Thursday, September 30, 2010
For several years now, I've been enjoying mobile design as an exercise in streamlined, contextually-relevant design. Sure, it's also pretty or emotive, but that's for marketing. To get people in the door, or make their first few experiences matter. And then I saw a handful of OSs last week at Design for Mobile 2010 in Chicago. Or, more importantly, I saw the reaction of the designers and developers. I saw the attendance of various sessions. And my reaction is that right now it doesn't matter how useful something is, but how cool and new and exciting it appears to be. Just look at the above image. The 1949 Ford is a technical marvel. Even the frame is innovative. This ad talks about the braking most of all, but covers all sorts of additional features. The Cadillac of the same era (the 1948, actually) is entirely show and bluster. Yes, those are tailfins, the first ones we'd see of a long line of them. Now, the '49 Ford sold great. Because it was a terrific car, really a modern car in every way. But very, very soon the whole style looked dated. And I'll note Ford never did adopt the tailfin thing, and sold just fine despite this, throughout the crazy tailfin era. I sorta think Nokia is Ford in this tale. S^3 (and the stellar hardware) is shiny enough to please anyone, gets the work done, and is rock solid. But it doesn't apply a brand name to the display. It doesn't have animated squares on the idle screen. Etc. It also does keep selling (Nokia still by a wide margin the largest smartphone seller, worldwide), but does anyone talk about it? Naw. Not really. Who got the attention at the conference last week? Windows Phone 7. Else, which is pretty cool. An Android tablet someone was carrying around for work. iPad and iPhone strategies, and Apple didn't even show up themselves. Hell, even a pre-release Android I had got grabbed for some ooh and ahh time. In case you assume I am only being cynical, I am not. I am partly disappointed and cynical, but I can work with that. What it means to me is that my ideal OS is clearly not functionally the ideal thing to bring to market. If you hired me to design a new OS, or browser interface, I would know that it has to have something totally off the wall, just to have a hook for everyone to latch onto. It also means I have some hope for the future. No, it's not that everyone buys cars today based on their specifications. But in the 1960s, people also bought VWs. And after this was the muscle car era, where specs (and the appearance of having high spec) was critical. So... things will change, and my biggest takeaway is recognizing this trend. And that the mobile market is advanced enough it has trends. Not just winners and copycats, but market-wide consumer-level trends, which are worth exploiting, or understanding so you can try to undermine them.