A great compilation of data about the growth and impact of mobile has been Morgan Stanley Research’s Mobile Internet Report. Primary author of the report, Mary Meeker, is now with Kleiner Perkins and has released an updated version of the data including:
- Global shipments of smartphones and tablets surpassed shipments of desktop PCs and notebooks in Q42010. This gap is expected to increase over the next few years.
- 60% of time spent on smartphones is new activity for mobile users.
- Global mobile data traffic should grow 26x over next 5 years.
- Global mobile 3G subscribers grew 35% year over year and now number about 726MM.
- Japan’s social networking site, Mixi, illustrates the importance of mobile: 85% of page views on mobile vs. 14% 4.5 years ago.
- 50% of total active Twitter users are on multiple platforms (mobile) compared to 25% a year ago. 40% of all tweets are sent via mobile.
- 50% of Pandora’s total user base subscribes to the service on mobile.
- Check out the full report for more.
While some sources define a smartphone as a mobile device with an operating system that allows people to install and run applications, something more useful to Web designers would cover the device’s context of use:
- primary input method
- average screen size
- Web browsing capabilities
Sounds like a mouthful but Luke Wroblewski defines Smartphone on his site this way:
- Is palm/pocket sized: it needs to be portable so it can be used everywhere and anytime
- Primarily operated through a touch-based user interface: hardware buttons and a physical keyboard can be present but are optional.
- Has an average screen size of 3 to 6 inches: anything smaller makes touch-based interactions hard; anything much bigger makes it hard to transport everywhere easily.
- Is used with a data plan (not just voice!)
Some content originally posted on Technology Matters
Hitibrij attempts to compare 4 different modern smartphone platforms: WebOS, Android, iPhone and Maemo. He does not address Wondows Mobile and the article was written over a year ago, so some of the facts are not completely accurate (iPhone 4’s ability to multi-task for instance) but I think he points out some good key differences between the operating systems and how the UI and interactions are different.
These are key issues for those of us who are trying to design for multiple platforms and devices.
- One button on the front that always brings you back to the home screen. Long-pressing that button allows you to control the device by voice.
- The home screen is really an application launcher, where you have application short cuts. The short cuts can be organised over multiple screens.
- The screen to the left of the first home screen is the spotlight screen where you can search for just about anything on the phone, e.g. applications, contacts, notes, calendar entries, songs, etc.
What the iPhone does not offer is real multi-tasking in the sense of an easy way to switch between recently used applications. Furthermore, the home screen does not allow you to show different bits of information (widgets) or allow you to easily access certain functions (shortcuts). Lastly, in comparison to other modern platforms, it does not offer a very advanced notification system.
In summary, I believe that the iPhone has a very low barrier of entry in terms of usability. However, this goes at the expense of personalisation and fluid movement between different functions of the smartphone. Many people will find it a very acceptable solution, and in fact it has attracted many non-smartphone users, but I personally find it to simplistic. As a side note, I should add that the lack of multi-tasking is in part outweighed by the speed of the system, allowing someone to flip through screens and applications very quickly.
About a year ago, the G1 was launched. This was the first phone to carry the Google operating system called Android. Though the “gPhone” had been rumoured, the fact that it came in the shape of a OS instead of hardware was slightly surprising. Moreover, the actual look and feel of the OS were a very pleasant surprise as well. Let’s not forget that before its launch, the smartphone market mostly had S60, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Blackberry (besides de iPhone). None of those were really user friendly and modern. Android’s user experience, on a top level, can be summarised as follows:
- Multiple customisable home screens with room for short cuts and widgets.
- An alphabetically ordered application launcher.
- A multitasking key to show the most recently used applications to facilitate switching between them.
- A rather advanced and non obtrusive notification system at the top of the screen.
It is not really lacking anything, in my opinion. However, that doesn’t mean it is perfect. I guess we can say, because Google only controls the software and not the hardware, that sometimes a particular device can have multiple ways of doing something, which inevitably results into confusion for some people. On the other hand, the fact that the home screens are customizable adds a level of complexity that is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Efforts by the likes of HTC in the case of the Hero partly address both issues. First of all, they add a sexy looking Sense UI to the OS. This in itself already makes the experience more attractive. The HTC widgets for the home screen also look more attractive and inviting, perhaps facilitating usage.
A little less than half a year ago, Palm launched its first device on the WebOS platform. This platform represents Palm’s effort to reconquer the smartphone market, after coming from very deep. WebOS is already running on two phones – Pre and Pixie – though the latter still has to come out. Going back to the OS, I think it is fair to say that it has a clean and pretty look to it. However, besides that it also applies several good usability features:
- It has a rather simple home screen with 5 customisable application shortcuts.
- Like the Android it has an application grid that can be called in order to launch any application.
- It has a system wide quick launch wave that raises from the bottom of the screen as a “ribbon” on which you can add your favourite or most used applications for easy access.
- It can multi task as well. By means of a innovative card system you can switch between open applications, move them around and close them. The card view can be invoked by simply pressing the single button on the front of the device.
- Similar to Android, it has a rather advanced and non obtrusive notification system.
- Universal search, though not as exhaustive as spotlight on the iPhone.
- A gesture area below the screen the execute certain actions, such as going back.
I think the only thing really missing, in terms of completeness, is widgets on the homescreen. Besides that, the list is quite comprehensive. I believe that Palm tried to make good use of the touch interface by creating gestures to take certain actions (e.g. going back, closing an app, or launching the quick launch wave) instead of pressing hardware or software buttons. The down side is, though, that the user has to familiarise him or herself with these gestures.
This video by PreCentral shows these features in action (starting from 3:00):
The last of the modern OS that I want to review here is the 5th iteration of Maemo. In contrast to the previous devices, Maemo 5 only works on hardware with resistive touch screens. Part of the pleasure of the User Interface’s from iPhone, Palm and Google are that they work on capacitive touch screens. Two weeks ago Nokia mentioned that Maemo 6 will feature multi-touch and capacitive screen support; however, the current OS does not. The first device still has to be launched, so it is perhaps a little early day to cover this OS, but as it is supposed to launch this month, and we have seen enough materials on the Internet, I think I am capable of giving you the details in order to compare the different user experiences. For Maemo 5 I’d like to high light the following aspects:
- It has no physical hardware button on the front. It has only touch screen interaction.
- Similar to Android, it has 4 customisable home screens on which one can place widgets and shortcuts.
- By pressing the button in the upper right corner, one accesses the Dash board where you find a matrix of thumbnails that represent the open applications. This allows you to easily switch between them.
- Once on the Dashboard, if you again press the button in the upper right corner, you access the application grid.
- Notifications of incoming messages and the like are shown through a pop up on the screen that than minimise into a yellow thumbnail on the dash board.
The following video summarises these features quite nicely.
After having reviewed these different user experiences of the 4 most modern OS on the market, what can we learn?
- iPhone has by far the simplest interface. One button to rule them all and hardly any customisation of the interface. Perhaps for me that is too simplistic, but it is clear that it is rather attractive for lots of others as it is the single most popular smartphone out there.
- Though perhaps more functional, neither the Pre not the Android devices have been able to eat away at the iPhone’s dominance. Is this perhaps because the UI is too complex? It is obvious that many things influence the purchasing decision of a smartphone, but it may play a role.
- Maemo 5 and Android are the most customisable of the 4 UIs covered. Is that something the market wants? Only time will tell. On paper it looks interesting, but will it translate into mass market acceptance?
- Apparent multi-tasking functionality as in WebOS and Maemo 5, does increase functionality. Will it be adopted by the iPhone in future iterations?
- It is really interesting to see how more sophisticated UIs appear to remain more niche, while a simple UI a la iPhone gets accepted by the mass market. We’ll see whether in the future Apple incorporates more functionality when the users are more mature and ready for it.
Additional Articles on Mobile Design
I am headed to the Verizon store right now to get my hands on the Storm.
Five reasons this device could really be an iPhone killer:
- It has a better camera –
The iPhone 3G comes to the table with a puny 2 megapixel camera and, at the moment, doesn’t offer video capture. The BlackBerry Storm, however, features a 3.2 megapixel camera with video capabilities, variable zoom, auto focus and a flash that has the ability to provide continuous lighting while recording video. For many smartphone buyers, a decent camera is becoming a more important component. And the BlackBerry Storm does it right. In the day and age of content sharing, the Storm makes it easy to snap and upload high-quality photos while also sharing video — a win-win.
- It has better ‘push’ email for corporate email accounts -While the iPhone is capable of making e-mail look and work pretty much exactly as it does on a home computer and supports e-mail from Yahoo, Gmail and AOL, along with most IMAP and POP mail systems, it’s BlackBerry that takes the biggest piece of the e-mail pie.The Storm continues BlackBerry’s 10-year legacy of mobile e-mail, working with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise. It also ties in e-mail access for consumers with most popular personal e-mail services. While the iPhone does now integrate with Microsoft Exchange, it doesn’t have the proven track record of corporate e-mail greatness that BlackBerry brings to the table.
- You can edit documents, spreadsheets, etc -The BlackBerry Storm comes preloaded with the DataViz Documents to Go suite for editing Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from the handset. For mobile workers, this capability has become a must. The iPhone, however, offers document viewing, but not editing for Microsoft Office applications, though there are downloads available that will enable editing.Still, having that capability out of the box puts the BlackBerry Storm one more notch above the Apple iPhone 3G.
- The Storm’s touch screen is “clickable’ -Maybe a minor feature, but the BlackBerry Storm’s “clickable” touch screen could be a deal breaker when considering what smartphone to buy. Sounds a bit petty, but you know you want to check it out — it’s the world’s first. I am truly excited about this considering the haptic research I have been involved in relates directly to this technology.The clickable display responds like a physical keyboard and supports single-touch, multitouch and gestures. The BlackBerry Storm’s clickable touch screen depresses slightly when the screen is pressed, allowing users to feel the motion, and is released with a click, similar to that of a physical keyboard or mouse button. The clickable screen gives users confirmation that they have made a selection. Certainly, someone at Apple central will devise an application that makes the screen clickable, but having the first device with that feature will make it a draw.
- Blackberry will launch its own app store -Last month, RIM unveiled plans to launch its own application store, similar to the AppStore for the iPhone and the Android market for the Google Android-based T-Mobile G1.BlackBerry’s Application Store Front will enable users to find and download applications to their smartphones. It’s set to launch in March 2009. The storefront will let developers set their own prices for applications, similar to Apple’s AppStore, and developers will retain 80 percent of the revenue their applications bring in. BlackBerry users will be able to buy directions directly from their smartphones and pay for them through eBay-owned online payment service PayPal. Apple’s AppStore caught flack for offering dozens of applications deemed as useless and unproductive. While there’s no proof yet that BlackBerry’s application store won’t fall into the same hole, BlackBerry has said it plans to allow companies with BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Professional Software have control over which applications users can download and use.
For those who just want to know the final details, there is a great specification sheet
* BlackBerry 101
* Where to Buy
* Wireless email
* Camera (3.2 MP)
* Video Recording
* BlackBerry® Maps
* Media Player
* Built-in GPS
* Corporate data access
Size and Weight
* 4.43″/112.5mm (Length)
* 2.45″/62.2mm (Width)
* 0.55″/13.95mm (Depth)
* 5.5 oz/155g (Weight)
* SurePress™ touch screen
* On screen keyboard: portrait SureType® and Multi-tap, QWERTY landscape
* 3.5mm stereo headset capable
* Integrated earpiece/ microphone
* Built-in speakerphone
* Bluetooth® v2.0; mono/stereo headset, handsfree, phone book access profile, and serial port profile supported
* M3 (Rating for hearing aids (PDF))
* Video format support: MPEG4 H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264, WMV
* Audio format support: MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMA ProPlus
* High resolution 480 x 360 pixel color display
* Transmissive TFT LCD
* Font size (user selectable)
* Light sensing screen
* Polyphonic/MIDI ringtones
* MP3 ringtones
* Vibrate mode
* LED indicator
Approximate Battery Life
* Up to 15 days (Standby time)
* Up to 5.5 hours (Talk time)
* Expandable memory – support for microSD™ card
* 1GB onboard memory
* 128 MB Flash (flash memory)
* RIM® wireless modem
* Tethered modem capability
* Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for Microsoft® Exchange
* Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for IBM® Lotus® Domino®
* Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for Novell® GroupWise®
* Integrates with an existing enterprise email account
* Integrates with existing personal email account
* Integrates with optional new device account
* Password protection and screen lock
* Sleep mode
* Support for AES or Triple DES encryption when integrated with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server
* FIPS 140-2 Compliant (FIPS Validation in Progress)
* Optional support for S/MIME
* UMTS/HSPA: 2100 MHz
* North America: 850 MHz GSM®/GPRS networks
* North America: 1900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
* Europe/Asia Pacific: 1800MHz GSM/GPRS networks
* Europe/Asia Pacific: 900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
* Dual-Band: 800/1900 MHz CDMA/Ev-DO networks
Additional articles and videos are available here:
Blackberry Storm Articles