Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software pointed the way for Windows Phone 7, admits Microsoft, but it sledges the iPhone’s UI as out-dated.
If you’re looking for some of the inspiration behind Microsoft’s revamped playbook for Windows Phone 7, cast your eyes towards Apple HQ.
The iPhone provided vital cues in both elegance of UI design and consistency of the user experience – cues which Microsoft has enacted through tighter control over the hardware and software in Windows Phone 7 devices due to appear by year’s end.
“We’ve seen that with the iPhone, where hardware and software are tightly integrated together, what it gives is great quality in the experience, and that’s what consumer wants” recounts Natasha Kwan, General Manager for Microsoft’s regional mobile communications business.
Kwan told APC that this led Microsoft “to look at the entire design, not just the font and layout but the motion of when you wipe the screen, to take (full) advantage of good hardware features. We rebuilt the entire way you interact with the phone.”
At the same time, it’s hard to dispute that the fresh face of Windows Phone 7 has left the iPhone’s iconic UI looking, well, like the three-year old design that it is. And that’s a design which Microsoft believes is out-dated.
The face of the smartphone, circa 2010: is the iPhone’s simple but elegant app launcher still the best solution, or is a more informative live home screen like that of Windows Phone 7 the best approach for today?
“The iPhone has a very very nice UI, and thats why everybody has copied it” admits Tony Wilkinson, business operations director with Microsoft Australia. “But a lot of the commentary that’s come out following Windows Phone 7 is that this UI has made the iPhone start to look a little bit old – this is a generation beyond what Apple has done.”
“I find it a big problem (on the iPhone) not being able to see what I’ve got on each day. I like the idea of having a home screen where stuff that I care about is immediately visible, and that’s really what the Live Tiles in Windows Phone 7 achieve” Wilkinson says.
He also considers that the iPhone interface “is all about individual apps. I go into Facebook or I go into Twitter, and I interact with each app one service at a time.”
“With Windows Phone 7 we want to give users an integrated experience – with Facebook and Twitter you’re talking about people, so you go into the People hub and all the interactions you can have with anyone you want – Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, texting them or calling them – are all visible through that hub.”
“So rather than looking at it on an app by app basis, we’re looking at it from the perspective of things you want to do and people you want to communication with.”
Windows Phone 7 also packs hubs based around sets of people-centric or task-centric activities
(shown here in an exploded panorama view)
Wilkinson also seems the whole issue of app switching as being the wrong model for the small screen of a smartphone.
“On a computer where you’ve got a big screen, switching between programs or applications is a very easy and very natural thing to do. But when you’ve got a very small screen, switching from one app to another has a much higher cost than doing it on the PC – a heavily app-based model on a small device is much less efficient, and that’s where integrated experiences or hubs are really a very good way of getting access to your information.”
Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only one pushing a smartphone UI where the homescreen sprouts all manner of informative and interactive widgets rather than simply being a launchpad for apps. HTC, Samsung, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Google Android have all introduced similar ‘live’ screens.
So what’s your
call – is the iPhone’s UI due for an interactive overhaul? Or is a simple app launcher all that’s really needed?