Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Sincerest Form of Fail

I'm typing this from my dad's new Win7 phone. On the surface, the interface is what you'd expect: the closest thing to an iPhone you could build without getting sued, plus some Microsoft branding ("Windows 7", "Internet Explorer"; there's an app for mail and another for Hotmail).

The keyboard works similarly to an iPhone's, suggesting words and replacing obvious typos. The home view features a bunch of tiled app icons. The browser handles tabs in exactly the same way. There's even a button right below the screen that always takes you to the home view.

The similarities, sadly, don't include attention to detail. There are a number of usability bugs.
  • There's no cut and paste
  • There are two home screens. Both have buttons that launch apps. The second is a simple list; the first has a subset of the apps with larger icons. But both of them scroll, complete with a mini-scrollbar that fades in and out of view. Also, the first home screen's icons are inexplicably not the same size. Some are rectangles, some are squares. Some are two-tone, others are an... eclectic mix of colors.
  • Positioning the cursor in a textbox is difficult and imprecise. It doesn't work nearly as well as the iOS magnifying glass.
  • When you slide your thumb inside a multiline textbox, it doesn't scroll. Instead, it simply moves the cursor around. You have to hit the scrollbar on the side (which looks like it's straight out of Windows 95, square and gray with a 1px bevel). Then, when you pull the scrollbar down, the page scrolls up, as though you had grabbed part of the page and pulled it downward. This means that the scrollbar right under your thumb is also moving upward. Strikingly unintuitive.
...and those are just the ones that stood out to me. But the single most annoying issue, in my opinion, is the home button. Unlike the iPhone's slightly recessed physical button, the HTC HD7 simply has a printed Windows logo. The touch sensitivity apparently extends below the screen. This makes the button maddeningly easy to hit accidentally, while typing. It's right underneath the bottommost row of keys. In fact, I started typing this post on the HD7, ended up on the home screen at least five times despite being careful, gave up and am now finishing it on a laptop. This issue is especially bad since it can't be fixed with a software update. This is a hardware problem. A quick search on Google Images shows that many Win7 phones--not just the HD7--seem to have this problem.
Now, I wouldn't want you to leave this blog thinking you'd read yet another Apple fanboy rant regarding Microsoft interface design, or lack thereof. In fact, the reason Win7 Phone makes me sad is because I'm the opposite of a fanboy. I love the Nokia N900, with its large battery, gorgeous Carl Zeiss camera and full keyboard, running completely unencumbered Linux. The thought that most of Nokia's phones will soon be Windows 7 Phones means less competition for Apple, frankly, and that is always bad.

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