Windows Phone 7 Series: New Coke

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I wonder why no-one seems to mind the fact that Silverlight isn't available on the iPhone or iPad

Here’s a direct link to the Windows Phone 7 Series Youtube Videos (you don’t need to install Silverlight to view them). My impression of the videos is that the typographic user interface looks great, but—like a lot of dotcom boom web designs—I have no clue how you’re actually supposed to use the damn thing.

It seems to me that Windows Phone 7 Series is Pepsi or New Coke vs. the iPhone’s Coke Classic. It looks great and works dandy if your goal is to “aimlessly play around with it for five minutes”, but if you actually want to use the thing then you’re screwed. The top half of the home screen is achieving the same thing the row of buttons at the bottom of the iPhone home screen does. Yes, “Music” in huge sans serif white-on-black looks great, but … it’s occupying 20% of the screen.

iPhone 4 UI leak
As Apple desperately attempts to catch up with Microsoft's UI, who knows what we'll see?

One of the things the iPhone’s UI decidedly is not is “based on the iPod UI”. Indeed, the iPod functionality on the iPhone is a pared down Mac OS X, not a bulked up iPod. The original iPod’s minimalist UI is barely sufficient for the needs of someone trying to pick a song to play.

E.g. the lack of UI affordances in the classic iPod UI can make it quite difficult to differentiate “choosing a song” from “wanting to change the volume” from “wanting to see where you are in a song” from “wanting to change your rating for a song”. Each of these things takes a full screen and overloads the basic controls. To select a song you scroll to it and the press the middle button. The play the song you  press the middle button. To set a song’s rating you press the middle button, scroll the rating, then press the middle button. Er, I think.

Luckily for the iPod, it was competing against clueless vendors of audio hi-fi equipment whose idea of UI design was “if you want to select which tracks to play, follow the following twenty-seven step process that we guarantee you’ll never remember”. These are the people who left blinking “0:00” displays around the world. The iPod’s UI wasn’t so much “great” as decent.

Microsoft’s new phone is essentially taking a decent music player UI and using it for everything.

Oh, and I look forward to getting emails ending with… “from Steve Ballmer’s Windows Phone 7 Series Phone”.

Post Script

Edward Tufte has some things to say on the subject. “In the splashy panoramas, there are hints of design-by-focus-group (which is like hiring temps as your design consultants). Instead of impressing focus groups, designers should do a thought experiment: Imagine what Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive would have to say about your interface.” Which is pretty much in line with my whole “New Coke” comparison. It does raise the question of whether the purpose of WP7S is in fact a product or a publicity stunt.