Archive for December, 2010

Make sure your UI is not lipstick on a pig

December 13, 2010

Are you working on the next generation user interface? If you are, are you designing for multiple devices or are you simply putting lipstick on a pig?

 There is a lot of development work underway with regards to handheld and tablet devices. There needs to be, too – everything that has happened during 2010 continues to point to the long-term dominance of mobile computing.

 Apple pushes more and more new devices, Google’s Android has become an operating mainstay and Microsoft – probably the first company to really suggest that the future of computing would be tablet-based a decade ago – want to muscle back into the action.

 Attention in the media has recently been directed to Microsoft’s move into the mobile space. The firm is likely to have a busy end to the year, with the buzz surrounding the anticipated release of Windows 7 Mobile and a possible tablet device (see further reading, below).

 For now, Windows users will have to be content with development around the margins. One such development is UI Centric’s custom Windows 7 tablet user interface, codenamed Macallan. An article analysing the UI (see further reading) claimed the results were “pretty incredible”.

 The custom interface is still to be released, so claims of yet another “iPad killer” are very much up for debate. But the UI Centric development – and other potential Windows 7 Mobile devices from manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and HTC – shows that the mobile market continues to evolve and grow.

 What UI designers must avoid as the mobile market emerges is to “put lipstick on a pig”, as one anonymous poster commented with regards to the UI Centric Windows 7 tablet. That seems harsh with regards to “Macallan”, which at least demonstrates the strength in potential of UI designs that are created with a particular device in-mind.

 One of the key principles of a successful “multi-device strategy” must be to design for the device. The mobile market remains extremely fragmented and UI developers will have to think of how users will get the best of a particular device with a specific operating system.

 As I have mentioned in my blog before, the smart guys are already moving from a mobile strategy to a multi-device strategy. What is important – rather than the device itself – is the wider approach being taken, which demonstrates how applications and data must be accessed in a similar format on different devices.

 Design for the device but always think of a multi-device strategy and how elements can be ported and re-used. Fail to think in such a manner and you could find that you’ve even managed to put the wrong lipstick on the wrong pig.

Further reading:


The future is mass mobile and niche native apps

December 7, 2010

Design once and stop. That development strategy seems like a route to a software dead end, yet it is an approach that is representative of many apps created for mobile devices.

 Individuals and businesses are rushing to develop their specialist iPhone and Android apps, software that runs on one particular device and which fills a particular niche in the market. In the short-term, your development approach can afford to be based on point solutions.

 Such a development approach allows you to get used to the fast-developing market. For larger organisations, short-termism allows the IT team to dabble and create a marketing buzz. In many cases, the app is a means to show your company is cool, rather than a new and realistic revenue stream.

 In the long-term, that strategy will fail. Mobile devices will be the home of web- enabled work and play. Betting your strategy on one particular platform is not a realistic approach. After all, the market is fracturing across multiple smart phone operating systems, such as Apple, Research in Motion, Symbian and Windows.

 That fracturing cannot last. Native mobile apps constructed for a single platform might feel better and run faster. But to quote Google’s DeWitt Clinton (see further reading, below), such nativity is a bug and not a feature.

 Just as in the case of the desktop, developers have had to find ways to make their software run across multiple operating systems. And in the mobile era, you and your business will have to move towards an integrated point.

 Do you really want different sets of developers for each and every platform? Do not differentiate too much because at some point you are going to have to aim for convergence.

 Advancements in mobile web browsing continue to take place. Take jQuery Mobile, a recently announced web framework for smart phones that will provide a unified user interface system across all popular mobile device platforms.

 Further progress comes in the form of HTML5, which is currently under development as the next major revision of the hypertext markup language standard. The platform will promote deployment across multiple platforms and includes features that previously required third-party plug-ins, such as Flash.

 The result is that the dream of building once and deploying everywhere could soon become a reality. The future of development is the mobile web.

Further reading