Cracking the mobile user experience at OTA 2011

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Where some of the finest code-crackers and scientist were gathered during the war to decrypt Nazis messages sent throughout the war-torn Europe?

… the answer is at Bletchley Park, just south of Milton Keynes, in the UK. During World War II, Bletchley Park was the site of the United Kingdom’s main decryption establishment, where ciphers and codes of several Axis countries were decrypted. The intelligence produced at Bletchley Park, codenamed Ultra, provided crucial assistance to the Allied war effort. Some people even claim that Ultra shortened the war by two to four years and that the outcome of the war would have been uncertain without it.

Bletchley is one of the places where history of modern computing was made – even Alan Turing worked for some time on cracking those codes. Bletchley Park is the best possible setting for the fourth Over The Air, the london-centric conference where all flavours of mobile development and design techniques are intensively explored. And having good weather throughout the conferences, with temperatures reaching 28C was rather unique for this time of the year.

This was my first visit at OTA, and I am extremely pleased by the quality and the variety of inputs I received in the last 36 hours. Here is a few things I plotted down – this is just my take and it is based on my (design) interests and I hope somebody else will find them useful:

Nick Butcher(@crafty) from Google has illustrated the Android Honeycomb design patterns and pointed out to some of the changes from Froyo and Gingerbread. I’ve got to say that I have been relatively impressed by the amount of good thought Matias Duarte and his team have put on Honeycomb.

My feeling is apps have now a solid framework including signposting, navigating to views and presenting the most used functions of the website. Another aspect of the framework I really like is designing fragments (i.e. self-sufficient UI modules) which can then be either composed in a single view on large screen or split and navigated on smaller screens.
My feeling is The seeds planted at Google I/O in 2010 with the Twitter app have slowly grown in what I see implemented in Honeycomb. Something I didn’t realise was how ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ (please stop them!) will bring this changes to small-screen devices and how this will make using Android Tablets and Smartphones a consistent experience.

From my perspective, it is a joy to see a valid alternative to iOS (but they are still at the top of their game). Looking forward to present at Droidcon in a week or so and give my view of how Android patterns & best practices have evolved in the last three years.

Bruce Lawson (@brucel) from Opera brazenly showcased some tips and techniques for coding websites that work at all screen resolutions with Javascript, CSS queries and other optimisation techniques. Despite my superficial knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript I managed to get some immediate improvements to our Closertag website code, such as the tel =”xxx” link attribute allows people to tap & call you straight away from your site; it seems to work for most mobile browser.

Liza Danger Gardner(@lyzadanger) also picturesquely talked about ‘mobile web’ and quite rightly said that ‘mobile web’ should just be called mobileWEB full stop. Rather than coding for large screens and then creating a different rendering for smaller screens, much better designing for smaller screen first. This is quite right considering that the amount of people accessing the web ONLY from a mobile device has exceeded the number of those doing accessing from desktop ONLY 🙂

My favourite presentation was Franco Papeschi’s (@bobbywatson) talk about “Changing the World” one start-up at a time. Franco has recently started working for the Time Berners Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation, whose goal is to bring the benefit of the Internet to those who need it most – the developing economies in Africa, India and Asia. The W3C foundation has set a number of initiatives and laboratories in these countries – providing skills and tools where they are needed the most. It is absolutely inspiring seeing how people of all ages and kinds in those countries are eagerly embracing Internet to change their lives – in better.

Franco concluded saying he still has no magic recipe on how to help this people walking this path – but he said there are three things we can volunteer with: COACHING them with new skills, MAKING stuff, and MENTORING them on their way to success.

On a final note, I was particularly impressed by the IGNITE speech format at the end of the first day: it’s a five-minutes-twenty-slides-fifteen-seconds-each presentation format that allows people to talk about things in an visual, intuitive, emotional and powerful way of presenting ONE idea, it doesn’t matter how crazy! I’d love to try once presenting at one of these sessions.

Further reading

Twitter for Android: A closer look at Android’s evolving UI patterns

Android User Interface Guidelines

Android UI patterns

Google I/O 2011: Designing and Implementing Android UIs for Phones and Tablets

World Wide Web Foundation

Bruce Lawson

Lyza Danger Gardner

HTML5 Rocks – A resource for open web HTML5 developers

Over the Air 2011 Programme schedule

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