What’s Next for the Smartphone User Experience?

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As we talked about in our recent pocketcast, most tech analysts seem to think Apple may announce a major update to iOS (rather than announce any new hardware) at their upcoming event.

A major update, say to iOS 5, would likely entail more than what we’ve seen with recent point-revisions. If that’s the case, the change would have to be significant. Point revisions may make small, incremental changes to the UI, but they’re usually reserved for bug fixes and very minor improvements to the UI. What then could be a big enough change for a full-point revision?

Apple’s UI is starting to show its age. It’s pretty much the same now as when it made its debut: a big grid of icons. Of course some improvements have been made along the way including folders and bubbles to show how many missed calls or unread messages you have. Android, on the other hand, has folders and icons, but they also have widgets and Live Wallpaper.

Will Apple copy some of these cues, or will they leapfrog Android and come up with something new and “magical”? Or, if Apple doesn’t rev the iOS significantly, what is next for the smartphone UI?

That was the question Brandon put to me on pocketcast episode 9. My response was more off-the-cuff than something I’d committed much thought to.

Essentially, rather than adopting widgets and Live Wallpaper as Android has (each which contribute overhead, consuming valuable compute cycles and gobbling up battery life), a new layer that sits on top of the wallpaper, but behind the icons could be the paradigm shift coming in future smartphones (and if not, since it’s my idea, the patent is pending).

This layer would be an extension of the OS (rather than separate from the OS like widgets and Live Wallpapers), but would allow for limited extensibility and updating though push notifications and API calls. Is that sufficiently vague?

Without adding more than one additional layer, a score of applications could be provide updated information in an almost ambient, casual manner, displayed on-screen, yet unobtrusively tucked behind the icons and widgets, but just above the background.

Consider the way both Apple and HTC “pulse” the status bar to remind you that you’re on a phone call while multi-tasking in another app. This simple yet elegant solution provides an ambient method to display the phone status. Can this be applied to other types of information? Proximity to friends and family? Traffic conditions? Weather? Stocks? Gas prices? Regional emergency notifications? Missing child alerts?

What information would you like to have access to without opening an app? Could iOS 5 or Android Ice Cream Sundae/Sandwich employ something like this? Would developers be quick to sign-on to this type of new UI paradigm?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.