Posts Categorized: mobile ux

Nokia N900 : The Artist Phone

Drawing using the Nokia N900's Sketch App Nokia N900 photo using Macro/Close-up mode with no Flash in low light
Drawing and Photo by Ms. Jen with a Nokia N900.

Fri. 11.27.09 – Different folks will approach the same mobile device from a variety of perspectives, and I am here to tell you as a Professional Art Weirdo, the Nokia N900 exceeds my hopes as an Art Phone.
Yes. People. OMG. Creativity. Not. Consumption. This. Phone. Rocks.
I have spent all evening drawing, taking photos and trying out the browser. Tomorrow, I will get on X-Term and download Maemo Python and try some programming out.
The Nokia N900 has a native phone app called “Sketch”, and while other mobiles I have used have had a sketch program, this is the first time that I have found the app to be usable as an actual sketching device. The feel of the N900 in my hand plus the screen ratio, on top of the line control in the sketch app, makes me feel like I am using a wee moleskine notebook. While the N900 is about a centimeter smaller in width & height as my moleskine, it does not need to be opened, instead I can use the stylus to draw with the device comfortably in my hand.
Comfortably after 20 minutes of sketching Scruffy’s paw while he slept. The N900 did not feel weighty or get uncomfortable. I was able to switch between drawing with a fine line and then erasing to get the white space back. A true delight for an artist with small hands.
Then I used the camera on the N900 to take a close-up/macro photo with no flash of Scruffy’s paw and the camera accurately captured the paw in the low light.
This is the mobile phone that I and other creatives dreamed of when I was doing my interviews in 2005 & 2006 for my master’s thesis, ‘Moleskine to Mobile: How Creative Professions Are Using Their Mobile Phones’, has now arrived in one kick ass device. Multi-faceted creativity has returned to the N-Series.
Related N900 Posts:
Nokia N900 : The Artist Phone
Nokia N900 : The Gold Standard Test
Nokia N900 – Views from the Pundit Analysts, Maemo & Python
The Nokia Flagship Face Off : Nokia N900 vs. Nokia N97 : Part I, Night Video

Simplicity, Complexity, and Minimalism

The design world, particularly the web design / user interface folk, have been going through a spasm of minimalism / simplicity lately with many top web folk redesigning their blogs to simple text, plain background (usually white or a light color), and a graphic line or two.
Tim Brown at Design Thinking has decided to plunge into the murky waters of design philosophy and semantics to parse out what the difference is between simplicity and minimalism as it pertains to web design / interface design. The articles does not end with his words, but the real debate begins in the comments as various designers debate what do the words and practices really mean.
Read it.
Now if you need a visual for who is the current king of minimalism, view this photo from 1982 which sums up the future of ID/UX 27 years later in one go.

The Nokia N97 : Photos, A Story, Thoughts, and Asides

This July, I participated in a three week trial of the Nokia N97 that included weekly Tangler chat meetings where we addressed various topic on and about the Nokia N97. During the time with the Nokia N97 trial device, I posted photos to this blog, tweeted about my in the moment rants/raves on the Nokia N97, posted a bit of video, and other wise left other bits of N97 commentary blowing about the winds of the internet.
Here is my official Nokia N97 Review and I am going to divide my review of the Nokia N97 into three parts plus and Aside section:
I. My Favorite Photos I took with the Nokia N97
II. A Real Life Story of the Nokia N97 and the iPhone 3GS, as it Went Down At the South Coast Plaza Apple Store and Who Won
III. The Things I Really like about the Nokia N97 and the Things I Really didn’t like
IV. A Few Asides
Here we go:

I. My Favorite Photos I took with the Nokia N97

Nokia N97 - Erika at the 4th of July BBQ Nokia N97 - Bird and Jeremy at Dog Beach Nokia N97 - Belle sunning herself
Nokia N97 - Palm Trees at sunset Nokia N97 - HappyHappy by Choi Jeong-Hwa At LACMA Nokia N97 - HappyHappy by Choi Jeong-Hwa At LACMA
Nokia N97 - Here We Go! Here We Go! Nokia N97 - Blackberries and 1 Mulberry from my Mom's Garden Nokia N97 - Kayaking at Grant Lake, June Lakes, Calif
All photos taken by Ms. Jen with a Nokia N97 in July of 2009.

While I did find it awkward to take photos with a device as big as the Nokia N97, as my hands are very small, other than a few issues with clarity and farther than I expected focal range, now looking back at the nearly 400 photos I took in the nearly 3 weeks with the Nokia N97, I really do like most of the non-close up day photos. The Nokia N97 does a fine job as a 5 megapixel camera, as evinced in the photos above.
The above photos, other than being resized, have not been retouched or processed in any way.

II. A Real Life Story of the Nokia N97 and the iPhone 3GS, as it Went Down At the South Coast Plaza Apple Store and Who Won
Last summer, when my sister’s cell phone was 2 years old, my Mom and I discussed the idea of getting her a new one for her birthday. This June I brought up the subject again, as my sister’s mobile was nearing on 3 years old and we decided that we would get her a new mobile phone for her birthday on July 21st.
To be fair, I thought that I should give my sister Allison the option to see, touch, and test/try out as many new mobile phones as possible. My sister’s major usages on her mobile are texting, Gmail, taking photos, and sending her photos Vox blog. With this in mind, I handed her my HTC Magic / Google G2 phone for her to try out the touchscreen only Android phone. She was polite but not very interested.
Then I took her to the South Coast Plaza Apple store mid-July to see what she thought of the new iPhone 3GS. I had the trial Nokia N97 with me as I wanted her to compare both phones side by side.
We tried out the iPhone 3GS with me, bizarrely, acting as the salesperson showing her all the features and pointing out how many considered each feature to be far superior to any other smart phone on the market. All the while, I had the Nokia N97 out and showed Allison how it compared to the iPhone – from the Nokia’s physical qwerty keyboard to the iPhone’s touchscreen, we tested out how each phone’s camera would take the same shot, we tried the internet on both phones, we tried the GPS, etc etc etc.
At one point we had two Apple sales humans watching me with fascinated horror, not saying a word as they stared at the Nokia N97 in my hand and the iPhone in my sister’s hand.
I was actually hoping Allison would choose the iPhone, as it is So Much Cheaper than the N97, but at the end of our 15 minutes of fondling the iPhone at the Apple store, I asked Allison,
“So, honestly, what do you think?”
Allison on the iPhone, “It is too light and plasticky. I don’t like the touchscreen and I don’t like the photos.”
Me, “But what about the User Interface? The flicking bits? All the apps.”
Allison just looked at me and said, “I guess I am a Nokia girl.”
She put the iPhone back on its pad and started to walk out.
This really happened. I did not pitch the Nokia N97 to Allison, if anything I was very indifferent about it, as it is not necessarily the phone I would choose.
My sister is an example of a person who wants a smart phone but doesn’t want an iPhone, hard as it is for many people to believe at least to many of the designers I know. Since she received her Nokia N97 for her birthday, she has been very happy with it. I have asked her several times how it is going and she continues to be very happy.
My sister’s experience is a living example of Rita Khoury’s thesis that the N97 is for the connected user not the power user. My sister loves texting, email and Facebook, as she has FB always on and connected as a widget on her Nokia N97.
But Ms. Jen, you ask, what do you really think of the Nokia N97?


Mobile TidBits: Photo Touch focus & What is in a Name?

Mobile Tidbit #1: I just tweeted:

LG Viewty Smart & Samsung Pixon will do it, will Nokia & Apple do it? Choosing camera focus with touch:

Honestly the most interesting bit of the new camera phones that LG and Samsung have coming out is not the 8.1 megapixels on the LG Viewty Smart nor the 12 megapixels on the Samsung Pixon, but the fact that both of them will be using the touch screen to introduce a “manual” focus to camera phones. By touching the area of the view screen, you can choose what part of the photo that you want the camera to focus on. This is exciting.
I am *shocked* that the Apple UX geniuses did not first come up with this innovative use of the touch screen as applied to camera phones, but then again, I am not really shocked, as the camera is just an after thought on the iPhone.
When I had my 45 minute trial of the Nokia N97 at SXSW where I compared its photos to the photos that my Nokia N95 took, my biggest complaint about the Nokia N97’s photos is that the focus was off. It would be great if the N97 had the touch focus feature on it, as then I could have chosen where or who I wanted the camera to focus on rather than have sharp backgrounds and slightly blurry subjects.
Hey Nokia! That first firmware update for the Nokia N97… The update you will most likely release in July? Make sure that touch screen camera “manual/auto” focus is a part of that update, as it is too brilliant and and too useful to be left out.
Mobile Tidbit #2: What is in a Name?
For the last 5.5 days, I have been calling my new lovely Google I/O gift mobile device the “Android HTC Magic”, as that is what folks that the Google I/O conference were calling it. But I heard at the event some folks calling it the G2 or the HTC Ion.
When I was hanging out with Justin yesterday, he was calling it the G2. And today on Android and Me, Taylor calls it the Google Ion (HTC Sapphire).
People, can we decide on one name and stick to it? Thanks. & Starcut Mobile User Experience Failure

If the folks at Starcut are going to proudly announce that they mobilize brands and media and charge a newspaper to mobilize the said newspaper’s website, then they should educate themselves on the standards of the mobile user experience.
Major rule of the mobile web: Give the User a Choice. Don’t assume that they want the full website or that they want a reduced site for mobile. Just because a script has detected that the browser coming to the site is a mobile browser, doesn’t mean the reader/user wants to be forced into a locked sandbox with no exit. Don’t assume that every user wants to reduce their data usage, some of us have unlimited plans. Give the user a choice.
Here are a few examples of Mobile Sites that do the User Experience right by giving the reader/user a choice to either view the mobile version or to switch over to the “classic”, “full”, “regular” version of the website:

Google Mobile Flickr Mobile This Blog's Mobile Version

Why does this matter? Well, not every Nokia or Sony Ericsson or Blackberry or insert name of mobile device is a smartphone with Opera Mini or a version of the Webkit or Gecko mobile browsers, but then again, not every Nokia or Sony or Blackberry or other mobile device is a simple device with a simple mobile web browser.
I think it is great that more and more websites offer mobile versions that are stripped down and load fast for mobile devices, but if you are going to strip out choice along with kilobytes, this is not good.
My Nokia N95 has a full featured web browser that renders most websites, except heavily AJAX sites, quite nicely. I have an unlimited data plan. Between my Nokia’s browser and my data plan, I want to see the full version of most websites unless I need information quickly and then the mobile version is usually fine.
Not yesterday.
Yesterday, I left the house in a rush to meet up with Lauren Isaacson in Encino so that we could have lunch together before she departs for Vancouver. I was heading north on the 405 and passing the Long Beach Airport when I realized that I left my paper copy of the LA Times Food section. So, I did what I would normally do in this situation, I opened my Nokia’s web browser and typed “”, instead of getting the usual, full web version of the LA Times website, I was forced into the mobile version of the site with no exit out.
No link to the full version. No links to the Food section. No ability to get out of the reduced web version. I then went to Google to search for the article and the Google search took me back to the front page of the mobile site with no link to the full version of the Here is the mobile site that I saw with no link to the full version of the at either the top of the mobile page nor at the bottom:

Top of the mobile site, no option to go to the full web version Bottom of the mobile site, no option to go to the full web version

I was very frustrated.
I was mad in the immediate situation of trying to locate information that was still live on the full version of the website but I was unable to get to the information because the mobile version of the site did not let me go there. I was mad as a web & mobile user experience designer to experience bad UX design first hand. I was frustrated that Starcut has probably charged the LA Times a lot of money to piss off loyal readers like me.
In the end, I had to use a desktop computer at Lauren’s parent’s house to search the LA Times’ website for the article on the restaurant we were to go to. Itzik Hagadol is excellent, especially their 20 salads for $8.99.
But the lack of ability to exit the LA Times’s mobile site from a mobile browser is not excellent. It would be excellent if Starcut would revisit the site and add a simple link at the top or the bottom of each mobile page, giving the reader/user the option to go to the full non-mobile version of the site from their mobile browser.

Theoretical Stance

Take a stance. Even for a minute or two or a month or longer. Do it publicly.
One of the conversations, however briefly, I got into today on Twitter with Jonathan Greene was about John Gruber’s iPhone post, “Complex“.
While I agree with Gruber’s initially stated premise that starting with a simple problem or solving a problem (just one) is a great way to begin any project. Once the simple has been defined, then build on it. Gruber goes from strength to strength to Apple fanboi kool-aid drinking by the end of the post.
In one of my Tweets, I pose the question:

“Gruber is very much in the Apple fold. That is why I ask if he is making a theoretical stance rather than an accurate assessment”

I think it makes great articles to take a stance and argue from it. I think it makes great art when one decides to take a stance, even if briefly, know where one resides in that theoretical space as one creates and practices one’s art. But it is also important, whether one is writing articles or creating art to clearly acknowledge the stance and space that one is standing in, so that the reader or viewer can also know where to stand.
What do I mean by this? In Gruber’s piece, his lack of a disclaimer or acknowledgment to the audience or even to himself of his US-centric and Apple-centric position makes the ending arguments of his piece fall flat if the reader falls outside of the concentric circles that Gruber is assuming that everyone is agreeing on. Many of the ideas in his article are intriguing, such as basing a series of devices on a software/firmware platform first rather than the function of the device, but this assumes that all the readers have drunken deeply of the iPhone kool-aid and are devotees at the shrine of Jobs. But what happens to the cult when Jobs retires and the powers that be don’t carry on the same way? What happens if Gruber is looking at Apple’s strategy from a theoretical stance or from a critical (in the academic sense) 20/20 hindsight review of the last eight years of strategy rather than what may or may not have happened?
This year at SXSW, Andy Budd and I had two very fun rounds of debate about Apple, the iPhone and anything that Nokia is doing. We were to have round three but never got to it. Andy is a User Experience professional, not only does he blog about it, run a whole web firm predicated on UX (clearleft), writes books on it, and speaks on UX, but he also firmly lives it. I thoroughly enjoy engaging Andy on topics of UX as it intersects mobile, as it is a great place for my great passion of mobile to cross his of UX. Andy and I disagree on the iPhone. While I agree with him that it is the “game changer” of 2007/2008, I don’t think we can assume that it will be going forward.
I argue that Nokia and other firms cannot be discounted in the wake of the iPhone, as not every user/customer/person will be satisfied by the iPhone’s features, functions, and OS. I have a number of non-web-design LA area creative friends who tried the iPhone and returned it before the 30 days were up for an Android G-1, a Sidekick 3, or for a Crackberry. I also have a number of friends and colleagues in LA and other places, who prefer Nokia Nseries phones to the iPhone, of which I am one of them. Most of us in this category want camera phones that take great photos.
On Twitter, I summed up my statements with on Gruber’s article:

“It can be easy to forget culture & sub-cultural usage patterns as well as differing personal usage. The US is not all.”

To this end, both in Gruber’s article and in my own conversations with web colleagues who are passionate about A or B or C or X or Z device, I think we all have to remember that different mobile devices are not just fulfilling a cultural zeitgeist of the moment (like the iPhone in the US right now), or a sub-cultural niche (like the Sidekick 2 in the North American punk scene from 2005-2007), but also individual’s differing usage patterns.
I do think it is important to state, even if briefly where one stands in that moment within the frame of the discussion so that the reader/viewer knows what one’s theoretical stance is.
This is why I always encourage my friends who are excited about digital photography to write about and publicly dialogue about whether they are most interested in the act of shooting the photo or in the act of processing it later on their computer. Do you post your photos as is or do you process them? It is not an inconsequential factoid, but a record of your artistic / photographic journey that helps your viewers to know where you stand right now.
This is why I try to be clear that, for now, I like to shoot photos with camera phones, as I like the immediacy, I like the constraints, and I like to send my photos to this blog or to Flickr unprocessed, as is. And on the other side, for my friends who the great pleasure comes in the hour or two spent at their computer later processing their DSLR photos, good – many beauties upon you. Let us know about your process.
Why do I talk about theoretical stances or spaces in conjunction with John Gruber, the iPhone, Andy Budd, Twitter, Flickr, and camera phones this late in the evening after a long day? Well, in my recent post on the Nokia N95 vs. the Nokia N97, I was outright that my interest is in the camera capacity of the device and in response to some comments, I made a few comments that went deeper into the the territory of the quality of the camera being preeminent. I didn’t make these comments to inflame but to iterate that my theoretical space and concern as an individual user of mobile devices is that of a photographer first and foremost.
From what position or space are you standing in right now?