Ronnie05's Blog

Fixing Nokia

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on August 6, 2009

Reproduced from a Forbes article by Lionel Laurent:

No one at Nokia is sleeping easily these days.

While reporting a second-quarter sales drop of 25% and a profit dive of 66% earlier this month, the mobile phone giant admitted that it had to “develop new skill sets.” And how.

Despite its weak quarter, the Finnish company is still at the top of the sales charts, moving 100 million units on a quarterly basis. Industry watchers are worried that it is starting to look a lot like Motorola in the mid-1990s–a mighty incumbent losing its edge to rival upstarts. There’s concern that Nokia is a hardware whiz living in a world increasingly dominated by software; and despite its forays into online services and application stores, it needs a big refresh to catch up.

So, what should Nokia do?

Improving its user interface for handsets would be a good start. Nokia’s Symbian operating system is still widely used, but the “S60” interface is showing its age. Gartner Research analyst Carolina Milanesi says that while Apple’s rival iPhone interface is very smooth and “horizontal,” requiring only one or two steps from the start menu to perform a function, S60 takes the user “deeper and deeper” into a Web of choices and processes. The problem is exacerbated by Nokia’s attempts to shoehorn S60 into new touch-screen phones, whereas Apple’s system used touch-screen technology from the beginning.

A better interface would also help Nokia close the gap between its online services, which offer everything from applications to music, and its technology-rich handsets. For instance, Nokia’s high-end handset, N97, has a more powerful camera, better map navigation and wider multimedia capabilities than the latest iPhone. But N97’s less sophisticated interface limits the user’s ability or desire to connect with Nokia’s services, giving Apple a clear advantage.

DnB Nor analyst Fredrik Thoresen says the gap makes it nearly impossible for users to access Nokia’s online services. “It’s a hassle. I’ve never done it,” he says.

It’s surprising that Nokia has fallen behind, given that it first announced its foray into online services back in 2007 with an app store it would call Ovi. Indeed, the company appeared ahead of the game in controlling the end-to-end chain from hardware to software. But integrating these services has proven difficult, partly due to resistance from network operators–fearful that Nokia is stealing their thunder–and also because Nokia’s user base is so broad that even something as simple as a one-stop online shop threatens to become an unwieldy behemoth.

But if Nokia can keep hammering away at Ovi, which launched in May, giving it mass-market appeal with an improved and easy-to-use handset interface, all the company would need to add is a killer touch-screen design. Oppenheim analyst Nicolas von Stackelberg thinks Nokia should use capacitive touch technology, a la iPhone, which responds more accurately to the finger’s electrical conductivity.

In terms of Nokia phones’ display screens, MKM Partners analyst Tero Kuittinen says the ideal size is 3.5-inches, which would make playing games and browsing the Internet a lot easier. He also believes Nokia should release more touch phones at $200 and below, like the music-oriented 5800 and upcoming 5530, to gobble up users in low-end emerging markets before Apple and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion get there.

“The game of migrating new features into cheapie phones is the one that turned Nokia into a behemoth in 1997 to 2007,” says Kuittinen. “That is the game that must be the core of the comeback plan in 2010 and beyond.”

And a comeback is exactly what Nokia should be planning. For the past two years, the company has rested on its laurels in the face of Apple’s success. By admitting it has new skill sets to learn, perhaps Nokia is ready to fix its problems, catch up to Apple and maybe even surpass it in the software and design arenas.

Let’s hope Nokia can silence, once and for all, its comparisons to Motorola.

Considerations on user interface design on Mobiles and Handhelds

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces by Manas Ganguly on April 14, 2009


The “smart”ness of devices is a direct derivative of its functions, content and the multitude of uses it can be subjected to. Phones especially are now Cameras, PDAs, Gaming consoles, Browsing points, Navigation consoles, Social Networking devices, Music Juke boxes and more: all this rolled into one. However, the User Interface is the platform which integrates all these uses for the user in a neat package. UI was a lower order consideration element till not so long ago. However the UI today is increasingly becoming a differentiator in the Telecom space. Smart UIs take some smart thinking and have an elemnt of intutiveness built in to create the user “wow” effect. Here’s listing a few of my thoughts on UI designs:

1. Know your customer first: The first aspect of any UI is in terms of who is using it and for what purpose. This is critical in terms of adding the value add ons to the UI. Normally, a lot of back end research goes to zero down on users and usages. The UI then has to be customized for the particular user profile. For example: Gaming and Music can be supported on the same software versions (e.g S 60 for Nokia), but the UI has to be customized for a gaming freak versus a music listener.

2. Top Down in design: The UI design and development should begin from the fully loaded version instead of the base version. The functions and apps should be in a modular format, which can be removed from the fully loaded version to lighten it up for lower versions.
Examples of Modular formats: SMS + voice module, FM + MP3 Module, MP4 + Video Player module, Music Module(supports all music formats), Gaming Module, Navigation Module, Internet Browsing, RSS feeds module, Calendars and Organiser module, other apps.
This is also important from device memory and selection of relevant hardware and chipsets perspective.

3. The case for shortcuts–> Content/Context Specificity: If the device is for a particular use, then there should be hotkeys or shortcut keys on the panels or the UI to enable a one click access to the function. Normally phones have one key access to music, camera, internet etc. This establishes and supports the USP by customizing your UI around specific content/context.

4. Screen View: A judicious use of the small screen size is a high priority. Craming it up with too much information could reduce readability. (I have never managed to read those “X” line “how to” menus that keep popping up on the screen). In devices that need to support RSS feeds, it is important to balance the view in terms of visibility/readibility versus blocking out everything else in the background.

5.Scroll Conservation:It is essential that the main menu and the subsequent ones be customized so that the content viewing doesnot require a scroll down! Many users find the act of scrolling down on a menu view to be irritating. It also means that the menu is not sure what they are looking for in the first place and is not able to provide the required info in one screen.

6. Click Conservation: Similarly, the act of many clicks into menus, sub menus, prompts, functions and sub functions etc is avoidable. A few UIs require 6 or more (even 10 in exterem cases) clicks for the user to access a particular point in the system. You are clearly telling the user to sort your mess by navigation his way into your UI. There is no intutiveness and short route to the functions he so desires. It also shows that you dont know what your user is using your device for. A S 60 UI navigation path is 900 rows in lenght and some of these paths are 6 – 10 clicks long. The 900 statistic shows a diffuse focus in terms of device –> customer integration and the 6-10 click path shows UI inability to intuitively map its usage.

7. Intuitive Design: The intuitiveness of design is probably culture/ language/ region dependent. However there is a strong case of integrating user requirements with the UI and hardware of the device. (e.g: After a call to a new number, imagine one click “Save” option to “add to contacts”. On the other hand, imagine the path Options–> save as –> add to contacts. That is “one click” too many).

8. Energy Saving Options: Screens such as QVGA and TFT can be harsh on power. A UI should be able to switch off / stand by to save on power drainage when not in use for “x” minutes. Similarly, it should be able to close the apps which are open and are not being used in favour of conserving battery life.

9. Touch: A touch based UI needs to allow room for the “touch”. (That in fact necessitates 3 inch screens to accomodate for the fingers). The idea is not to cramp the screen with multitude of options and less space making the touch experience a very tedious one.

10. Use of smart animation: Smart animation to browse through the screens creates a pleasing effect. However, the animation if there is has to be easy and light on the device memory resources.
11. Customizable front screen: The option to customize the front screen (is already present in high end devices) is to be given to the consumer. The idea is to give him a direct access to the apps /functions he uses 80% of the times. The option to pick up the “Favoruites” can also be provided to the UI if the consumer so wishes it.

These are a few generic principles to be kept in mind in UI designing for Handheld devices and mobiles. The ultimate objective is to make the browsing and navigation experience on the device to be a “Wow”.

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