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An Issue Of Design

There is one issue that I have become increasingly frustrated about.  Namely the lack of really good graphic design that results in the often dreary and ‘old’ look and feel of most applications available for our Treo – particularly when it comes to productivity and information software.

Adding good graphic design however is only part of the equation.  The other is also a design element but one which deals with the ‘display and structure of information’.  It is evident that with a screen resolution of 320x320 and size of under 4 square inches optimizing the display of information should be at the forefront of any developer’s efforts.  Nevertheless, more often than not such a focus appears to be lacking.

To help illustrate my point, one of my pet peeves has been the display of weather information.  I have tested pretty much every PalmOS weather application available and yet I still have not been able to find anything approaching a graphically rich and quick-to-grasp information representation.

              

Above is a screenshot of the Express Weather display on my Treo compared to one of Yahoo!’s Weather Widget for the PC.  Both applications essentially do exactly the same thing.  They have a front-end ‘skin’ and graphic elements which change based on electronic data fetched from an online database at the back end.  However, I can personally get much more relevant information and more quickly from the Weather Widget _in one single screen_ than from Express Weather where I have to click five times to get the same 5 day forecast.

Historically, the lack of rich graphics has been blamed on the low on-board memory of Palm devices which for the past 10 years has meant that developers have focused primarily on the technical and not the graphic elements of their applications claiming that it would otherwise ‘bloat’ the Palm device. 

However with Treo smartphones now accounting for the bulk of Palm’s sales and for these to have increasingly more memory (Treo 700p has 64MB up from 22MB) the old paradigm simply no longer holds true.  I don’t necessarily want to see 1MB+ plus Treo applications in the future but I do want better and richer graphics.

Moreover, when it comes to the ‘display of information’ graphic and memory considerations are not as relevant as simply understanding and enhancing the experience of Treonauts on a _mobile_ device where like me they will typically want an extremely quick access to online information instead of an avalanche of unstructured data packed in such a small screen. 

It is a fact that the display of information on any mobile device should not and cannot be delivered in the same manner as on a PC.  I would much rather have a small, quick, relevant, properly displayed and meaningful snippet of information on a single screen (which is exactly what I’m looking for when I’m on the go) than wasting time click after click or page after page trying to decipher the data typically presented currently.

It’s high time for many developers to work more closely with graphic designers and usability engineers to enhance their offerings for the age of the Treo smartphone connected at broadband speeds to the Internet and used with thumbs and 5Way navigation buttons instead of the old stylus.

Treonauts are always focused on making things better


Posted by Andrew on July 20, 2006 at 04:04 PM

Treo Opinion

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» http://blog.iliumsoft.com/?p=36 from Ilium Software Blog
How important is appearance? Is it a vital part of any application design? Or just a nice thing to add if you have time for it? There have been a couple of great posts about this subject today. One of them is at Just Another Mobile Monday and another a... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 21, 2006 11:40:22 AM



Comments

1
by Law | Jul 20, 2006 6:12:49 PM

HERE HERE!

2
by earl e adopter | Jul 20, 2006 10:15:30 PM

Yes, you are correct. And yet, from a device standpoint, I think the Treo should focus on trying to be able to do everything a laptop can do. Just because that's what would serve my needs the best. At least until they come up with a laptop that doesn't take forever to boot up! I still believe that Palm doesn't really "get" that Treo users want a full-featured internet browsing experience, for exa

3
by Tunji Afonja | Jul 20, 2006 10:16:24 PM

We are working with Developers to solve this issue :). Have a look http://www.gx-5.com/services/uidesign/mobileapps_mediaplayers.htm

4
by Andrew | Jul 20, 2006 10:25:46 PM

Hi Tunji - I can't disagree with you and I think that you have done a terrific design job on many of the bestselling Treo applications. At the same time, as I have discussed with you in the past, I believe that there are still some basic tenets of 'Treo Design Optimization' that have not yet been properly implemented. At least you guys are going in the right direction.

Cheers, A.

5
by earl w adopter | Jul 20, 2006 10:27:01 PM

mple. Yet internet browsing is THE reason I choose the Treo over other, better, "phones." And Exchange ActiveSync, which is of course internet-based also. Internet access is the key, and I look forward to a Treo which REALLY optimizes the Ev-Do experience. The 700p makes some incremental, & appreciated improvements, but not as much as I think it should.

6
by earl e adopter | Jul 20, 2006 10:31:04 PM

Sorry Tunji, your page link would not display on my Treo 700p: case in point!

7
by Andrew | Jul 20, 2006 10:31:06 PM

earl e adopter - I generally do not like the idea of pushing our Treo to become more like a PC - at least not yet.

There are different requirements under different circumstances. If I'm running around in the street and want quick access to information that's one scenario. If I'm travelling with my Treo only and want to get some 'serious' work done with it then obviously I'd love to be able to attach it to a 20" screen and have a more PC-like experience (see Smartphone As A Computer http://blog.treonauts.com/2005/09/dubinski_podcas.html )

Cheers, A.

8
by PatrickJ | Jul 21, 2006 7:05:49 AM

Good post. Agree with all of it. Have linked to this post, and added some further thoughts on Palm trailing Windows Mobile in this area, here:
http://justanothermobilemonday.com/Wordpress/2006/07/21/looks-do-matter/

9
by Olin W. Bowman | Jul 21, 2006 9:13:44 AM

I think Palm should update it's planning software (Task). I have always substituted Franklin Planning or now Plan Plus software from Franklin Covey for my palm and now my Treo. I use my planning software extensively and really like the features of Plan Plus. The only problem is that it will not properly sync with my Treo. If Palm were to update that software, for me the Treo would be even that much better. Has anyone heard of any plans by Palm to update the software? Does anyone know of better software that will sync? Does anyone use Plan Plus and have figured out how to get it to sync properly?

10
by Fred | Jul 21, 2006 11:44:52 AM

Olin -
It would appear that Plan Plus isn't such a great alternative - the Web is full of bad reviews of it and FC doesn't have it on their Web site any more - not for Palm.
Hmmmm.

11
by Henry Lazarus | Jul 22, 2006 9:27:16 AM

Agendus has the weather info you're looking for on its today screen.

12
by Ron LaPedis | Jul 22, 2006 7:17:10 PM

I dunno... While I agree that the native interface looks dated, Worldmate has pretty cool graphics - including a weather screen very similar to the one that Andrew showed off from his PC. On the other hand, I cut Windows XP to the bone for speed by turning off most of the cutsie sound and graphics effects.

13
by Eric Lyons | Jul 25, 2006 1:41:10 PM

As a Palm OS application developer for five years, I always ask that question when starting a new project.

"Should I embrace standard Palm OS user interface conventions or create a unique, fresh user experience for this application?"

I consider standard Palm OS user interface conventions as tabbed form titles at the top of the screen, a row of navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen and a center area for tables and setting controls. This style permeates the core PIM applications (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes).

I deliver all applications following this style. Custom interaction controls are forbidden.

The Express Weather Palm OS application violates Palm OS user interface conventions. The title bar shape and text fonts are custom. If an alarm alert or e-mail alert fires, does the title bar display the flashing asterisk to alert the user? If a user taps on the title bar, is the standard drop down menu displayed? The navigation buttons are different. If a user moves the five-way, do these custom interaction buttons display the blue halo to move among the buttons? If I change the Palm OS system theme, do these buttons respect that theme?

I admit that the look and feel of the Palm user interface is dated. However, users that have learned these applications immediately grasp how to navigate your application.

If I create a custom user interface experience, users can consciously think and will likely subconsciously think to themselves, "This application is totally different! *@&#^@! Now I have to learn how the application AND ITS NAVIGATION works. Forget it, it's not worth it."

Before rebutting that last assertion, slowly read the next paragraph out loud.

"I am not the typical Treo user. I am a Treo enthusiast. I am willing to trying new things on my Treo. I enjoy trying new things on my Treo.”

Non-enthusiasts don’t enjoy experimenting with new software. Non-enthusiasts want reliable, easy to learn software that works like the good software they’ve already learned. Non-enthusiasts view their Treo as a tool and not a hobby.

14
by David Ahn | Jul 28, 2006 4:38:56 AM

I COMPLETELY agree with the blah appearance of most Palm apps. Starting with the built-in PIM software, I find that the text-only look is pathetic. We've come a LONG way from 16MHz CPUs and 2MB of RAM, yet applications look essentially the same. I still long for the Psion Agenda software from 8-10 years ago; even with only 4 gray shades, it offered a graphic representation of a physical organizer along with tasteful "colored" (grays) backgrounds to separate alternating lines and tabs, etc. It's pathetic that someone can't make even a 3rd-party PIM software with some style; all they do is cram more crap onto the screen, with hideous '80s colors (pinks, mint greens, etc.). ARRRRRRGH!

David

15
by ppcmd | Jul 28, 2006 9:49:46 AM

I recently switched from a Treo 700w to a Treo 700p and the main reasons were one handed use and poor memory both installed and managed. The Treo 700p does resolve these issues, but it came with a downside the look and feel of the OS. I started out long ago with my first PDA a Palm Vx and moved on up the Palm pda food chain before getting my first PDAPhone a PPC I700.

I found a nice app called PalmRevolt to smoothout and improve on the dated look of the PoS screens. I don't see why developers cannot use the standar Palm Interface but still improve on the 90's look and feel. Why can't they add better graphics and style but still remain easy to use for those who are NOT enthusiasts who are willing to try new things.

Agendus is a good example, they put more stuff into their app but they didn't really add anything to its looks, it still feels pretty much as it did in v8, the last version I had which is sad.

If I am going to pay more I expect more and thats from a users view point. I paid alot less for Pocket Informant than I did for Agendus 11 and Pocket Informant does a lot more.

16
by Cynthia | Mar 7, 2007 5:08:06 PM

I purchased TREO 700wx. I am trying to run Plan Plus for Microsoft outlook. Does anyone know how to run Plan Plus to install all components of the software onto the Treo. Currently Daily Records, FC Tasks, Project Manager are not appearing on the Treo. Any suggestions to resolve this issue?

17
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