No more ambiguous icons in Windows Phone 7!

Two thumbs up for the Windows Phone 7 guys. One of my few but major concerns with the WP7 user interface is now no longer an issue. The icons inside the common “application bar” which will house common actions will no longer be a game of trial-and-error.

Up and until now, the icons had no text labels so any ambiguity in the design would have meant the only way the user could know what it did is to click on it and pray it doesn’t do anything you can’t reverse. This is an issue that plagues some Android apps too

Now in the latest build of WP7, the icons reveal their label when you expand the application bar which brings up the additional context options.

As subtle as a change this might be, I think it truly reflects Microsoft’s attention to detail in the WP7 user experience which shows the moment you use it. After playing with the build for a couple minutes at TechEd 2010 today, trust me when I say it is one of the slickest things I’ve ever seen.

18 insightful thoughts

  1. Ok, I’ll be the really annoying one and ask where Android has a similar problem? No, really – I am just genuinely interested.

    Also, I must say I am VERY skeptical about these phones. I mean, don’t you think it will be just a matter of time, before the corporate department dismisses all these “user-friendly” concerns and turns windows phone into windows mobile again?

    1. If you knew anything about the Windows Phone team for the past 2 years, you would know that they’ve completely revamped the division and who runs that product team.

      Visionaries and amazing designers (who don’t get the recognition they deserve) run the entire division, including the mentality of the product from marketing to engineering, and the corporate department will NOT come in because they’re the ones responsible for making Microsoft irrelevant in mobile and lose market-share since 2007. There is no way they’re running the division, Microsoft explained this many times before.

      These incredible designers created some of Microsoft’s best UI work everything from Windows Media Center, to Zune and Xbox. Microsoft is very lucky to have these group of people.

    2. Some of the Android applications have a row of icons at the bottom without text labels. If the icons are in any way ambiguous, the only way you could find out what it did was to try it, which I think is unnecessarily risky.

  2. Yup, Albert Shum (the man responsible for the WP7 “Metro” UI) is an incredible visionary designer/artist. He truly deserves all the recognition one could get for creating a truly different UI experience, and mobile OS. Congrats to the WP7 team!

    1. I’m really hoping that IE build in the phone will be far better than any previous mobile IEs we have seen. Having said that, I’m also banking on opera to bring their browser on WP7. You got to admit, no one makes browser like Opera for Mobile Phones.

  3. I have one main concern from what I read until now, nothing to do with the user interface, or performance, but that damn h*******t “AppStore” thingy.

    Maybe because it’s my geeky side. Maybe because I like to be looking around for software (come on guys, it’s software your “applications”), and I miss the possibility to install ANYTHING I want on my (i)Phone (yes, even what Steve J. doesn’t like). I like the freedom I had with my QTek 2020, the same I found back on my HTC P3600: install whatever YOU want, it’s your PERSONAL digital assistant/phone. I don’t like to not be able to remove “apps” people think are good for me, even if I don’t use them (Stock exchange on the iPhone?).

    Yes, I am sorry, that really bothers me: I understand companies having guidelines for software distribution and so on, but I want to be able to do what I (ME, MYSELF) want on MY (small conputer) PDA/Phone.

    I also understand that for mass market having an “app”store is very good, that way everyone, and not only the geeks/early adopters could use these small computers with new software, but, for me, the “app” store should not be the only way to have software on YOUR small computer(PDA/Phone).

    On the other, as far as UI are concerned, yes, sometimes the text is better than a cryptic icon. If I am not wrong, they started to have icons and so on because of screen resolution/limitation, and I think that could be overdone by a (very) responsive interface. Look the web, most buttons have text, because we catch exactly and right away the meaning of it. Who didn’t get the problem with the iPhone bouton in shape of a box with an arrow going out? Is it using the same meaning for any application?

    1. Pay the $100 to become a registered developer on the marketplace. Then you can unlock up to 5 retail phones and load whatever you want onto them. You could also wait a couple of moths after release, and I’m sure someone will figure out how to unlock the phone for free.

      Unfortunetly, we (intelligent techno-geeks), do not command enough of a market share to demand everything we want.

    2. Adam, how does becoming an app developer unlock the phone ?
      It doesn’t jailbreak it, does it?
      Could you clarify how it’s done?

      1. Developers are able to “register” their device for development using a tool provided by Microsoft which validates your Developer account and “unlocks” your phone. You are then allowed to deploy up to 10 application to the device. You can always uninstall other application you’ve deployed if you need to deploy another one. The rule is 10 “unsigned” application at any given time, maximum.

  4. I do not like the new design of WP7. All icons looks like in mono colors and also too simple. I hope Microsoft will bring another legendary to the market later. We will see 😉

    1. For instance the “Add” and “Favorites” buttons. They look already a bit ambiguous (according to the screenshot in the post). I suppose that there is a small “+” symbol on the “Add” button. If icons were more colorful, user could find “Add” or “Favorites” more easily, count’t they?

      Also the circular around icons are too noticeable. A lighter color would be better IMO…

    2. You haven’t put enough though in to the way most of us recognize the function of a tool bar icon. Check out your browser’s icons. Reduce them to their bare minimum lines and you shall see…

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