Are Microsoft’s Windows 10 developers starting to learn about smartphone usability?

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Here at Pocketnow, we talk a lot about the annoying lack of one-handed usability in modern smartphone software design. The Palm Web OS did some really great things with one-handed usability, as did Blackberry, and even Windows Phone 7-8.  None of those operating systems are really around anymore and even Microsoft has lost touch with one-handed usability when they started on Windows 10 Mobile. Android is a mess when it comes to one-handed usability and Apple has just solved the problem by releasing a new iPhone with a smaller screen that your fingers can reach across. The problem is smartphone interface designers put interactive elements at the top and bottom edges of the screens. Normal human fingers can’t stretch those distances while holding the phone too.

Last week the Windows Maps Marketing Product Manager Kushal Kapoor announced in a blog post some new features for the universal Windows 10 Maps app, and one of the new features is a re-designed UI for the smartphone screen sizes. Finally Microsoft is learning!

This illustration shows both right hand and left hand finger reach extents.

This illustration shows both right hand and left hand finger reach extents.

“Wayfinding and usability is serious business for our Maps team and with this build many of the menu locations have been enhanced with this in mind. For instance, navigation is now positioned at the top on desktop (instead of the side) and at the bottom on phone (instead of the top) as a direct result of how people use the Maps app differently on different types of devices. For the phone, this directly improves the experience when using your device with one hand, especially when getting directions or opening your favorites with a single tap. Moving navigation to the bottom of the phone is just one of the great ways Insider feedback is helping us improve the experience for all Windows 10 Map app users.”

Of course, I and many others posted the type of feedback Kashul Kapoor is referring to in the Windows Insider feedback app, but I feel like this is something Microsoft’s UI designers should have known before they were hired. Microsoft has been building smartphone and mobile operating systems since the 90’s. You would think all of those decades of knowledge would have been passed down within the company, but corporate memory seems to be very short. Microsoft’s speech UI still can’t announce appointment notifications out loud or even have a “what can I say” teaching conversation like it could in 2003 on Windows Mobile.

Microsoft, please get the rest of your developers to learn about this simple and obvious design convention! Why is this so difficult?

Remember when you could reach all the buttons while holding a phone?

Remember when you could reach all the buttons while holding a phone?

Okay, I’m sure some of you will say, “Well, I use my phone with two hands so it’s not a big deal for me.”  Maybe you’re not much of a multi-tasker then? Every day I see people with smartphones on the train or walking on the sidewalk trying to use their smartphones with one hand while holding a bag or holding onto a pole to keep from falling over in the subway. The struggle is real. These people have to do all sorts of finger acrobatics to get to the most basic of functions. All you have to do as a smartphone OS developer to fix this is to put the interactive elements within reach of a normal thumb.

Microsoft makes it even worse in Windows 10 Mobile by throwing UI elements all over the place just like Android and iOS do except with even less consistency. This is pretty jarring considering Microsoft used to be so good at consistent UI’s.  With Windows Mobile classic, when the bottom toolbar changed from multiple menus and toolbars buttons to two left & right cascading menus, everything on the platform adopted that new interaction design right away. Themes were even applied globally so all of your apps looked consistent too! With Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft can’t even get its own developers to make menus and toolbars consistent.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!