About Mobile UI: How can user interface change the way you hold your smartphone?

User Interface a topic close to my heart, and mobile GUI is probably the best part of it.

I had a chance to talk to one of the people who designed the First Else, the once most innovative mobile smartphone, all focused on single hand navigation and exceptional user experience, a brilliant project that was eventually shut down way too early, mostly due to the fact a small company like Emblaze couldn't get close to competing with monsters such as Apple and Google.

It was a fascinating conversation. Many UI aspects that were implemented in the First Else were great, unusual, innovative. Too bad the phone was never released (you can read more about it in here).

One of those principals was that the most convenient area to use your fingers is around the center of the phone, for that reason, the First Else main UI was in the center of the screen (see screenshot below).

Best area to place navigation buttons

Area A: is accessible easily with the thumb. No need to stretch it up, or lower it too much down.

Area B: is still OK, but it may require a bigger effort to reach it with the thumb. If the smartphone is big, you may actually change your grip a bit before using the lower part of the screen.

Area C: is the worst. You need to stretch your thumb to reach to it. Once again, if the smartphone is very big – you may need to change your grip



Few examples:

Blackberry's wonderful navigation buttons (with the trackball or trackpad) are located exactly where they can be easily used with a thumb.


First Else: the guys from Emblaze placed the main screen menu in the center right area of the screen, optimized for right handed users to use with their thumbs:


iPhone's back button, is actually located in a problematic location. You really need to stretch your finger to reach it, and that's when the iPhone size (and screen) are not big as other smartphones in the market. In Android, WP7, and BlackBerry – the 'back' button is represented by a hardware button, located in the bottom of the handset.


And finally, an example taken from my parent's home theater – the remote control is the perfect example how bad UI can exists in both software and hardware: take a look at the volume up/down buttons – they are located in the lowest area of the remote control. The thing is so long, the first instinct is to hold it in the middle – once you do it – there is no way you can reach the volume buttons without completely changing the grip. I remember noticing that right from the start, and I thought it would be a perfect example to show how bad UI is not always a software thing:

Bad-Remote-control-Layout   Pioneer remote control


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Lets hope that iPhone 5 doesnt have the button in Area C and uses multitouch-gestures for home-function instead! :)
Marti said…
I was Very interested in the First Else, because of the UI. I'm sorry that it never got off the ground.