Smartphone and PDA User Interfaces

Filed under: — Stormwind @ 2:24 pm

ALP demo screenshotUpdate: PalmSource has publicly commented that the PalmOS user interface will be redesigned for smartphones as the MAX interface in ALP (ACCESS Linux Platform).  In a story on Computing Unplugged, Maureen O’Connell, Senior Director, Corporate Communications for PalmSource, said:

"Aside from that issue, I wanted to mention that it’s not particularly our intention that MAX "inherit much of the traditional look and feel of the Palm OS" — while this paradigm works fine on PDA-like devices with touchscreens, it’s not as effective on more "phone like" devices — MAX is intended to address both effectively."

That makes me even more nervous than before.  I like the PalmOS user interface and don’t want to see it "dumbed down" for smartphones.  The PalmOS user interface works just fine on the Treo smartphones which sell very well, so we have evidence that it does not need to be overly simplified.

One option PalmSource could take is to provide a simplified launcher and task switcher for smaller smartphones, while keeping something close to the standard PalmOS versions for the more feature-rich smartphones and users who prefer it and for third party applications to use if desired.

Original: I must admit I am somewhat worried about the recently released demo screenshots of ALP (ACCESS Linux Platform, the apparent successor to PalmOS) released by ACCESS, the company that bought PalmSource (the maker of PalmOS).

In my opinion ALP looked much less visually appealing than PalmOS while also appearing as a step backwards on launcher functionality (since the program launcher only displayed four program icons at once). I want my future smartphones to have a PalmOS user interface and functionality, not a UI like the one in the ALP demo screenshots.

I’ve used PalmOS a lot and Windows Mobile a little bit, and I definitely prefer the clean, simple, yet full featured user interface of PalmOS. In my opinion, the clean lines, simple elements, and uncluttered appearance of standard PalmOS makes using a small screen much easier. I liked the PalmOS interface enough that it greatly contributed to my decision to buy a Palm Treo smartphone (first a Treo 600, then a Treo 650 when it was released), which I use very frequently.

I really liked the UI I saw in the screenshots of PalmOS Cobalt (a canceled update of PalmOS that added new modern features like pre-emptive multitasking and process memory protection), which appears like the classic PalmOS interface with some visual improvements like smoother lines and curves, and simple color gradients added to buttons and other elements.

I’m hoping ALP will eventually have a UI that provides the benefits of PalmOS’s clean, simple, yet full featured UI along with it’s open platform that allowed so many developers to create useful programs for PalmOS that would run on a variety of devices by different manufacturers. 

A quick comparison of ALP and PalmOS Cobalt screenshots:

ALP launcher (I don’t like the clock font or that only four programs are displayed) vs PalmOS Cobalt launcher (looks much better with more functionality)

ALP 1Cobalt 1

ALP application (I don’t like the clock font, or the font or icons on the new and quit buttons) vs PalmOS Cobalt application (looks much better)

ALP 3Cobalt 2

Credits: ALP photos from Mobile-Review. PalmOS Cobalt screenshots from Palm Infocenter.

On a related note: PalmRevolt, a skinning program for existing versions of PalmOS, looks interesting and has several skins that show how the clean PalmOS interface can be enhanced with some shading. I haven’t tried it yet because I’ve read some posts of some programs crashing with it, and I like my Treo to stay stable.

One response to “Smartphone and PDA User Interfaces”

  1. lisa says:

    Saying that you use your Treo “frequently” is an understatement! 🙂

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