and that they want to bring fresh stuff, something different from the old 2003-ish iPhone / Android UI. They also say that their UI will be their differentiation factor.

Actually, they are right to put so much effort on the UI. Apple launched their iPhone with a lot of missing features, but the product was praised for it’s UI. Generally, the UI is the most important component of a device since it is allows users to input orders to the device. A well designed UI have many advantages, including a better efficiency when using a device, or making a device popular.

In my point of view, two main factors makes an UI nice:

  • Intuitivity
  • Efficiency

Devices, especially in computer sciences, have different levels of intuitivity and efficiency. One of the best example is desktop computers. Desktop computers, including Windows, MacOS, and different flavours of Unix / Linux desktop environments like KDE, Gnome, uses a very familiar set of components, like buttons, radio-buttons and check-boxes, icons. These components can now be considered as very intuitive, thanks to a long process of selection and evolution (the first desktop were introduced in the late 90’s, nearly 30 years ago).

Let’s take the example of the button. This component is used to register actions from an user. Most buttons have a small shadow, and a border, and when clicked, is animated, as if the button was really in 3D, and pressed. The shadow and the border, as well as this animation, are used to indicate that this component can be interacted with, and how it should be used. The fact that the button seems to be in 3D means that it can be pressed, and the only way to press something in a computer is to click on it.

Efficiency is another very important point, that have a tendency of being neglected. Since the beginning of the iPhone, and touch screen phones era, a major reclamation arised from the user community: the need of multitasking. Well, on such a small device, the need to run multiple tasks at the same time is rather limited, but it is for efficiency. Many people don’t want to constantly close and open applications. They might also want to be able to do many things at the same time. Mobile devices often have a very slow internet connection (except in some countries like the USA where 4G is widespread), so users may want to do something else when the page is loading.

This reclamation is still very important because the human being is always active, and hate waiting. And basically, this is for the sake of efficiency. I can see that I’m way more efficient using QNeptunea (Twitter) on my N950 and opening several websites while continuing browsing my twitter feed. Nokia’s Meego was thought for multitask, and is really very efficient.

What I wonder now is : what is Jolla preparing ? And even more important : is there really room for improving mobile UI ? Because Apple’s design in the iPhone was really nice, and they thought about nearly everything for the mobile form factor. Their UI is both intuitive and efficient … So, is there room for improvement ?

On a smartphone, UI designers don’t have a lot of choice. They cannot display a lot of graphical components for inputs. Unlike the desktop, that have space, and a more precise pointing device (the mouse), the screen of a phone is small, and the pointing device, that is the finger on a capacitive screen, is rather imprecise. Lists of buttons, big sliders and icons are here to stay.

I don”t forsee a huge change in graphical components in Jolla UI. Simply because it is impossible. There is no room for improvements, at least in the graphical components side of the UI. The way to bring something fresh is to see how these components are layouted.

The iPhone introduced the vertical list. Windows Phone tried to take the horizontal swiping in account too, and extended the space for the interface. Android and WP also tried to get rid of the toolbar when possible, by creating a physical back key and, in the case of Android, a menu button. Nokia decided to remove the home button, by bringing the swipe-to-minimize gesture. Obviously, mobile designers were quite creative to improve the user experience on mobile device, but, except in removing toolbars, all the mobile OS use the same layouting, that is, basically, a stack of pages that can be scrolled vertically, or horizontally.

What if Jolla decided to change this paradigmn of cards being piled ? Or what about pushing it more (like the concept I proposed in one of the suggestions for Jolla) ? I think that it is very likely that Jolla is working in this domain.

As I have said before in the example with the twitter client, a good multitasking system on a phone brings a huge boost in efficiency, and except on the N9, I have seen no good implementation. Because most of the manufacturers want to save ressources, and instead of minimizing an app, most mobile OS stop them. But the N9 is a good proof that multitasking can be done in a nice way, without major performances impact.

Althought mobile interface may have reached momentum in intuitiveness, it still lacks a lot of efficiency. Multitask is just one of the components. Other components are also constrains that OS have. iOS, for example, is very limiting on how apps can communicate between each other, as for WP. This implies that some actions are particulary hard to do, like sending a GPS position from maps to a friend on Whatsapp.

My wild guess on Jolla UI is that it won’t be far from Nokia’s Meego. They are going to use Qt, as well as Qt components, that provides a default set of graphical components. But what will their differentiation factor is a greater efficiency. They announced that their task management will be even better than the N9, I hope so, because the only room for improvement in mobile UI is to improve efficiency, that includes improving multitasking.

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