Earlier today, my colleagues and I watched Nokia's video for its latest concept phone, the GEM (below). The company is calling the phone a "21st century mobile jewel," because its entire surface (like a precious stone) is a touch-sensitive screen.
Below are the reactions of Collin Prior (iQmetrix UX Architect/Business Analyst), Tony Burbage (iQmetrix UI Designer) and Cherie Korol (iQmetrix Interface Designer):
What are some benefits to this design? In which markets (geographic) and segments (age, gender, etc.) could you see this concept taking root and why?
CP: The GEM has the potential to be fully interacted with in any way and its angled side surface helps to separate function from content. I think the idea of interaction with other devices is cool, as is its gesture input for advanced options.
TB: It's fun and whimsical. It offers a myriad of ways of completing a task in a unique, engaging way. There is a cacophony of information living all over the device. I think it might be very popular in places like Japan where information is often consumed like a busy dashboard. Looking at popular Japanese websites illustrates this.
CK: It's fun, light and different. It's a new and innovative way to interface with information. People are attracted to the newest and different thing, so this device would be the new "it" thing. The younger generation is always ready to embrace newer trends, and I can see something like this taking off in Asia.
What are the key drawbacks from a design and user experience standpoint?
CP: The GEM wouldn't lend itself to protective cases. There would be issues with enabling/disabling input to the device (could you imagine the pocket dialing?). Touching the device and mistaking input become problematic if all portions of the device are touch sensitive and affect the UI. This increases the power consumption dramatically and I'm not sure of the cost benefit there. Also, projecting on multiple sides of the phone is not really required as you can only view one at a time. The integration of a camera lense is not explained. Single-handed navigation is an issue when buttons on angles are used (what about righties or lefties?), and dragging across angles is difficult in general. Using gestures for non-interactive input is not inutitive and doesn't not allow for discovery (starting froma blank screen).
TB: It's a total information overload! There is stuff moving and updating everywhere. It's the equivalent of having a dizzy fit in the middle of Times Square. There appear to be five ways of doing everything, and you seem to just have to discover how. I think there are reasons the Apple iOS team went with just ONE button, and a slider that says "Slide to unlock": The barrier to entry is not that hard to figure out. Imagine a common user trying to figure out where to start on this phone.
CK: The device itself has a unique shape, so designing for a surface that's anything other than flat would be a definite challenge. The issue here is that something this different is difficult to design for, since the average user isn't accustomed to navigating such a complex interface. There is nothing standard here with the shape of the device, and the learning curve would be pretty steep for even a tech-savvy user. Another issue would be designing apps and platforms that people are already using to work on this specific device.
What is the take-home message from watching a video with this type of phone concept?
CP: This should be looked at more as a video to generate ideas and discussion rather than something that will become a reality. The reason this is just a concept and not an actual prototype is that the product is not thought through and consumer-ready. What this does offer us is a starting point for discussion in order to take the ideas presented by the Nokia GEM to a new level.
TB: Flow out interactions for key tasks, and focus on the key goals. This device seems to be trying to do everything at once. Making a simple path does not mean you have to abolish cool concepts, just don't overwhelm us with activity.
CK: The overall message here seems to be that although this is still only a concept, today's design implementations still follow a standard that everyone already knows. Social networking and connecting to other users via a device is around to stay, no matter which device (however complicated it may seem) is used.