Debate: Symbian’s UI Consistency Is Good – The Geeks May Hate It, But The Average Joe Loves It

For the last two years, the world (?) has been going on about how the Symbian UI is old, clunky and must go. It must be written again from ground up if Symbian has to have any chance. At any rate, these rants have managed to dent Symbian’s brand name by a huge margin and affect Nokia’s fortunes adversely.

So much so that even supporters of the OS, were taken in by the storm and only a very few loyalists remain. The good thing is that even the loyalists are not fanboys per-se, but people who would like to see the OS improve and mature into a world class OS that it is. Anyway, that’s not why I am writing this post.

Debate: Symbian's UI Consistency Is Good - The Geeks May Hate It, But The Average Joe Loves It

Yesterday, I was out with friends and since they know I would probably be rocking the latest and greatest device of the time, my phone is generally passed around and comments made on it. I happened to be using the Samsung Galaxy S, a phone that I really like, I might add. I was sure they would be taken in by the huge gorgeous screen, ‘modern’ UI, the amazing size and weight and would come out impressed.

So on being asked, I immediately whipped out the Galaxy S, unlocked it and handed it over. It was back in my hands in a hardly a minute. Why you ask?

The reason was simple, he fiddled with the homescreen a little bit, tried to go into the apps and was probably thrown back by the sheer number of them I had. Ten seconds of poking here and there and his decision was made. The Galaxy S was not for him, it was simply too complicated.

For the vast majority of The Handheld Blog readers, that’s unfathomable. How could he not wrap his mind around something so easy and natural? But for a large chunk of the population that IS the case. For them the mobile is not nearly as important as it is for some of us. Its not as if they do not want Facebook, Email and apps in general, they really do, but they couldn’t be bothered spending time and energy fussing over these things. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all seen it with friends and family.

This brings me to the debate, Symbian ^3 looks just like the old Symbian experience, but is that a bad thing after all? Lets look at it from my friend’s example. He’s looking to update from his N95 8GB which has served him well. Despite Symbian’s hidden shortcuts and folders, even he probably knows them inside out by now. The N8 comes along and he’s still at home with the UI and thus the phone. Isn’t that a win for Nokia?


10 thoughts on “Debate: Symbian’s UI Consistency Is Good – The Geeks May Hate It, But The Average Joe Loves It”

  1. To be very honeat ypur friend must belong to a very small group of people. Let’s be honest. The Galaxy S UI looks a LOT like the iPhone one that is widely known as being very simple! How much more simple can you get? You have an icon saying “Facebook”: Oh I wonder what that will do! And what about this one that says email?.

    It is not complicated by any means. There is no time or energy wasted here. Maybe in flashing a different ROM or so, yes but just regular use? Not at all. Even my mom can use my Galaxy S. She says it looks just like the iPhone. Oh really?

  2. That’s not really a very good defence of the Galaxy S. So it looks like an iPhone? In terms of software? Maybe superficially, but it certainly doesn’t work like one in the way you interact with it. Maybe you meant the hardware? That’s fairly irrelevant though for this debate.

    Using the functions of basic applications also doesn’t count as an argument – Symbian also has a Facebook app which accessess Facebook and an Email app which accessess e-mail.

  3. I’m afraid that the new Symbian versions may look like “good ole Symbian”, they don’t feel like the same, at least not with a touchscreen. Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend who recently bought a 5230. She hates it because it doesn’t work like her previous phone.

    The touchscreen changes just about everything in human-phone interaction. So far Nokia hasn’t been able to produce a touchscreen phone which would be a) simple enough to learn to use or b) similar enough to old Symbians to use. N900 comes close in the first category, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to the forementioned friend.

  4. I agree with you Vaibhav,
    It has been happening to me too, my friends used to really play around with my newly acquired symbian phones but I usually get the Galaxy S back into my hands almost immediately.
    I feel that in India at least people are much more used to the Symbian UI, and as you said, it may be blessing in disguise for the N8!

  5. 100% agree with @diogonev. Indeed the Galaxy S is to me the perfect counter exemple. The fact that its UI (and design BTW) are ashamely inspired by Apple’s iPhone is a deliberated choice from Samsung to make the transition easier for iPhone users.

    Having a rich desktop and a single level menu architecture (no folder/subfolders) is easier to understand than the Symbian UI where icons are never located in the same place between 2 devices which is very confusing even for a long time Symbian users like me.

    However for having spent a few days for a Nokia N8 recently (read my preview here: the S^3 UI is much more consistant thanks to some enhancements (such as single tap).

  6. Thank you for the all the comments guys, I am beginning to feel that this is more of an India centric phenomenon. The iPhone didn’t do well here and most touch based devices that dominate sales are still Nokia’s.

    Although I must add that I did get the ‘so this is Samsung’s iPhone’ comment! 😉

  7. I think this post is on to something here, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that Symbian in the past has been very easy to use.

    I recently got an E71 (just had to, have had the craving for a long time) and I’m just horrified at how difficult everything is. Weird confirmation dialogues, odd questions and wordings plague this system all around. Also, inconsistency within the UI creates confusion. There’s no way to tell if you’re still setting up e-mail or if some weird Lotus Notes installation program popped up between those two pages within the setup app.

    Symbian^3 better work really well and easily, but we know it won’t look particularly good. Maybe this is for some the ideal, but in my view Maemo offers easy usability for your basic functions: e-mail, apps, browsing, calling with a great exterior. Only problem is, that those functions themselves are limited and this is where us geeks start to make fixes and hacks and things become difficult.

    Sharing the view that Android is somewhat difficult, I think its even more boring than S^3. So for me, personally, MeeGo will probably be the only way to go. And I think it will be for the ordinary user as well.

  8. You are mixing familiarity and simplicity. When the iPhone was released, of course no one was familiar with the UI, but it became an instant hit because of the simplicity.

  9. All people who criticize symbian remember u r using this new ui just oz u were using d symbian 4m long ago..Der was d symbian os who teach u wat is mobile?N remember even 2day its d most powerful os in terms of battery management,folders,hidden files,n stil it holds d crown of true smartphone os by powerful multitasking recent example is nokia e5 who broke record of a “symbian os” samsung omnia hd..Show me an iphone competin in battery life wit symbian..N signal too..Ha ha ha..

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