Aug. 2, 2007 SDF Frog Design

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Aug. 2, 2007 at Access headquarters in Santa Clara, SDForum’s Mobile SIG hosted two presentations on user interface developments from Access and Frog Design.

Browsing on mobile devices presents different challenges than personal computers. Browsers for computers used independent international standards of HTML that browsers could adapt or specialize in. You can use any computer in the world and figure out how to use a browser to see a website. Other than Apple’s iPhone, most mobile device browsers require some specially adapted code to view stripped down versions of websites. Variations in thousands phones made by hundreds of manufacturers to run on dozens of different networks create a nightmare for browser developers. The goal is a universal mobile browser platform.

Mobile SIG chair Yong Tian introduced Sergei Krupenin who talked about the role Access plays in the mobile user interface space and its roots on Japan. Access works with telephone companies and handset makers to create microbrowsers. This is easier to do as memory and network speed increases by using HTML, Java, Ajax and Flash. The user interface can be navigated four different ways. The first is smart swing navigation where you tilt the phone in the direction you want to go on screen. The second is page pilot where you use a stylus and small window to select the area to zoom in on. The third is a visual bookmark with a carousel of screenshots of the pages you want to visit. The fourth uses zoom panning with a shortcut menu bar.

Frog Design’s Deborah Johnson gave a presentation on Alltel’s Celltop user interface. If you’ve ever met someone from Frog Design, the first thing you notice is how interested they are in you. They watch how you use a product and ask you how you feel about it. For more than a generation they have designed extraordinary products like the original Apple Macintosh. Frog Design is now a division of Aricent (Hughes Electronics) giving its core team of designers and developers added capabilities beyond the reach of typical designers.

Alltel wanted Frog Design to develop an interface that was appealing, unique, easy to use, deploy and most importantly, make money. Research revealed customers in the American Southwest most likely to use their product were younger users with active lifestyles. They want access to news, sports, weather and restaurants without toggling through too many menus. After about a year of development it was released in January 2007. The result was a two column format with each column displaying its own widget of TRIGML, a proprietary markup language that sits on top of a BREW API. The user scrolls horizontally across widgets and vertically for more depth. The mark of a successful product is that it is used. Alltel was pleased to see a 375 percent increase in usage for these products.

It is not clear if any of these approaches become the dominant user interface for mobile devices. Browsing the web on a cell phone is still viewing through the eye of a needle.

Also attending were Paul James, George Ng and Peter Trinh.

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Copyright 2007 DJ Cline All rights reserved.