Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Windows Phone 8: Email Application Comments

So I've been drafting another post (for about two months now!) in relation to my experiences as an iPhone/ iPad user using a Windows 8 phone as part of a trial. I thought I'd separate this one out into a separate post because it was the biggest surprise.

So let's start with a screen capture (on the right). I've highlighted four things about this absolutely terrible design that are just unforgivably bad;
1. The numbers I've added to this image are in Helvetiva 96-point font and you'll notice it's still slightly smaller than the font size Microsoft have chosen to use for the header text (all, unread, ...). This is just a massive waste of space. Massive. In fact of the 1280 pixel height of the screen 285 pixels, a whopping 22% of the entire screen real estate in the mail application - rather than displaying mail messages - is displaying the header.
2. I've masked part of the email but the next thing to highlight is that the emails are organised by Sender. That's the most important part (according to the designers); the size of the text is 56 point (measuring pixels, probably slightly higher font) so it's *really* important. More important than the subject (see 3). To me, and I suspect most other people, the most important thing in an email message is the subject.
3. Two points about this. The first is that the subject and first line of the email message are differentiated by only a very slight lightening of the font. A long subject doesn't wrap, instead it truncates (you can, for example see that this is a press release but not what it pertains to). The second is that the size of the preview for the text message is a single line. Now I accept that you can change a lot of this in the settings - but should you really have to?
4. The final point, 768 x 1280 screen and FIVE lines from FIVE email messages being displayed. And if you look at the lines you get between 7 and 9 words. You'd get more of your actual content on a blackberry (is there a more damming comparison than that?).

To me this looks like a triumph of appearance over usability. At first glance this looks perfectly good, but a few days in the true terribleness of the design creeps up on you like an unwanted ninja. It can take weeks (especially if you happen to be going for the "zero inbox" like me) but that unwanted ninja will get you in the end. Eventually you'll be looking at your phone in disgust wondering what happened to your massive screen!

To me this sums up one of the fundamental problems with this OS. It's been designed for tiny screens and if you have a larger screen it just scales up; making everything bigger while adding no new content. 96-point font for the heading? That's just madness. 768 x 1280 screen showing just FIVE lines from FIVE mail messages. Just to be clear that's 43 words. 43 useful words in a screen this size. Who thought that made sense?!

Overall I have to say though that it's not a terrible device; the camera is excellent (I'm using Nokia 925) and some of the Nokia apps are good (particularly the Music app). One thing for sure though; it *will* get better. I'm sure when 8.1 appears in a few months time there will be significant improvements. Hopefully the Mail application will be a focus for improvement! Microsoft have designed a really good interface for a phone - good (not iOS-good, but still pretty functional) - the problem is that most people don't want just a phone, in fact people are spending less and less time making calls and more and more time using data*.

So, in conclusion; stuck at the dawn of the Millennium? Have a voice-only contract? Get by on zero-MB data plans? Have no more than 10 emails in your inbox at any one time? This is the phone (more specifically the mail app) for you!

Looking forward to 8.1 ...

*- Is this really news to anyone? I mean it was true when I worked at Vodafone 15 years ago and I certainly can't believe it's less true now than it was back in the heady pre-millennium days of WAP phones and bargain-priced 10p text messages!
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