writer, web developer, designer

From the Blog

Sep
05
Posted by Shell at 10:22 pm

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to play with an Android-based Advent Vega tablet. These little devices are surprisingly powerful, but also hamstrung with a couple of horrible issues.

The first thing that struck me powering up the Vega for the first time is how indescribably crappy the displays is. A flash back to the days of DSTN displays – remember those first generation flat screens? I’ll agree to cut the Vega a little slack, after all you’re still getting a fair bit of tablet without having to sacrifice your credit card on an Apple altar. Although it makes me wonder just how drunk their testers must’ve been (seriously, this screen is *bad*).

The second issue was a bit of a surprise. Now, anyone who knows me probably thinks I’m a die-hard i-device fan. If it has an Apple logo on it Sheru will love it. This isn’t fair. What I’m a fan of is ease of use, the ‘tactile’ user experience when using mobile devices. The default (and official) version of Android installed on the Vega is truly awful. Think a bastardised and magnified Android phone screen with almost everything that makes using a tablet sexy well and truly nixed. Don’t even compare with an iOS based device. Clunky, ugly (okay, perhaps that one is in the eye of the beholder), unresponsive, hard to navigate and lacking basic features that I wouldn’t even think about. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Thanks to the dedication of a brave collegue, I soon had the Vega up and running on VegaComb, a custom repackaging of the latest version of Android. Happily I can report that it’s a night-and-day difference when it comes to the Vega. The device rocks along on its dual core Tegra chip, slick and smooth.

That’s not the end of the story though. Being a UI fan-boy, I was then able to have a good play with the latest Android offering and, frankly I’m disappointed. Isn’t Android supposed to be the flagship of the Open Source mobile world, standing tall against the Evil Apple? Android misses a few tricks, while at the same time managing to raise some interesting questions of Apple’s IOS too.

Multitasking

Back in the early days of iOS, one of the biggest points of criticism seemed to centred around the lack of any real multitasking. Apple fixed this in later versions with the double-tap task bar to access the switching and closing of apps. Perhaps this is a matter of taste (or possibly the retraining of my own muscle memory), but Androids equivalent via an on-screen task button feels clunky.

Desktop

I really don’t understand this continued desktop metaphor on Android devices. We’re talking mobile devices here. Screen space is an issue, people. So why is so much space wasted with window chromes and ‘desktops’. Apps soon crowd the tiny screens with their widgets, desktop style icons and Androids own UI elements. It makes little sense to me. I really believe full-screen is the way to go – or tiling. I actually like (don’t shoot me) Microsofts proposed solution to this in the Windows 8 prototypes recently on show. Tiles work well, letting you see ‘into’ functionality without wasted screen space. This is definitely one up from iOS where screen after screen of tiny icons can be frustrating.

The problem

When I’m mobile, ease of use is a must. Imagine cold hands that are all thumbs. Some stuff I want to see quickly and clearly, at a glance. If I’m actively interacting with something, I want an uncluttered interface. I want that interface to work the same and look the same across all apps, because then I don’t have to think about the app itself. My focus should be on the task in hand, not trying to find my way around a seldom used app. Reading instructions is for people with too much time on their hands (take up golf, man!), not web sites to maintain and novels to finish writing.

My wish

I reckon there’s a sweet-spot in the middle. This can easily be demonstrated with Apple’s OSX Lion. Imagine full-screen apps for those primary tasks, and throw in screens of tiled widgets between.

Useful stuff

Got an Avent Vega? Upgrade to Android 3.2 here.

I’ve never been that much of a fan of the desktop metaphor. It’s awkward. It’s cumbersome.

To me, it just doesn’t lend itself to creating that mental map of navigable ‘things’. Things on the desktop just never quite group together logically. They pile up, get lost behind each other, mimimized, in different spaces, or stacked in bizarrely stacked ways.

99% of the time I’m working in one or two applications. I want them full-screen. I want to seamlessly switch between screens with the swipe of the mouse or fingers.

So, does the desktop metaphor even work?

Generally speaking I find the Apple OS X desktop the easiest environment to use – certainly the cleanest – apart from when it comes to organising windows. The most basic of tasks always feels ‘messy’, flicking between spaces and expose and multiple physical screens.

Lessons are being learned from mobile environments where complication doesn’t work. Clean interfaces for small screens, simple naturalist interactions, these are the name of the game.

Videos of OSX Lion and the introduction of a iPad-like application view could be a step in the right direction. But I can’t help feeling that this is just another layer of complication on top of the desktop metaphor. It’s still the same old windowing-thing, with a lick of paint and a nod to full-screen apps.

Today videos of the Windows 8 desktop started floating around, and it really feels like an attempt to do something different. Not just another layer of fancy navigation.

/via Wired Magazine – article here.

I’m happy to see there being some real innovation, and a move away from the ‘traditional’ windowing environment. It’s to early to call who’s got it right, Apple or Microsoft, but I’m pretty sure these are the first steps to changing the way interact with software on our desktop computers, hopefully for something far more usable.

There’s no doubt that the iPad is a superb delivery device for magazines, books, and browsing the net. Magazines in particular work really well in this new format. The large uncluttered screen allows for well designed magazine layouts, without limitation in typography or illustration, and introduces a whole new dimension of interactivity.

However, there is a downside to this. As yet, there is no common, more efficient delivery method. Unlike books, which can be purchased and downloaded through either Apples’ iBooks app or Amazons’ Kindle, each magazine packages their own downloader — and those downloads can be huge. There are only so many 500Mb issues of Wired that you can fit even on the largest iPad.

We’re almost there, and this is definitely the device to take us there!

  • Cost of the device – iPads are clearly prohibitively expensive for the majority of folks, limiting the market
  • Only a handful of truly interactive Magazines, such as Wired
  • Delivery format: current crop of interactive magazines are very large in size, filling up a lot of space on the iPad