Black Slabs and Button Icons

The hardware of mobile phone design is boring. I’m not the the only one who says this. There’s nothing inspriing about the black slab – no matter how much folks want to decry that its some kind of common pancea for the form factor. Honestly, I think the black slab trend has been a cop out and a chance to trim costs while trying to make the facade that innovation in the interface is happening in the software. I don’t agree that much is happening there either. But, at least with the software side of things, there is something that we can point to and say “yea, that’s probably a better way to look at things.”

When I go about using my mobile device, there are a few constants that keep my attention:

  • the home page has literally the only information that’s valuable (current weather, upcoming event(s), and button to begin a smart dialing for phone or SMS message
  • I don’t have to pull it out of my pocket to make it adjust to a social situation (making it quiet for dinner, or launching All Books when I get to church/Bible study, etc.) – thanks to Situations

In a very real sense, the software of my mobile device has gotten a bit of intelligence. What hasn’t happened is that the UI (user interface) has gotten any of this intelligence. Much of this direct interaction on my/our devices these days comes by tapping on button icons. And if you are on a device that does that multiple homescreen paradigm of sorts, then you are also accustomed to having widgets at your disposal to also click to. Problem for me is that none of these really point to making the device “ready for action.” It makes it ready to do a task, but you have this step/layer before it that you have to press before the device gets into that ready state. Ew…

Of the future mobile platforms that I am following (Jolla and Firefox OS), Firefox OS has grabbed my interest because it has a shape similar to what I liked about Palm/HP’s webOS – at least from the perspective that it is built using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – meaning that I could take something like All Books and easily integrate it into the entire system without learning more than a few additional libraries. Rather than having to learn another programming language, and probably make another hardware investment (laptop or PC) in order to compile and make it happen. In one of the recent articles about Firefox OS I’ve looked at, there was this screenshot that had a picture of the application shell (right) and the Firefox browser (left). I looked and wondered simply, “with that the browser is doing on the left, why stick to the old metaphor on the right for direct interaction?”

Let me break down what I’m seeing on the left and why it matters for a mobile context:

  • At the top of the screen, you have the familiar-to-every-mobile device status bar. Ideally, this would be something where you could pull down and get some kinds of notifications about new messages, locations, etc. (unless this is patented now too)
  • Below that you have a simple search bar. Ideally, this would search the entire OS for anything. You want to make a call – type a name and choose call. You want to send a text/email, type and choose that. You want to tweet/post to a wall, you write it and choose to tweet/post it. A straight up command line like bar.
  • Below that you see the thumbnails of the recent sites. I can see that being one of a few things: either it a set of thumbnails for the most recent actions done from the search (a headshot of the contact and an icon overlay for whatever the communication method was), thumbails of most recent apps (like the tiles from Windows Phone, but you are actually looking at the apps in progress), or one of a few screens showning both of the previous
  • At the bottom of the screen there’s the black bar which can have 3-5 icons for additional activities. For example, if that was the homescreen as described in the point above, a back/forward button would scroll the homescreens, the star would indicate the main screen or that another app screen/favorite could be added, and the share icon could be a screenshot share, or a “share something immediately” kind of feature.

If you will, unlike the right side of that screenshot, there’s a lot more opportunity in the left side to have the mobile device in a ready state for most mobile activities and contexts right off the bat. I honestly think that the application listing as shown on the right side there is antiquated and needs to just be done away with (as I have said before about many other mobile features). Nothing productive about mobile anymore needs that layer.

3 thoughts on “Black Slabs and Button Icons

  1. Saw this thought about you bro figured I would share, it is not quite what you are envisioning and I like where you are going, but it is a change to the scene a little bit…

  2. ahh but it’s not theory , and I hear you, they need to get it out of the gate and in the hands of the people and the people will be the true judge..

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