This is quoted word for word from the proposal for the new Symbian User Interface that will be hitting phones next year. It’s a very interesting proposal as it shows how the Symbian Foundation is prepared to battle it’s competitors on their own turf while keeping true to itself. I cut out the interesting parts for you to have a look at.
Layout simplification places first order commands (used most frequently by users) in the primary application view, second order commands under the Options menu or in Settings. End users can see the main commands of each application as soon as it is launched.
The titlebar is provided by the system and is the access to the Options menu. The number of commands in the Options menu is typically limited to 6 to prevent scrolling of the menu in landscape orientation. Cascading menus are permitted and there is no guideline limitation on extending the Options menu to a number of menus. However, the titlebar is supplied by the system and its real estate is not available to the application. The titlebar reflects the application title. A label field placed immediately below the titlebar can indicate the users location in a hierarchy.
The number of layout files per application has been reduced: an application typically has 3-5 layouts including a list view, item view, and edit view. End users can easily recognize features and find them onscreen in a predictable location. The combination of these two factors streamlines the number of clicks to complete tasks.
A Context menu invoked by a long press to a list item provides an accelerator to commands located in the items full screen view. End users can access commands such as Delete Item without navigating to the item.
Screen real estate management is simplified by initially exposing application chrome (titlebar area and optional toolbar) and autodismissing for media applications (chrome is reinvoked with a touch to the screen). Applications requiring fullscreen viewing can take advantage of autodismissing chrome. End users see the availability of controls and can easily invoke them; toolbars do not need to reserve persistent screen real estate.
In case you didn’t quite understand that (it is quite technical) I’ve actually included the same things but in my own much simpler words on the image in this post. If you click the image you’ll be taken to a higher resolution version of it to aid reading.
Now this part is interesting as well. Here the Foundation compare their proposal to the strong points of their competitors.
User interface design solutions that exist for other operating systems are similar in the following respects:
- HTC Hero and Motorola Droid, both on Android, have a Homescreen with movable Homescreen widgets; however, each has one multi-panel homesceen page, whereas Symbian Foundation has independent unique pages
- Palm Pres WebOS eliminates Exit commands, but instead of saving state and releasing memory it keeps applications running
- iPhone has a flattened application library; however, it is displayed to the user exclusively as a manually organized grid, whereas the Symbian Foundation application library is an alpha-ordered list with multiple filtered views.
You can see that they believe their multi-homescreen is superior to a multiple panel homescreen(look for a rant about this later on). All this really means in plain English is that you’ll be able to re-use widgets on the different panels, rather than having to swap between them to get to the widget you want. When comparing themselves to the iPhone they point out that the new interface will allow them to be just as simple to use on the surface, yet they will be more user friendly by allowing the user to set up filters that show only certain applications and shortcuts straight from the homescreen. Again, not really a big improvement, but more a natural next step. It’s when they take a look at Palm’s WebOS that things become interesting. Multi-tasking is one of the areas where Symbian smartphones excel, and it seems that the Foundation plans on providing powerful applications that are quick to launch but keeping them open until a close is forced by the user, giving us instant access to information we want.
And finally we have a few of the other features this new release will bring.
- four user-facing libraries: Contacts, Music, Photos, Applications
- Homescreen supports irregularly shaped Homescreen widgets, free placement of Homescreen widgets, and improved move and delete functions for Homescreen widgets
- guidelines for autosaving content reduce Save commands
- prompts to users minimized
- redesigned Control Panel and settings/personalization information architecture
- refocused Power menu includes master volume and vibra on/off controls
Reading through the entire proposal it becomes clear that the Foundation is intent on offering the same basic user interface options throughout their devices and even in third party applications, while still retaining the power and flexibility that current Symbian phones are known for. This will make Symbian devices a much easier learning experience for people new to them and allow new applications to have a familiar feeling to them, as well as turning theming into an easier and more attractive prospect. The proposal shows that the Foundation knows where Symbian is perceived as weak and that they’re aiming to cover those areas, attracting users of other brands of smartphone as well as those newly graduating from feature phones.