December 1, 2008

[G1 Report] Latest Interaction Design Discoveries, From Trackball to Security Pattern

In my first G1 Report, I wasn’t sure about the usability of the device’s trackball. After a few weeks, I’ve become convinced of the trackball’s worth. It’s a good physical feature. I found myself using it more, for navigating and selecting, than the touch screen itself. But I’ve since graduated to toggling between using the trackball to touching the screen. The trackball is particularly effective for placing a cursor in Messaging. Better to place a cursor with the trackball than your finger, to be painfully obvious.

Image by Josh Russell, Flickr

Besides frequently using the trackball and the Menu and Home screen buttons, I like the physical keyboard that All Things Digital’s Walt Mossberg cited as the “biggest differentiator.” While there is only one keyboard, no virtual keyboard is fine by me. Some, including Mossberg, may find it a pain to open the physical QWERTY keyboard each time input is required, but this is not a big issue to me. One, and only one, keyboard. This is keeping it simple. This is the reason iterated by the few random people that I’ve asked about their mobile devices who don’t like virtual keyboards. It comes down to a matter of learning and adapting. And while virtual keyboards will improve, physical keys per letter remain appealing and accurate. As I’ve pointed out to a friend who uses an iPhone, I can type and spell on the G1.

Image by spdorsey, Flickr

The physical keyboard proves handy, pun intended, in using Gmail and Messaging, the two apps that I most frequently use.

The “Screen unlock pattern” is also a nifty and fun feature, which can be activated via Settings. One of my former mobile interaction-design colleagues assumed that I didn’t find it because it wasn’t “discoverable.” Sounds like this assumption lacked faith in both the mobile software and its user. Contrary to what my former colleague thought, finding the “Screen unlock pattern” feature was easy.

So far I’ve downloaded one app, a Note Pad, from the Android Market. Access to the Market was easy, and its interface to search and locate a specific app is simply organized. As yet another former mobile interaction-design colleague said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Having the user download whatever they want in terms of apps is the value of mobile devices.” I plan to download more, play, and repeat.

More than a month has passed since letting go of my Nokia 6133 flip-phone and I’m really enjoying my upgrade to the G1. It’s a likable mobile device. I’ve been rationalizing my sticking to T-Mobile as the main reason I didn’t want to get an iPhone, but the truth is that the decision goes beyond carrier convenience. Getting a G1 has something to with Google or the Android mobile platform or having a touch-screen mobile device that’s not by Apple. Or all of the above.