I’ve been following more closely the mobile scene because I’m looking for a new mobile phone so I’m in the stage of studying my choices. Currently I’m much more inclined to buy an Android device, specifically the gorgeous HTC Legend. But this post isn’t about mobile phones in general but rather about the new Microsoft mobile operating system and its design.
Windows Mobile OS
Windows Mobile 6 interface hasn’t age graciously, specially after the iPhone arrived and suddenly it became clear how unfriendly WinMo was to use in a Phone. The Iphone interface is not to brag about to be honest, but it works and it has that Apple touch where every item is carefully crafted giving it an expensive look, both in term of UI and hardware. The problems with Windows Mobile is that isn’t user friendly at all. It feels like Windows XP in your pocket but that shouldn’t be the goal of a mobile operating system interface. If you were used to Windows operating systems you would probably get the hang of Windows mobile in a snap but you would certainly became a bit frustrated right away when you realized how hard is to press any interface element without the use of a stylus.
Using a styles was something very common in the “old days” of Smartphones, but today with the advancement of touch screens, specially capacitive ones using a styles is something more inconvenient than useful. The thing is the WinMo interface was design around the use of a Styles and for example HTC knows that, providing you with a Styles in almost every WinMo device they released, the same can’t be said for their Android devices. HTC tried to surpass Windows Mobile 6 limitations by forking Windows UI with something they’ve called SenseUI, giving a similar user experience to Windows or Android devices.
Microsoft understood that it was being left behind in this exponential growing market and quickly “answered” Google and Apple releasing a preview of its new Windows mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series.
The new Windows Mobile
Understanding how limited Windows Mobile 6 interface was in term of user navigation experience, Microsoft redesigned Windows Mobile from the ground up coming with something in the line of what they did in Zune, clean, minimalist design with a strong typography oriented design. The main screen information is displayed in a mosaic with big click-able thumbnails to access other UI areas. Personally I really don’t like how it looks. There are other ways to present information in a clean way without making it look cheaply done. But undeniable it should be a lot more finger navigation friendly than its precedent.
Windows 7 Series design has been codenamed Metro. Some earlier concepts of Metro have been recently published by Microsoft at MIX10 showcasing the design evolution of the Metro UI. It’s clear that Microsoft wished Metro to be a clean interface since the very begging with Typography elements being a central part of the UI. Strangely I think the earlier concepts of Metro do look a lot more pleasant looking than the final version. In this concepts it’s clear transparencies were use extensively something that you hardly find on the retail version of the User Interface. Maybe Microsoft wanted to set their design apart from what it’s commonly used today (see Aero in Vista or Windows 7 or even the Android platform).
It’s possible to built an UI around typography, if you search for typography works you will be amazed how further you can go only playing with type sizes, types, color and position. The thing is Microsoft decided to make a really minimalist design, contrary to what you see in Windows Vista or 7, I would understand if the goal was to make a lightweight platform, but it isn’t the case since Windows 7 Series will have some pretty demanding specs, so why not opt for something with a more cutting edge look? It’s possible to have Looks without sacrificing functionality.
In the end and BEFORE trying out the new Windows 7 Series Operating System, I do think that comparing it to Android or iPhone OS it’s already losing. I do love customization in any Interface and apparently it isn’t one of Metro’s strong points. It remains to be seen how easy it will be for companies like HTC to customize W7 Series in their own way. Considering it will be released without Copy and Paste… at least I want to be able to change more than the wallpaper! The thing with Windows 7 Series is that it tries too hard to be different from iPhone or Android. Microsoft doesn’t have to prove anything or reinvent the wheel every time they release an OS. Time will tell how the OS will mature and if my claims are right or wrong.