Windows Phone 7 – A new Glance-and-go experience

I’ve been doing some user research on the iPhone user interface. How users interact with the applications and how they sort them out.  I felt a little biased when talking about phones because I am a Mac user and only know the iPhone environment. Because of this, I decided to try something new and here are my opinions.


My Experience with phones

I do not like phones. Let me start with that. I do not like talking on the phone. When I had my first mobile phone, i made sure it could do only three things: make calls, answer calls and switch the volume off (when screening calls). It had texting.
I like texting and how useful it is.
My next phone had even more features that I never used.
Then I got a Nokia Music Xpress.
My Nokia died and I got an iPhone (iPhone 3G. It was already old when I got it in January 2012).

The real reason to have a phone is not to make phone calls anymore or texting, which I see as the best thing since slice bread.

One characteristic of many applications is that they are “immersive”. They engage the user into an experience that involves them, the device and the app. Forget about the surroundings, what matters is that the user is interacting with the device and the app.

The iPhone was the first. Then came Android.
I do not like Android.
I know it is open, and customizable and has a thousand more features that a closed system like iPhone doesn’t have and will never allow. I still do not like it. I see it the same way that Windows was in the beginning, and I am talking about the UX: A copy of a better system.
For me Android is a copy of iPhone. It is just another version (for good or bad) of what the iPhone started.

Skip forward a few years.
Nokia and Microsoft are getting together to release a new OS, a new Smartphone.
My first reaction was “this is the same as when Michael Jordan went to play baseball”
The two biggest players in two different games trying to be the best at a game they have already shown they are not good at.
How many Windows Phone OS have been released by then? How many were successful in any way?
And Nokia… Yes, the biggest producer of mobile phones, but that failed when they needed to deliver a smartphone that could compete with iPhone and Android.
But they had something: Resources and more resources.

In an interview done by The Guardian last winter, Marko Ahtisaari talks about the “glance-and-go” or “glanceability”, a concept adopted by both Windows and Nokia. He says: “Our goal in the studio is to design so that people can have their head up again. Touch screen designs are often immersive”

This concept is for me a game changer.
What Apple did five years ago was new and amazing. Now, it could still be amazing, but it is not new anymore. With Android copying what they did, the momentum is list. Something new has to surface, and my opinion is that Microsoft had it right this time (at least the concept).

So, for the sake of science, I gave up my old iPhone and went to the Dark Side (they do have cookies!) and got myself a windows phone. The model does not matter, since I will be talking about the UI and not the hardware.

Disclaimer: I have not read any other reviews for this. This is a complete fresh and personal opinion.

What I like

  • “Live tiles” I find them amazing. I can pin the applications that I want to the start screen.
  • The “themes”. I love that most of the apps icons are “colour independent”. The entire UI is green, red, blue or “mango”. It is a good eye candy.
  • The apps list. I hate folders. For me the best way to forget about an app is to put it in a folder. With the list, I have an overview of what I have and it is easy to find, since I remember the name of the app.
  • Integration with Facebook. Not a big fan of Facebook, but it comes really handy when one needs to contact someone.
  • Groups of contacts. Others have this too, but one can pin to start the group for easy access.
  • Text hints when texting or sending emails. Gives a full set of options. And it is really easy to add new words.
  • The hierarchy by typography. The typography is just beautiful! The Segoe font is elegant and easy to read.
  • Slide-to-content. Only a hint of the other available content is shown on the right side of the screen.
  • Apps integration with the system. I have my issues with Skype. On any platform but not this one. The interface is easy to use (it follows the UI guidelines from Windows Phone) and is more friendly than the other platforms.

What I dislike

  • No central mail accounts. I have multiple email accounts, and instead of having one icon for all of them, I have one icon for each of them
  • Notifications of new emails. The notification (number on the icon) disappears after looking at the application, not after reading the mails. Same goes for SMS.
  • No out-of-the-box screen captures. This is the why I have no images here.
  • Maps. Bing maps are good, but they are really behind Google maps. Even when selected “metric” it sometimes shows imperial measures.
  • Need to have a Hotmail account. And the worst, it connects to MSN Messenger. I stopped using it years ago because of all the spam related messages. One can go offline on all accounts (like Facebook chat) but not to each one in particular.
  • I am an Apple user. And I feel as if I am being punished for it. There is a “Windows Phone 7 Connector” application for Mac that allows me to sync the content on the phone. I do not use iPhoto, but insists on using that application to sync photos and offers no alternative.
  • No option to connect with iCloud from Mac. I know, this is more of an Apple problem.

What is great

  • The simplicity of the UI. A minimalism that returns the user to the basic (and added) functionality of a phone. This is for me and my particular preferences something good.
  • The App list. No folders.
  • The big icons. I do not have big clunky fingers, but I appreciate the big icons.
  • It is not a copy of the iPhone.

The obvious and obnoxious comparison with iPhone

It is different. There are many things from the iPhone that I miss, but that after a while I realized I can live without.
There is a less focus on collection apps for everything. Instead it is about making the experience easier for the user by having less distraction on screen.
What I think the iPhone is missing, is an app list such as the one on WP7. Also, WP7 is the clear winner when it comes to number of apps per screen. One screen, big icons and as many apps as possible is a solution. My opinion is that the iPhone with its 20 apps per screen is a little overkill, but well, that is another topic for another post.

The conclusion

After less than a month using the phone, I am already used to it. I am not a super user when it comes to mobile phones (look at the first line of this article) and this phone gets the job done.
It might have many problems and issues that I do not mention here. Many of the problems that I mention might have a solution. But I am approaching this from the user perspective, the user that needs a phone to communicate with the world, not the one that works with it or spends infinite number of hours playing on it.

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