S60 the smart-phone user interface, we have all used it; sometimes we loved it and other times it let us down. But, the true fact is that S60 which sits atop the Symbian operating system is one of the most powerful and user friendly user interfaces available for any smart-phone. The other interfaces like UIQ and Windows Mobile cater to PDAs rather smartphones. PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) are devices with which are data-centered and have telephony as an add-on while smartphones are more telephony-centered with data related features being add-ons. While S60 has a lot of strong points it also has a few shortcomings compared to other interfaces as well as what a smart-phone user wants. This article by Jamal Abid wants to establish a basic wish list for the features that we the S60 users want to included in the next S60 releases by manufacturers world-wide.
This wish list is based on S60 version 3 Feature Pack 1 runing on an N95. Feature Pack 2 may be out soon, I do know for sure that full screen caller photo is going to be there so I’m not ranting about it. So let’s begin:
Call From Anywhere: There are inconsistencies in the S60 interface that you may not be able to just press the green button and call the selected number. The detailed log (where calls, Bluetooth transfers, messages, etc. are chronologically listed) is an example. When I scroll to a call and press the green button nothing happens and there is no choice to ‘call’ in the options menu either. Very bad!
(Great, now how do i call her?)
The phone should know that when something that looks vaguely like a phone number is selected and the green button is pressed, the user wants to call that number. To call that number I had to exit out of the detailed log, open the log where the call was (for example, the missed calls log), scroll to the number and press the green call button. It might be sufficient for a phone, but not for a smart-phone. It has to be kept in mind that the phone already knows things that resemble phone numbers because there is a find phone numbers option in the messaging application. How about using that to check if the selection in any application is a phone number and automatically binding the green key to calling that number? Maybe we could even expand it to include contact name selection but that’s a little far off for now.
All Fields Contact Searching: When I type something into the search field in the contacts application, it should search all of the fields, even the custom ones like “company”, etc. I have two guys in my contact list with the exact same name. One is my friend and the other is a big guy at a big company.
I do not want to dial the other when I have something to say to one of them. Keeping this in mind, I added the company name to the contacts field. Now when I search for the name, they both come up but when I search for the company, nothing comes up. What’s the use of the field then? The phone should search for the specified term in all fields and give the names the most priority, then company, then address, etc. That would be the best utilization for a smart-phone.
Ubiquitous Selection: One of the greatest features of S60 compared to other devices is the ability to select and then cut, copy, and paste text. It is hampered somewhat by only being able to do it in ‘writeable’ areas.
(Awesome, but how am I suppossed to copy this to my appointments?)
A great upgrade would be to make any field selectable using the pen key and after a tap of the pen key the message body in the inbox magically becomes selectable and you can copy and paste all you want. This would be valid for any applications that support this feature. This would boost the productivity of the phone by a lot!
Collapsible Inboxes: The should have separate inboxes for different types of messages, like SMS, MMS, email, Bluetooth transfers, Infrared transfers, etc. They should be collapsible so that scrolling around them is easy. The collapsing should be exactly like it is in the search application with the name of the entity searched and the number of results found.
(Imagine a similar Universal Inbox!)
This would be great and we could even rename the inboxes and even make virtual boxes which index the contents in other inboxes. Like we could create an inbox of mp3 files which takes the mp3 files from other boxes and provides them in one location. The possibilities are endless and the smart-phone will get real smart! Symbian-Guru has similar thoughts on indexing.
Informative Pop-Ups: We’ve all seen it; 1 message received. We have a relatively huge, high resolution screen and the popup takes a fourth of it just to say that! The rest of the area is for us to see and admire the pretty colors of our theme. This is not good from a usability standpoint, S60 programmers, please utilize that space and tell us who sent us that message. Won’t it be better to say, “Message received from John Doe” or “3 Messages received from Joe, The Boss and Jane”? This way you could know which message to read. You could revert to the old system if there are more characters in the names than can be displayed.
(Ok, So was that the Boss or a Bored Friend?)
I envy my friend with the I-mate who doesn’t even need to do anything to read his message, when his message is received it is displayed there on the screen for him to read, he just picks up his phone, reads it and puts it back down. The message can be dismissed later at his convenience. While this may conflict with the S60 user interface standards, just having the name of the sender and a preview would work wonders. Maybe even this could be made a configurable part of the active desktop, received text messages can just show up in the unoccupied space below today’s calendar entries or the WLAN scanning entry if the phone has Wi-Fi.
Non-Disappearing Themes: When installing multiple themes on recent S60 devices there is a tendency for the themes to disappear from everywhere on the phone while they are still installed!
(Where’s my Mustang Theme?)
The only option is to remove them using some techniques which a normal smart-phone user must not be required to do. It is a big issue and needs to be resolved before adding the next layer of flashy features (the new multimedia menu, I’m looking at you).
Stability: We know that the more features you have, the more there is a chance of something going wrong. But spontaneous reboots and applications crashing the whole system and requiring the battery to be taken out is something that has to be fixed quickly if S60 wants to go truly mainstream. We all have had lots of difference experiences so I won’t write much about it. But, I would say that while it is much more stable than Windows Mobile, it’s still not stable.
Flip Screen Button: In my N95 when I slide open the media keys and close the slider, the phone is still in landscape mode, useful but mostly annoying and tedious. I have to open the number keys to get my portrait screen back and then close the slider. How about having a flip screen button to put the screen into landscape mode when the slider is not opened and just returning to portrait mode when the media keys are closed? It annoys me and first time users no end. It also puts unnecessary wear on the slider. Want to make it landscape? Open the slider. Want to make it portrait again? Close it and open the other and close it again. God help the slider mechanism! Maybe you could even put that orientation sensor reserved for the camera application to good use.
Consistent Volume Rocker: In the portrait mode the volume rocker has the increase volume, zoom in, etc. function for higher key and the opposite function for the lower key. Likewise, in the landscape mode the ‘increase’ function is for the right key and the ‘decrease’ one for the left. Most of the applications I tried the keys in have it correct for the portrait mode but for the landscape mode it’s very inconsistent. Some applications get it right but others like RealPlayer and Gallery get it wrong with the keys having their functions swapped in landscape mode. RealPlayer keeps the same key functions in the landscape mode as the portrait mode which are not valid anymore. But for Gallery it’s even worse! The keys in the portrait mode follow the landscape convention! In portrait mode you have to press down on the volume keys to zoom in and up to zoom out. It is excusable for the third party applications but I’m talking about Nokia supplied applications on my N95! Not good at all!
Ringer Volume Changing: Other lesser able phones are able to change the ringer volume just by using the volume rocker at the desktop but in the smartphones we can’t. Since when did having a smart-phone mean compromising on features rather than having more?
Slimmer Title Bar: The title bar that is visible in all the opened applications is huge but serves no real purpose! The only place where it is very useful is the desktop. Have you seen the menu in recent S60 devices? The title bar is a small bar like it should be and the menu shows a neat row of big friendly icons with big text and looks great especially on the N95.
(Great Screen Utilization!)
Now launch any application. You will see a huge title bar with a huge icon of the application that you already launched and a lot of screen space wasted and the application trying to fit a lot of things into the reduced screen space.
I say that the title bar should always be as small as it is in the menu or maybe close to that. We don’t buy high resolution screens to show background colors on a small, but sizeable, part of them.
The Multimedia Menu: In my opinion, it is a complete waste of time, it takes too long to boot up and takes up so much RAM that some of the heavy applications and even some very light ones like the clock, completely hang the phone when launched from the multimedia menu. Compared to the older menu it’s much worse, dangerous even!
(Pretty! But sort of useless…)
I have seen the N95 8GB menu and it allows applications to put up functions to the user without launching them. This is great as in the future I may be able to set up a quick alarm with about a half of the steps and while waiting much less. I want manufacturers to utilize this to the maximum.
Faster Gallery: The gallery is a great application and it is quite flashy too but with lots of photos it bogs down real quick. Please redesign the gallery to be flashy and quick. We might even be willing to give up on the flashy part.
(The Great Group Photo is here there, SOMEWHERE!)
It’s adequate right now and seems to be better on phones with more RAM but S60 is not for pure flash, we have other user interfaces for that. The strength of S60 is its flexibility, power and its excellent user interface. Let’s not forget that.
Sleep: Sleep would be a good function to have in smartphones, when I choose the sleep option (which should be the default instead of the power off option) the phone should compress anything in its RAM and just keep powering the RAM and turn everything else off. The phone is almost off, draining a little of the battery but all your applications are open and even unsaved work is not lost. The biggest advantage would be instant turning on of the device. Press the power button and the device turns everything on and decompresses the memory! When you need to turn it off for an hour or two and need instant access afterwards, you would love this feature. Maybe even have a setting that turns completely off when a certain percentage of the battery is left. This option may even be presented to the user to pick the battery percentage or time at his discretion. We smart-phone users love having more options not less.
More Customization: Have you ever used a Windows Mobile device? The options for ringtones are simply amazing. There’s one for a missed call and another for an incoming Bluetooth file and yet another for a voice call, etc. I want S60 devices to match or maybe surpass that.
(Where do I go to change the ringtone for the Bluetooth file received from a paired device without confirmation?)
Individual ringtones for infrared transfer, ringtone for first snooze alarm, ringtone for second snooze alarm and so on would be greatly appreciated.
I hope you liked the list. I’m sure you will agree with most of the points and well, for the points I missed or you disagree with, there’s the comment section below! S60 also has opened a wishlist section which you may want to look up.
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