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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

Make it – then break it: the UI-paradigm of converged devices

Convergence A lot of people spend their time thinking about how machines should present information and a control interface for humans, the so called user interface. There is an increasing need to improve the UI as our devices consolidate and merge. A couple of years ago the portable phone (in reality a voice modem) was equipped with a personal digital assistant (PDA, for those who forgot what it meant). Then the digital camera joined the same screen real estate. And then the camcorder. This past year the music player and web browser. Next year TV, GPS, and mapping functionality.

The jury is still out on whether convergence will continue and mobile phones become the ultimate in-pocket-Swiss-army-knife-machine. I believe that the form factor will be what sets the limits and determines whether the functions should be split into separate devices, and nothing else.

First you make it.. So onto the UI-paradigm then. Nokia revolutionized mobile phone usage with their NaviKey concept. The 3110 sported a key in the middle, the’get-on-with-it-button’, two arrows keys to swap function and a ‘clear key’ for back or delete. The phone became simpler and faster to operate, with only large text, and one clear option. Today all phone manufacturers have adopted this thinking one way or another. In this way, the user interface paradigm has been standardized, much like the way the play/pause/rewind/forward paradigm has been for media players.

..then you break it! But it is time to think differently. These disparate functions crammed inside the phone should of course fulfill the basic rules the converged paradigm, but not all the rules. Look at the ‘take picture’ function of the camera. Does it have anything to do with the mobile phone and all its list menus? No. Then don’t force it to look and feel like one. Sony Ericsson has made an excellent choice in their new CyberShot series! The camera application looks and feels lika a camera, and not a mobile phone. This takes time to adapt to; the first Nokia with camera even had a menu you could fold up and select ‘take picture’.

The more there are established paradigms out there the less reason there is to invent a new one. The UI can be the same, but adapted to add the benefits you have from the other functions, for example a context menu with ‘send to blog’ or ‘send as MMS’. These adaptations make the functions add to each other in a 1+1=3 kind of way. I believe we will have devices divided into these functions pretty soon, all looking part mobile phone and part their own:

  1. Talk (the most fundamental function and still the king)

  2. Organizer (calendar, timer, alarm, etc)

  3. Media (music player, picture browser, etc)

  4. Share (messaging, blogs, etc)

  5. Camera (looking just like any point-and-shoot camera, plus the adaptations)

  6. Web (looking just like on the PC – just the web, again with adaptations)

  7. Downloaded Applications (which will look like the service on the web they represent, but inherit the basic UI-paradigm of the device, for example a picture browser with Flickr content sown into it.)

When product planners will think of future devices they should pick and choose from this toolbox and select a form factor. For example: a ‘Business device’ will have Organizer and Web as their two main themes and have a QWERTY-keyboard and a large screen, a ‘Life recorder’ would center around Media, Share and Camera, and a ‘Portable Web device’ would have Web and Downloaded Apps as the two big features. And some devices will try to combine them all into a Swiss army knife and bet on the so called professional pioneers, a.k.a. tech geeks.

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