Monday, September 22, 2014

Pushing the touch interface to the next level

Earlier this year, at World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

Before his main interview, I explained a journalist what Sailfish OS interface is all about. Why improving how touch interfaces work was important.

In the evening, I got to read this.

Breaking the smartphone mold isn't easy. Just ask Jolla

I was taken to school that day. Learned a thing or two about talking to media.

No regrets, though. To keep sucking, I got a vacuum cleaner as a gift (it was waiting for me at the office - I love you guys), and the resulting article title is spot on to wrap this post around.

Before you start creating anything, you have to make a choice.

Is it enough to stick with what you have? Is there anything you can keep and re-use? Or is it all beyond saving and starting from scratch is the right thing to do?

As I mentioned in my previous post, the problem is in the interface. The reason for the hurt came from the button based navigation. The solution that already existed before the problem did.

We raised our sledgehammer high, and brought it down hard. Buttons had to go.

As the dust settled, our creation emerged as pictured below. A smartphone with three buttons less. It doesn't look like much, now does it?

And that’s exactly the point. It’s not about the looks. It's how it works with your hand. It's your hand that completes the touch interface.

Not by adapting, but by the way it naturally works.

It's more than what you see. Much more. When you take advantage of how the human body works, several benefits are gained over other interfaces, that treat our hand mainly as a mouse cursor replacement.

First comes comfort, because your hand size is irrelevant. Then speed, since less accuracy is needed.

Finally, when your brain recognizes a familiar pattern, it can immediately perform the matching interaction without eyes confirming it. It's just the way our body works.

And the interface works with it. Not against it.

Meet Sailfish OS.

The most commonly used actions (Home, back...) are based on simple gestures. This means they can be performed exactly where your thumb is most comfortable during content interactions (and not like this).

The notifications page access is also moved to the screen bottom edge for easier access with larger devices. Your hand is usually closer to that edge. Especially with larger phones and tablets.

My next post will illustrate better how Sailfish OS interface works. Meanwhile, you can check some quick tutorials on Jolla's Youtube channel.

In short, you swipe over the screen edge to interact with what you feel. From the screen center, you interact with what you see or know. But, I'll do a more detailed post about it next.

For a touch screen interface, our ability to know at all times where our thumb is in relation to other fingers, is important. To test it, close your eyes and pick up a phone. With your eyes closed, try placing your thumb on the center of the display. Next, try finding the device edge.

Both are very easy to do, because you've had that hand (and brain) since you were born. It's natural for you.

However, allowing you to make use of it on a smartphone, someone has to break the smartphone mold.

The one with the buttons.

Help us break it.


We're few against the many. The perception of what a smartphone is doesn't give in easily. It's been the toughest thing to face in my professional career. Almost every day I hear or read from someone how both back and home buttons are etched in the minds of smartphone users so deep, that it's impossible to change.

And that's sad to hear because it's not true. It's improbable to happen overnight, but definitely possible when given time.

Just by following others and copying what they do, takes nothing forward. Copying is the reason we're stuck with over a decade old touch interface with buttons in wrong places. When you copy, you don't think. When you don't think, stupid stuff happens.

Sticking to a vision has already made a big difference for our community. Instead of copying what others do, we challenged the smartphone industry. A tiny company with a wonderful community succeeded where many companies have failed.

In being themselves.

If you ask me or anyone working at Jolla, you will hear it's not easy to break the mold. Ask our community the same question, and they'll tell you it's already been broken.

A more natural touch interface might not sound like a big thing. Until you try it yourself.

And you've just hammered off a good chunk out from the smartphone mold.

Roughly the size of you.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.

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