It has been my experience that most software developers, and many product managers for that matter, have absolutely no sense of UI design. After playing a little bit with the Google Android Dev phone, the following things immediately jump out at me that are just wrong about the gPhone.
(1) How many different ways do you need to get your e-mail?
On the home screen you have the “Browser” icon which takes you to the mobile version of Google, where at the top there is an e-mail tab. To your typical user, this is the way you get your e-mail. Buried under the tab which reveals all the applications beyond the basic 4, you also find a Gmail program which can be used to get your Google e-mail, and an Email application which can be configured to get your Google e-mail via IMAP.
Do you need three separate and equivalent (in terms of number of taps) ways to get your e-mail?
Yes, the first two methods only get your Gmail; the last tool can be configured to get other e-mail. But honestly, would it hurt to have a unified e-mail mechanism?
(2) Incoming messages are not obvious.
When you get an e-mail, the upper left status bar shows a small icon representing the fact that you have a new message. It’s unclear what that icon represents: how am I supposed to know a little ‘@’ sign means I have new mail?
What’s odd about the incoming message status bar is that behind that status bar, if you touch the top bar and slide down to the bottom of the phone, is hidden a notification system which tells you of all of your incoming notifications. But there is nothing on the bar indicating that it can be slid down like this!
Meanwhile the front of the phone has a ton of screen real estate being devoted to–displaying a blue ocean scene.
(3) There is no clear indication in the application launcher icons (hidden by the tab at the bottom of the display) as to which applications have received a notification.
On the iPhone, a small badge is used in order to determine if there are messages associated with an application; thus, if you have waiting SMS messages, the SMS icon has a number indicating the number of messages. Similarly for e-mail.
The Google phone, however, does not provide any such indicator: if you get a message you can launch the application that handles that message by clicking the notification line in the notification window (if you’re smart enough to divine the fact that a notification window can be found there), but otherwise, all you know is the phone rang, a little mail icon (for SMS) or @ sign (for e-mail) is sitting in the upper corner, and God knows which application you should open to handle the messages.
(4) There is no note taking system for the Google phone.
Yeah, people bitched when there was no to-do list manager on the iPhone, and that makes sense to me: you have a to-do list in a synchronized Calendar, so why can’t I get that to-do list on my phone? But the Google phone doesn’t even have a notepad. A big, beautiful keyboard and no way to take notes?
Yes, you can download third-party notepads to the Google phone, just as you can download third-party to-do programs on the iPhone. But seriously…
(5) Likewise, as a video player, you can play–YouTube videos.
Thanks. But I’d like to watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica.
(6) When the phone turned on from sleep, the display shows status, the network, the time (as a digital display) and a message to press the menu key to unlock the phone. Once the phone is turned on, you go to a primary screen with four icons–dial, contacts, browser and maps–and a beautifully rendered analog clock.
But here’s the thing. Say I’m pulling the device out of my pocket and checking the time. I’ll press a button, see the digital time, then let the display go to sleep again.
If I bother to unlock the phone, I’m going to use an application–either I’m going to make a phone call or I’m going to run a Tetris clone. So why force me to go through three taps–the third to expand the launcher–in order to play a game?
I suggest the analog clock in the middle of the display is completely useless: the time is also displayed in the upper left corner–and the only reason why I can see for having a beautifully rendered analog clock and a digital clock on the same screen is because Google thinks I’m 5 years old and still learning what the big hand means and what the little hand means.
Apple solves this problem by having a row of icons clearly delineated at the bottom of the screen that are fixed from screen to screen: the ‘Phone’ (which includes the contacts list), ‘Mail’ (and not three separate mail programs), ‘Safari’ (for browsing) and ‘iPod’ (for playing music and videos). But rather than wasting the rest of the real estate on the top of the display with a useless clock and a pretty seascape, the iPhone displays a 4×4 grid of other applications you may wish to run.
Yes, I know these are minor nit-picky minor things–perhaps nearly not worth even noting. But that’s the whole point of user interface design: there needs to be a coherent whole, some unified thought, a way to clearly indicate to the user using a consistent symbolic visual language what to do. When I see an icon in a rectangle I know if I touch it something represented by that icon will happen.
But Google has violated a number of these things: how am I supposed to know that by sliding the top down I’ll get the notification manager? And why–outside the possibility of separate development teams competing on providing e-mail and not talking to each other–is there three ways to get my e-mail?
And that’s the point: each of these tiny little pointless and nearly irrelevant little nit-picky things are exactly those things that turn a good user experience into a insanely great user experience.
And the Google phone: it’s good. Better than Windows Mobile.
But it’s not insanely great.