Sailfish — time for critics

Alright, I think that I posted enough on various media about how Sailfish is nice and how it is easy to use but no UI is perfect. Sailfish fixes some of the the biggest problems in mobile UI, but they are still some rough edges. I know that it is still work in progress and I’m counting on Jollaians to fix it and satisfy us 🙂

Don’t reproduce the Android error

I heard quite a lot of negative feedbacks about the icons in the launcher. A lot of complains were saying that there were non uniform and too Androish. Even if, from my opinion, I feel them very modern, I have to admit that indeed, I agree with these remarks.

Android never released a common guideline for their icons in the launcher. This made the apps developer create icons with all forms and colors. First, this create a non-uniform visual identity, and second, for some icons , that are mostly empty, the user might not find the place to click the icon.

The iPhone introduced these square icons with rounded corners

The N9 provides these squircles that makes the icons quite uniques. There is also a sort of color theme (green for navigation, purple for media …)

In order to provide an even more unified experience, Jolla should release a guideline for the colors used in all the apps. For example, what I loved with the N9 is that the icons are all recognizable by the background colors. Navigation is in green and media in purple. A similar guideline that should be applied except for base applications might be interesting.

The Galaxy S ships with a set of icons that are hardly identifiable at a first sight. The shape of the media player looks a lot like settings.

As these pictures above shows, a colored background might help the user to identify the icon more quickly. In order to fit in Jolla themes, a partially transparent background with a glassified effect might be an interesting design.

A steep learning curve

Sailfish UI is just amazing. It addressed the back button as expected with the push, and introduced the awesome Pully menu. The multitasking was also greatly improved, which will greatly increase efficiency. But all these innovations had a cost, that is the first contact with the device.

Jolla extends the concept of Swipe that Nokia introduced, and created a simple one-hand  usage where the fingers do not need to move a lot. But this experience needs to be taught. For swipe, Nokia decided to include a small tutorial to explain why the «home» button suddenly disappeared and why there is no close button. Now Jolla might need to introduce an even more complex tutorial to explain the pully menu, swipe to back, because if users are exposed to the UI without informations, thy might wonder where are «back», «home» and the toolbar, those components that were sacrificed for the better good of UI.

Away from sight, away from heart

The improved pully menu is a nice invention and implementation, effectively freeing space on the screen, but many users will take time to find these menus. By experience, I found that the glows Samsung used were quite ineffective to show that there are still contents, beu on Sailfish it seems to be managed better., but will surely disorient users.

The pully-menu might also be troublesome for developers. I thought about how a twitter client, that needs menu entries for switching from the feed to mentions and also the scrolling. If the user is in the middle of a page, he will have to scroll on top to trigger the pully-menu and change the category, so pully-menus are not suited in these cases. So developers really have to think of these user cases and do not do mistakes when using pully-menus.

Lack of visual clues and feedback

Sailfish is pretty, the minimalism, glassy effects and ambiance creation are surely really appealing, but I found that it missis a lot of visual clues. A button is simply an underlined text. Users have the habit that a button is a text inside some container, a rectangle box, with or without a 3D effect, so underlined texe is rather confusing.

The swipe action is also a bit confusing, even if it is really nice. When swiping, the window being minimized do not move, instead, it fades away. That’s rather strange because the swipe movement is not correlated to a visual feedback, and is really disturbing. If the window was being faded and moves to the position where it should appear, or just follows the finger, as on Nokia MeeGo then it would be nicer.

I know that my criticism is done on an unfinished product, but I think it is important to underline them right now, to at least hope for an improvement. And since Jolla people are rather open minded and that I loved to discuss with, I think that they will definitely be open on discussion on these points I noted.

Continue to improve Sailfish, Jolla, you are on the right track !

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21 thoughts on “Sailfish — time for critics

  1. I agree with all your comment, except about critics on icon, using same icon form and background make it hard to distinguish two apps with similar colours. Example on harmattan, i launch often maps instead of drive and vice versa, same things for videos and music. I think this is an ux
    mistake of apple that everyone reproduce.

      • I think it adds a lot of clutter if icons don’t have rules like the N9 has. The eyes look for things in steps (eg. first by color, then by shapes, until the right app is found) so these things make a lot of sense.

    • Fortunately colors guidelines even in Harmatan QA are rarely enforced. one could go wild icon colors I guess? but definitely there should be a unified boundary form. like that of the squircle.

  2. “The pully-menu might also be troublesome for developers. I thought about how a twitter client, that needs menu entries for switching from the feed to mentions and also the scrolling. If the user is in the middle of a page, he will have to scroll on top to trigger the pully-menu and change the category, so pully-menus are not suited in these cases. So developers really have to think of these user cases and do not do mistakes when using pully-menus.”
    -I was thinking about this as well. But I thing the pully-menu may not be restricted when you are at the top of the page. Maybe swiping from the top edge opens up this. Also, I think this is applicable to the users as well.

    Regarding the other issues, I just think its perception and will change with time. Few years back, everyone needed a keyboard on a phone(iPhone started this change even though there were keyboard-less phones before), then there was the requirement of home button (which N9 removed). Now Jolla with Sailfish OS are trying to remove the general conception that a “back button” & “button for the options menu” are needed and that a button must have a outline around it”..

    • As you and Nagaraj are mentioning it, yeah the idea of this pully-menu not to be restricted to the top of the page but used as the left and right MeeGo’s swipe, so from the top edge of the screen to differentiate this gesture from a “simple” scrolling in some apps seems interresting.

      But it would also bring back an issue that they got rid of: the dependency of screen sizes. On a N9-like phone, a such swipe from the top edge of the screen would be easy to do, but not friendly at all on a bigger screen. The use of swipe is here to got rid of back of home button that are difficult to access, not to replace them with a gesture that is as difficult to realise 😉

      • Note that horizontal scrolling is done for «swipe to back» gesture, so it is impossible to use bully menu there. I was thinking of pully toolbars, a bit like Windows phone but better, and like the media player in Jolla.

        And note that pully can be initiated from any position of a flickable list.

  3. I haven’t been able to figure out from the demos whether you can customize which apps are immediately available on the first screen. For instance, I have a tide table app on my N900. I don’t want Facebook. I want my tide table app. (I know. I’m weird.) So, can I remove the apps I don’t use and put in the ones I do?

    I assume the answer is “Of course,” but that’s what I assumed with Android, too, and I was shocked to find out that on an unrooted phone, you can’t do a thing. Sailfish is not going to have that kind of BS, right? Being open and all?

  4. I think pulley-menus should be attached to toolbars. The most common actions could be icons in toolbar and other items should be in the menu. Much like Windows Phone does it but in a pulley way 🙂

  5. “The swipe action is also a bit confusing, even if it is really nice. When swiping, the window being minimized do not move, instead, it fades away. That’s rather strange because the swipe movement is not correlated to a visual feedback, and is really disturbing. If the window was being faded and moves to the position where it should appear, or just follows the finger, as on Nokia MeeGo then it would be nicer.”

    Agreed. The app switcher definitely needs some kind of zoom in/out effects to tell the user where the apps are comign from and going to.

  6. Great writing!

    Some thoughts:
    All clutter should be removed entirely (like the beatifully simple philosofy behind the ui goes). The thing that botheres at the moment is the row of quick access icons on the home screen. No matter how polished the icons are they are basically clutter taking away space from the minimized open apps (which should be as large as possible, why not even edge to edge). They also make the otherwise clean and simple looks of the ui to appear old fashioned and ios/androish. The quick access row could be easily replaced for example simply having it on top of the launcher (it could be pulled up like in N9, maybe some patent problem?).
    The first place where you land after the lock screen (which is the multitasking view) should be totally without any icons or information when you haven’t started anything. Only an open view. So you start with nothing and end with everything. The ui would feel more radical and revolutionary and coherent and true to its underlying spirit. Because the object here shouldn’t feel only like a brilliant mobile device but more like a talisman or a charm. There should be sense of magic there (because there is magic).
    Yes, got carried away a bit…
    Even more, maybe it is time to get rid of this old app icon grid -type of launcher altogether and use the great pulley-menu here too as a launcher (where the favourites or most used apps are on top). I think the pulley menu is a key element and should be used as a uniform way of launching actions (and apps also).The pulley menu can be a long list actually. It doesn’t have to be restricted to one movement. You can scroll and scroll and an action row launches only when the list is stopped and the touch is released from the screeen. If the scrolling stops by itself or without releasing touch, then no action is launched. Maybe if the pulley menu would be used more constantly and uniformly there would be no need for the glow effect anymore (which I think just isn’t a good enough way to spotlight such a great and profound funcionality).
    Notifications can also be implemented using pulley menu (from the top for example).

  7. I agree with the suggestions in the article, & I also question how much customization is possible. I know the colors change, but is that it? One of the main reasons I have an android device is for the customization. Not only theming, but custom launchers, too. Android also allows for third-party dialer/contact apps & browsers, even different app stores. Android allows you to customize almost every element, most without root. Also while I like the elegant minimal look of sailfish you can get a pretty minimal look with android if you use the right launcher. Buzz launcher or lightning launcher do minimal themes pretty well. I’m not sure how beneficial support for android apps will be if it doesn’t support the custom launchers/dialers like android. Android also uses a virtual machine to run apps, which is the reason for the lag. How is sailfish going to eliminate that lag when the whole android environment is virtualized in sailfish in the first place?

    • Sailfish will be as customisable, if not more, this has been outlined in great depth countless times now. There’ll be closed/proprietary apps on the uppermost layer, but the remaining core/native apps & most other layers of the OS will be just as open (if not more) as Android. Plus the ecosystem & how it’s all tied together, most certainly will be “more open” than what Android offers, “officially”.

      • As for your Android Qn, this has been explained before too, the info’s out there, I can’t recall all the detail OTTOMH sorry, & I CBF’d wasting my time finding it. Suffice-to-say, there’s no need to worry about it being “more laggy”, at worst it’ll be similarly laggy, & at best it’ll be less laggy…

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