January 9th, 2011

3 Comments

My Two Weeks with Windows Phone 7

It’s not often that I get to use another mobile device to test drive for a couple weeks as my full time device. It’s a great way to get the full experience of other OS’s. So this time around, it was the Windows Phone 7, which I’ve been optimistic about since first reading about it. I already wrote my initial impressions on it, but I want to use this post to dig a little deeper. Because I’ve taken notes, and want to share them. I’ll try to stay as focused as possible, but no promises.

The Setup

The initial setup was a breeze. It just requires a Windows Live ID (or XBL Gamertag) and then you’re up and running. I will say, that it was a pain trying to move my contacts from Address Book (on my Mac) to this phone. Not sure if I did something wrong with exporting my contacts from Address Book, but the whole process took a good 45 minutes. I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to export from Address Book, import into Google Contacts, then export from Google Contacts, and import into Windows Live. Again…. pain. They should really have an easier way to do this with so many people jumping back and forth between platforms/OS’s.

It was very easy to import my Gmail accounts into the phone. I was skeptical about this because, well, it’s a Microsoft product. You can also choose to setup a Facebook account, which is cool and annoying at the same time. Cool because in the Pictures app you can get live updates of Facebook friends that have updated their pictures. It’s also cool because in the People hub, you can get friends status updates. But linking your Facebook account also means that all of your friends now become contacts on your phone, which I am definitely not a fan of. Excellent integration, though, if having your Facebook friends as contacts doesn’t bother you.

The overall concept of using Metro in Windows Phone 7 came about because Microsoft wanted to help users “find their way” across their phones and the information it leads them to. The inspiration came from public transportation. If you look at the fonts and graphics used in a place like the London Underground or New York’s subway system, you’ll understand what Microsoft is referring to. via

The Interface

After two weeks of usage, my opinion stayed the same as my initial impression of it. I really like it. For it’s basic uses (email/text/web browsing), the Metro UI is a pleasure to use. You’re presented with two basic screens. Your start screen, which is all the apps that you use the most, and anything else you choose to pin to the start page. And then there’s an “everything else” screen, which is an alphabetical listing of all of your apps.

I didn’t really find many inconsistencies across the UI, which is a very good thing….because I was certainly looking for them. One thing that did annoy me, was that while the interface was nice for moving forward, I got frustrated moving backwards. More on that later.

The interface for conversations (or texts), email, and calendar is exactly what I’m looking for, and I actually prefer them over iOS. Not that it doesn’t work well in iOS, but at least with the messages app, the chat bubbles feel a little kiddish.

While the interface in general is very responsive, I did notice it being overly sensitive at times. For example, in some apps (Facebook/Twitter) I’d be scrolling down, and the slightest movement right or left with my finger would pan me to a different screen. That got really annoying. Another thing, that I missed, from iOS, is tapping the top of the screen to scroll back to the top in apps like Internet Explorer.

The Keyboard

The keyboard, in my opinion, can make or break the mobile experience. If you don’t get that right, everything else is off. Microsoft got that right. I really loved typing on it. For some odd reason, I had trouble hitting the “o” key, and hit the “i” key instead. Probably just some user error.

The placement of the auto-suggested words is great. Fit very well above the keyboard. Corrective text seemed off, though. In some cases, I would mistype a word, hit the space button, and it would auto-correct it. Other times it wouldn’t, so I would have to stop typing, backspace, select the right word, then continue typing. I love that, like iOS, a double tap on the space bar adds a period and space (does Android do this?).

While I only used the device for two weeks, I didn’t really miss copy/paste. Would I have liked it? Of course. The biggest downside for me, in having no copy/paste, was that I couldn’t share links and stuff via my social networks. But there seems to be an upcoming release this month that includes copy/paste. So this comment might not matter once it’s released.

Notifications

Notifications are excellent. A small bar at the top shows up, and you can either click it, or swipe it away. Clicking it takes you to the app that it’s associated with. I love it. Here’s a video demo of notifications in action. Apple seriously needs to fix this in iOS. I can’t stand a large notification popping up in the middle of my screen interrupting what I’m doing.

Marketplace & Apps

The marketplace experience is both good and awful. When it’s working, it’s pretty easy to browse through categories and apps. Installing apps is very easy too, which is important. While downloading an app, it shows the progress of the download. Another useful feature is while you’re in the Marketplace, hitting the [hardware] search button searches within the Marketplace.

Now, the downside, is the Marketplace is flat out slow sometimes. It can be slow to load and/or slow to respond to touch. And even worse, sometimes the app just crashes. And when that happens, it keeps crashing when you re-open it. The solution I’ve found, which is completely ridiculous, is to restart the phone. Microsoft needs to fix that asap. Because if I was a developer, I would be furious about this. 3rd party apps are essential for any smart phone, and this is a major problem if users can’t get these apps because of a faulty Marketplace app. And I’m not the only one this has happened to.

As far as apps go, and as I mentioned above, they all go into one alphabetical list. I see this as a good and bad thing. The good being, when I hit that list, I know where to scroll to, based on the name. I don’t have to pan through pages of icons looking for the right one. The downside is, if you have tons of apps, that list view can become huge to scroll through. There’s no other way you can organize apps on your own. So what’s better, giving users one solution, or giving users options to choose a solution? That’s debatable.

I didn’t try out a ton of apps because the device I used is borrowed. So I didn’t want to spend the money only to not have access to them when I returned the device. And most of the apps I saw looked like crap. The two 3rd party apps I used the most were the Facebook and Twitter apps. Highly enjoyed the official Twitter app, and as well as Beezz, which is another Twitter app. I can definitely recommend both of them. I can’t say the same with the Facebook app. It’s very buggy and slow, which made it not fun to use.

Maps

I’m a huge Google Maps user, both in a web browser and on my iPhone, so initially I was very hesitant at the thought of giving up Google Maps. But Bing Maps is great. I quickly felt comfortable using it, and the interface and animations are great. Searching is easy and fast. I like that when you select a found location (like a store), there is a ‘nearby’ page to see what’s in the area. It is also very convenient being able to use voice search. If I were to switch platforms, I could see myself being comfortable using Bing Maps full time.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

There needs to be a better way to get back to start screens in some apps. One thing that annoyed me in some apps, was navigating into deeper levels of an app, and then having to hit the back button a bunch of times to get back where I started. I’m not a fan of that. I love having that [hardware] back button to use in some cases, but I’m not sure if that’s intentional for developers to lean on so heavily for navigation in their apps. Is this the same for Android users?

Microsoft Office is pretty cool. I’m not a heavy Office user, but it’s nice that it syncs online to be able to access your documents in a web browser. I did, however, use OneNote quite a bit to take notes on my WP7 experience. It served as a great replacement for Evernote, which I would have used on iOS.

One big issue I had with WP7 was the lack of contact favorites. Seeing as though this is a phone, it should be easier to get to the people that you contact the most. I didn’t like the idea of pinning contacts to the start page (other than my wife), which I think is what you’re expected to do. So the easiest way to get to contacts was to open the People hub, hit the search icon, type their name, then select contact. If I’m on the go, like driving, this a pain….especially for users that have their Facebook contacts integrated. I hope this gets addressed.

I didn’t spend much time with the camera. I did like what I saw though. Having a dedicated button for the camera was nice. At any given time, I could just press the camera button (or tap/hold if the screen is off) to access the camera. And it loaded fast. Much better than closing and app and having to select an icon to open the camera. You’re also given some cool options before taking a picture, many of which you see with point-and-shoot cameras.

The default sounds are great. I’m sure I’m not the only one that goes through all the ringtones/sounds when playing with a new phone. But they’re really fun and subtle. I wish I could port them over to iOS.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, my opinion of WP7 is very positive. The interface feels good. I don’t say this often, but Microsoft did a great job. And this is coming from an iOS user since it hit the market. As mentioned earlier, for your basic apps (texting/email/calendar/etc.) it’s really a pleasure to use. The Metro UI works very well for mobile. My concern with this, though, is how innovative app designers/developers get. By the end of my two week test drive, I was left yearning for more from an interface standpoint.

One of the awesome things about iOS, is innovation in interface design across different apps. You can get many different experiences depending on what app you’re in. With WP7, I felt that I was getting the same experience over and over, just different contexts. And while that’s not a bad thing, I’d like to see more. And maybe that’s because I’m a designer myself. But at the end of my two weeks, I missed using my iOS apps/games like Instagram, Reeder, Scrabble, and so on. I want those type of experiences for WP7.

So, would I recommend WP7? In case it wasn’t obvious, yes I would. Am I going to switch? Not yet, but possibly in the future. This platform is very young, but if Microsoft keeps this a high priority to advance the OS, I could see myself using this in the future. I really hope they succeed with this. It’s also on the shoulders of app designers/developers to advance this platform too.

Microsoft’s biggest problem right now is that they’re so late to the game. It really has hurt them. And I was pretty disappointed that they didn’t have much to talk about regarding WP7 during their keynote at CES. They need people talking about WP7, but they were overshadowed by Android. I expected them to have some WP7-like interface on a tablet or two. But that’s another story.

For now, I’m sticking with iOS. Using another OS makes me realize (even more) how much Apple focuses on the details and user experience. It really is the little things that make great experiences on a mobile device. But I think Microsoft took a huge step in the right direction. So kudos to them. Now I want to get my hands on an Android to device to use for a few weeks. And I’m also curious about Android users thoughts on some of the things I mentioned above, and how Android handles them. I’m excited for the future of mobile.

December 23rd, 2010

4 Comments

Initial Impressions of Windows Phone 7

Ever since the release of Windows Phone 7, I’ve been very intrigued with the UI. Then a friend had bought one so I was able to spend a couple minutes on it, and I was very impressed. I then wanted to test drive one for a few weeks full time as my phone, and luckily, the aforementioned friend just happened to have an extra he had gotten from a conference. And he let me borrow it.

So it’s been about a day since using as my main phone, and I’ve been jotting down a few notes that I wanted share about my initial impressions of using this device.

My very first impression of it, before anything else, was that the UI was very clean and polished. You get a very good sense of consistency across the board when diving in and out of apps. I absolutely love it. It took a little getting used to the icons that in the UI. The global “send” button I still don’t get, but whatever. The built in animations/transitions (moving from screen-to-screen) feel very natural. I’m sure you’ve seen animations in UI’s that feel unnecessary, and it’s very annoying. But the ones here fit very well.

The email app is awesome, as well we the messages app. Of course a clean touchscreen UI doesn’t mean much if the screen isn’t responsive. But that’s not the case here. I found the device to be very responsive, and aside from a couple 3rd party apps, I haven’t had to deal with any lag in scrolling/panning/tapping. Apps also open very fast, which is a huge plus because I have little patience for slow app load times.

The keyboard…..is excellent. I haven’t used a software keyboard this nice since first using the iPhone’s keyboard. It far trumps Androids. I seriously love this thing. The auto-suggested words works very well, and doesn’t get in the way of your typing. I also like the double tapping of the space bar for adding a period with a space after a word. I use that quite a bit, as I did with iOS.

The only 3rd party apps I dug into were the Facebook and Twitter app. Both I like a lot from a UI standpoint, but the Facebook app is very slow and buggy. I’m not a fan of that, obviously. I might end up using the Facebook mobile site instead. The Twitter app is clean and does exactly what I need it to do.

The Pin to Start option in WP7 is going to be very useful, for wanting to quickly access a location/contact/app/etc.. I’ve used that a bunch already, and is a different take on “favorites” from within the OS.

So those are my initial impressions. I plan on doing a much more thorough and focused writeup after using this thing for a couple weeks as my full time mobile device. I still have to dig into Internet Explorer (which I’m hesitant of, maybe because of the name). In case you’re curious, I’m using the LG E900, which is a European phone. Since I haven’t dug into many 3rd party apps, I’m very open to recommendations, because I’m already missing my normal apps that I use on my iPhone.

Tags: Design, Mobile

September 26th, 2010

No Comments

Bored of Blogging

I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty bored of blogging. Well, at least about design. Every time I’ve stumbled across even a minor thought about something design related, I’ve either tweeted out my concise thought about it, or realize that I don’t have much to say on the topic. I don’t want to go so far to say that I’m completely done blogging here. But there has been an obvious trend over the past year, of me writing less and less.

I’m still not ready to give this site up though. I’ve been thinking of ways to repurpose it. Even had ideas for a redesign. But what’s the point of redesigning if I’m not writing here. And I can see myself [still] writing from time to time. I just don’t see myself doing the type of blogging here that I used to do, when I had more to say about the industry. My online efforts are more spent interacting on Twitter or posting things that I like and/or am inspired by on Tumblr. So you can find me in those spaces, and we’ll see what happens with this site.

Have you ever gotten bored of blogging?

Tags: Personal

April 29th, 2010

1 Comment

New Personal Project: TappGala

A little over a month ago I was helping a colleague find resources for UI design for the iPhone. Since he doesn’t own one, I was trying to link him up to a design gallery. There are a billion and one CSS design galleries, but oddly, I only found one iPhone design gallery. It didn’t seem like it was getting updated much, so I decided to design my own.

I had been posting a few shots on Dribbble as the design progressed, and now it’s finally ready to release into the wild. I kept thinking “What’s missing from this design?”, but the goal of the site is so basic that I kept coming up with blanks. I think for now, it’s get the job done in a simple manner.

I tapped David Mulder to help out with the development of the site. I’ve known him for years and thought this would be a good opportunity to work with him, and me focus more on the design.

The typeface I used for the logo and headers was Tungsten, which is easily becoming my new favorite typeface. This was my first time experimenting with the @font-face property, and it was easier than I thought it would be. The type rendering turned out much better than when I first used Cufon and sIFR on the site.

The icon set is called Iconic, which I also love, and am actually using on another project as well. While I’m glad the icons are free, I would have easily paid for them.

The minute I saw the Nivo Slider, I knew I wanted to use it for the individual app pages to cycle through screens. It’s one of the coolest sliders I’ve come across in a long time, and would definitely recommend it.

There are features that we want to add in the future, but we wanted to get the basics out of the door first. if there’s something that you think could add value to the site, feel free to comment here or through the TappGala contact page. And definitely submit app designs if there’s something you think we should have on the site.

So, go check it out, and let me know what you think.

Tags: Design

March 25th, 2010

No Comments

A Few Thoughts on Dribbble

After months of reading about Dribbble, I finally got my invite, thanks to Mike Rundle. So far, I’m loving the site, and I can’t wait until it’s opened up to the public. For those that don’t know what Dribbble is, this basically sums it up…

Dribbble is show and tell for designers, developers and other creatives. Share sneak peeks of your work as “shots” — small screenshots of the designs and applications you’re working on. via

So many times I’ve been working on new design projects, and want to share it, but usually it’s just too early to let the cat out of the bag. Dribbble fills that void because you’re only sharing smalls snippets of a design, which doesn’t reveal the whole thing. And you’re able to get feedback on it. Genius? Maybe not, but I sure hadn’t thought of only sharing a small chunk of a design. So that is very useful to me.

The other thing I’m impressed with is how far they took the concept of basketball for the whole site. The attention to detail shows quite a bit, even in their service update emails. All of the writing is very creative and always follows the overall basketball theme. I think that’s a little harder than it seems.

In the short time that I’ve been on the site, it’s been a great source of inspiration. I’ve been very impressed with design work I’ve seen on the site. That’s another reason I’m excited for it to open up to the public. I can see it being a valuable site for the design community.

So those are my quick thoughts. Are you on Dribbble? If so, let me know your username so I can follow. Mine is jwphillips. Looking to connect with more designers. I’ve also posted a few teasers of my next personal project that I’m working on, and will hopefully be launching in the next couple of weeks.

If you’re on Dribbble, what do you think of it so far?

Tags: Design