Some Nokia N95 and S60 Thoughts


A ton has been said about the Nokia N95 already - it's been out for quite a long time, so I'm way late to the party. But since I handed it back to Miker today after having it in my pocket for a couple days, I figured I would write up some quick observations. The summary for the entire device can be summed up like this: "Holy crap! Look at all this cool ass stuff N95 does. It's amazing! But look how well Nokia has completely obscured or hidden all that functionality. It's insane!"

But here's some more specific, if random, thoughts.

* The phone is, without any doubt, the most powerful and advanced phone on the planet. I was absolutely astounded by the amount of engineering in that bad boy. I discovered tons of features I didn't know the phone had - like the fact that it comes with a video-out cable for your TV, the GPS was super accurate even inside my house, the video quality is amazing and that there's even a built in FM radio.

* The little 3.5G icon that pops up when connected to a HSDPA network is coool. And god, it's *so* fast.

* The N95 also came stocked with a bunch of apps, including a Maps app, Search, a QR Code reader, Download Catalog, etc. The problem - which I was just talking to Miker about via IM - is that they are in their legendary completley random places. EVERY SINGLE S60 phone launched seems to rename apps and put them in various new folders, they're insane.

* I liked the Nokia specific mobile sites that were launched with the device, including this NSeries US Portal page and Mosh. They just look really nice, and provided a great way to start using the phone's browser - which is fast and works really well.

* The dual slider thing is a gimmicky marketing feature. I wish they'd have put those 4 media control buttons on the side instead. Actually, scratch that - after using the iPhone which has tons of functionality with only 5 buttons (on switch, ringer, volume up/down, menu) Nokia needs to have *less* buttons, not more. And no damn styluses (bleh).

* The ability to see the menu in landscape is a lot less useful than I thought because it just isn't particularly comfortable to use that way. Both browsing the web and the camera app seemed awkward for me to use.

* The "media key" is stupid and the media menu is stupid. There's just too many damn ways to get to an application: The menu, the active standby, the dedicated buttons, the media menu, sliding up vs. sliding down, etc. I'm bewildered with the functionality, and I'm supposed to be the expert on this stuff.

* I liked all the integrated Podcast features - it's almost like having a little Miro media aggregator in your pocket. You can tell it to grab videos from YouTube, Reuters, or any other Podcast, and it'll come down in the background either via Cell or WiFi connections. Very cool stuff.

* The radio prompted me for my location when I started it, then went out and grabbed a list of the local radio stations for me automatically so I didn't have to enter them in. This gets my award for the realization of one of those "Wouldn't it be cool if..." ideas. It's such an obvious thing to do, but to see it done so well was kick ass.

* The native Google Map application combined with the GPS and HSDPA? Totally incredibly cool. Much better than the integrated Nokia Maps thing, though I didn't buy any extra stuff which would have made the N95 more like a dedicated GPS device with driving directions and voice commands and all that.

* The thing I'll *really* miss about that phone is the camera. It was sooo nice to have a really kick-ass camera/camcorder like that in my pocket.

Okay, the last observation is the most important, so I'll separate it out: The insane array of nested menus and options has gone beyond the point of being somewhat complex to being totally bewildering... S60 needs a complete revamp and cleanup. The GUI just hasn't scaled with all the new functionality and options available and as a result is a complete mess of settings applications, menus, tabs, drop downs, etc. etc. This has been a problem for a while, but with the amount of functionality now available, it's just gotten completely out of control.

I'd love for Nokia to come up with something new, but I highly doubt that would happen overnight. S60 needs some serious surgery though:

* There needs to be only two ways to get to any application - the hierarchical way and a customizable shortcut way and that's it. Anything beyond those two adds confusion, not convenience.

* All the settings for EVERY integrated application needs to be in a central location, with the option for third party apps to add in additional choices and menus.

* No application should go more than one level deep, and again, there should be just ONE way to arrive at a place. Having a list which opens up tabs (which are copies of the original list) which have Options menus, which open up more lists and forms is absolutely insane.

* Along the lines of levels, S60 needs to GET RID OF FOLDERS in the menu all together. Just kill them outright. So what if it's a long list of apps, people can scroll easily, and re-order the more important ones to the top. There's no reason in the world to have folders, and folders within folders? Even more insane.

* S60 needs to have a SINGLE UNIFIED NAMING AND LOCATION SCHEME, which is PUBLIC and set in STONE. I should be able to pick up ANY S60 device and know what the name of an app is, where to find it, and how to use it. Renaming folders and applications for every single device launched is completely insane.

* In addition to a unified naming scheme, make sure the names make *sense* in whatever language. English is pretty popular, it should be pretty easy to come up with decent names. My e61 has a folder called "Installat." - with the period in the name no less. Nutty.

* The various key functions needs a complete revamp. Make the menu key a "home" key, and no more functionality tied to "long presses" and random hidden features like using the Power key to change your profile. Make the red hangup key do the obvious - which is prompt to exit the app, not just take you back to the standby screen, and add a dedicated "back" button like EVERY OTHER PHONE on the planet, instead of re-using the right soft key. If there are volume keys like on the N95, make them work throughout the system, again, like every other phone, not just for the media functions.

Okay, I'm done... It's easy to criticize, but S60 has real competition in the high-end phone space now, and it better start responding accordingly. Nokia can't just let things stand as they are or keep slowly evolving the GUI like they usually do because it's going to definitely start affecting sales, guaranteed. Unless Nokia wants to get relegated to the low-end 6630 market and cede the high end to companies like Apple and LG, they better get their house in order.

The thing which makes me crazy though, is this isn't an *engineering* issue, it's an organization issue. It's a usability and design issue. It's is not about how many resources you can throw at the problem, but how well the leaders of the company can make decisions and ensure those decisions are kept throughout the company. If you delegate decisions on the look and feel and form of your key devices, then they'll get designed by commitee - or worse, by engineers - and then generally suck. This is what's happened with the S60. The people who are in charge at Nokia need to demand a clean GUI and then make sure it's accomplished.

Okay, that's enough braindump ranting. :-)


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