There are certain principles that make a good User Interface (UI). These are structure, simplicity, visibility, feedback, tolerance and reuse. I’m going to take a closer look at the Symbian^3 UI weighed against these fundamental principles. I have been using S60 5th edition for about a year now and the Symbian^3 UI is not much different. I’ve noted only a few differences from the Symbian^3 demos floating around.
Design should organize the user interface purposefully, in meaningful and useful ways based on clear, consistent models that are apparent and recognizable to users, putting related things together and separating unrelated things, differentiating dissimilar things and making similar things resemble one another. The structure principle is concerned with overall user interface architecture.
- One of the biggest problems with Symbian^3 is the inconsistent UI. It’s argued that Symbian^3 is just a transitory OS as we approach Symbian^4. That’s no excuse – they should have just ‘dumped’ it like they did Symbian^2.
The design should make simple, common tasks easy, communicating clearly and simply in the user’s own language, and providing good shortcuts that are meaningfully related to longer procedures.
- After years of using the Symbian OS, I still find it difficult to carry out the simplest tasks. People who are unfamiliar with the OS have an even harder time. Symbian^3 is no different. It maintains most of the confusing elements from previous iterations of the OS.
The design should make all needed options and materials for a given task visible without distracting the user with extraneous or redundant information. Good designs don’t overwhelm users with alternatives or confuse with unneeded information.
- Symbian^3 does show users the necessary information, but it has been done better. Android and WebOS have the best notification systems around.
The design should keep users informed of actions or interpretations, changes of state or condition, and errors or exceptions that are relevant and of interest to the user through clear, concise, and unambiguous language familiar to users.
- Symbian does have some good error reporting schemes that are not present in some OSs. Messages like ‘memory full’ or ‘can not do this because of that’ are quite common. Notification icons are also apparent and clear.
The design should be flexible and tolerant, reducing the cost of mistakes and misuse by allowing undoing and redoing, while also preventing errors wherever possible by tolerating varied inputs and sequences and by interpreting all reasonable actions.
- Symbian is tolerant to a greater extent, it has some well implemented error handling techniques. Mostly these features rely on third parties but on the OS side, Symbian holds its own.
The design should reuse internal and external components and behaviors, maintaining consistency with purpose rather than merely arbitrary consistency, thus reducing the need for users to rethink and remember.
- Again this is where the inconsistent UI plays a role. Different parts of the UI work differently. For instance, in one place you may have kinetic scrolling, then in another place where you’d expect kinetic scrolling, that feature doesn’t work anymore.
A New UI Is Not As Crazy As It Seems
Microsoft attempted to fix Windows Mobile, they tried to make it more touch friendly and more consistent but they ended up going with a whole new approach – Windows Phone 7. This is because they felt that merely ‘fixing’ what was already there wasn’t going to be enough to win over the competition, they needed to re-think everything from the ground up. In light of the situation with Symbian^3, it’s clearly not a matter of polishing up a poorly implemented design. They need to revamp the design and add some serious innovation to it rather than duplicating stuff that’s been around for an eternity.