Palm Pre: First Thoughts


Today, thanks to the (not so) smartfilter being removed from my work laptop, I have been able to watch a great video on the new Palm Pre! Here are my first thoughts.

Hardware:

palm-pre

Pretty cool and sleek. Smaller than the iPhone with nice rounded edges. My guess is they have managed to keep the size down due to the 3mp camera (these are the major space eaters in mobiles). A capacitive touchscreen enables the use of gestures and multi-touch (ladies trim those fingernails if you want this phone). The slide-out qwerty keyboard distinguishes this from the iPhone giving peace of mind for those users who like  tactile feedback and the reassurance of physical hardware keys. The phone has a slight curve to it when the slider is open, which palm have marketed as ergonomic… I would say it looks nice but to claim that it is ergonomic? hmm…. 

UI:

The UI is very familiar (think iPhone). They have tried to keep all options hidden away to maximise what you see on the screen and declutter the interface. So within contacts there is just one nice big onscreen button to press to add a contact. Then when you select a contact there is a big edit button. Nice. You get the idea.

Surprisingly there is no option to ‘Save’ anything. I understand their reasoning for this and they believe this is a fantastic benefit, however, I know from observations in my previous user studies that ‘Save’ is important to users. We once changed this word to ‘Done’ and just that slight change caused users no end of problems. Saving is more about positive confirmation and peace of mind. We have been brought up in a world where you have to Save everything you do on a computer or a mobile, so it actually goes against the users’ mental model to not save. It will be very interesting to see how learnable this is – can we let go of this need to Save easily? 

Gestures and interaction:

Interaction with the phone requires a mixture of gestures and pressing the only key on the front of the phone (they call this the ‘Centre key’). It is in the exact same location as the iPhone’s home key and what do you think this button does? I’m guessing you’re thinking it must be the panic button that all phones have (AKA red/home key that takes you back to the home screen), the ‘argh! I’m lost, I’m off back to the beginning’ key. Well they have chosen to go against the industry standard and instead, use this key for multitasking. From what I can see on the demo, the only way to get back ‘Home’ is to use the back gesture. Alarm bells started to ring with me when the guy demonstrating this gesture says that to go back he flicks back “in the gesture area from right to left like I’m turning the page in a book”. Erm… hang on a minute…if you flick from right to left to turn a page you’re going forwards a page, not back to the previous page. It also feels easier and safer (more grip on the phone) to flick from left to right one-handed, using the thumb.

I quite like the swipe up gesture to get to the application menu. However, there is another swipe up gesture to get to your Wave dock (AKA Shortcuts) but with this gesture you have to make sure you drag slower and keep your finger on the screen until you have selected just underneath the item you want. This is quite a different interaction style to the rest of the phone as you aren’t selecting the item onscreen, rather, you are selecting just underneath the icon and it is when you lift your finger (deselect) that the selection activates (see the picture below, the white spot represents your finger). I think they may have been better combining the shortcuts with the application menu and visually make it clear that they are separate. Keep it simple guys. The Wave dock in action:

Shortcuts Menu - Drag up gesture

Other stuff:

Ok enough of the potential usability issues. Personally, I was really impressed with the Palm synergy functionality. This enables you to bring together all the information you have on a person from multiple places (Outlook, Facebook, Google) all into one place in your Contacts app. Simple! 

The calendar has a small but cool feature that I liked. It compresses any empty space so that you can see for example an appointment you have at 9am and one at 7pm all on the same screen (assuming you have nothing inbetween). 

The aggregated IM stuff sounds great, and how cool is it that you can start an IM chat with someone then when they go offline you can just change to texting them and it all shows in the same conversational messaging window! 

To conclude, we must congratulate Mr Palm Pre for doing a really decent effort as an iPhone competitor. I’m still going to keep my fingers crossed for an iPhone Nano though. Please Mr Jobs… please…

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