Designing Presence: Mobile Weather and the N75

Yesterday I discovered just how useful having a solid connect to the “real web” can be. My partner and I were riding back to Seattle from the Methow Valley in north central Washington. We were about to head up the gorgeous North Cascades Highway (which summits at 5477 feet) and were wondering about rain gear. I went to and shrieked with glee to see that I could access doppler radar images with my Nokia N75. With a couple of clicks, I could see visuals of the cloud activity in western and central Washington — and make an informed choice about the rain gear (unneeded until the other side of the pass.) Later I was able to discern quite accurately that the rain in Darrington, WA would end before we hit Lynnwood. This kind of real-time specificity is amazing when one is moving through the landscape, exposed to the elements.

The REAL mobile web is here.

Designing mobile presence: Customizing my Nokia N75

Since I last posted I’ve learned more about my Nokia N75. Like any new technology system, there’s a learning curve. I tend to take mine slowly, answering questions as they arise rather then, say, reading the owner’s manual from front to back. Today I was cursing that I had no control over access to my most favorite apps – that I had to do the same repetitive drilling every time I wanted to open gmail. Then I thought to check the owners manual and voila – turns out that there’s “an idle screen” mode, turned off by default (so you wouldn’t know it existed) and accessible only by drilling deep into the settings and configurations menu. This mode allows you to place 6 items in a little bar at the top of your idle (home) screen for one-click access. Cool! Later I also discovered I could change the default soft key shortcuts from “messagaging” and “MEdia Net” to my choice. OK – that’s cool too, but many users will never figure this stuff out because the settings are buried so deep.

Speaking of owner’s manuals, I discovered that the S60 web browser feature — the one that took me days to find — was also mentioned in the owner’s manual. Unfortunately, you had to stumble upon it, just as you have to on the actual device. There are two entries for “web” in the index and neither discusses the S60 browser. Likewise, the on screen help was useless. The key factor in both places was (somehow) understanding that the browser was located in a folder called “tools.” This is a seminal problem with hierarchical menu systems; functional pieces of technology are divided into applications, actions, settings, features, etc. and then lumped together into categories that are often not intuitive or even clearly descriptive. The current mobile UI is wedded to hierarchical menus due partly to screen limitations, but more to deeply rooted interaction paradigms. I think the iPhone will blow the paradigm to pieces. Bring it on.

Now that I’m understanding my phone multimedia computer better, it’s starting to become a pleasure to own. I love that I have one click access to my RSS feeds via google reader. Waiting in line for a latte becomes an opportunity to do a little reading. Checking the weather while motorcycling is now one click away as well, instead of a clumsy drilling process. (That would’ve been helpful two weeks ago when we were heading into severe wind in Central Washington.) I’ve yet to use the camera or video recorder much, nor listen to music, but I’ll probably venture into that territory soon. And I’m eager to try out nuTsie the new service that lets you “access your entire iTunes music library from your cell phone.” Glad I didn’t bother to download any of my own files into the device.

Designing mobile presence: The Nokia N75 and the web

I don’t use my cell phone for voice nearly as much as I use it for internet access. About a year ago I was ready to update my then two year old Samsung cell phone for many reasons; one was because it couldn’t run java applications. After working at Vulcan on the FlipStart for a year, I’d knew it was possible to access real time traffic and bus information, view rss feeds, gmail and and google maps, or run an app called Widsets (basically widgets for a mobile device), but you needed a phone capable of java. I also wanted a robust browser and was not impressed with what I’d demo’d on the Blackberry, the Trio and other cellular devices.

Sometime last year Nokia’s Symbian 60 (mobile OS) came out with a cool new browser that received rave reviews for it’s ability to display full size websites that could be selectively zoomed. I had fond memories of the Nokia UI from my first cell phone many moons ago and had read enough to believe they had the best UI currently available. I really hated the Samsung UI and hadn’t seen anything better on other brands of phones. Unfortunately, none of the US providers were offering S60 devices at that time and didn’t feel comfortable buying an unlocked phone that wasn’t supported through a carrier. So I waited. I’m good at that.

In January the iPhone buzz began. Apple was redefining the user interface for a mobile device. The product was stunning. So although I was still waiting for a US carrier to offer a S60 device, I briefly considered buying an iPhone six monthes hence. The thing is, I never buy the first generation of anything – especially something as revolutionary as the iPhone. I’d much rather let the early adaptors blow the big bucks on the first gen device while I wait for the bugs to get fixed and the price to come down.

Finally word came down in April that Cingular the new AT&T was offering the Nokia N75. This was precisely the phone I wanted. And since Cingular had a five year lock on the iPhone, I could rationalize the two year contract, as I can switch to the iPhone next year. So I bought the N75 for a sweet $150 from

I’m now three weeks into my experience with the phone. And although I do think the UI is far superior to my three year old Samsung, I’m sadly not blown away. I’ll provide one example for this post with more observations to follow.

It took me DAYS to locate the S60 browser.

Cingular places MEdia Net, their internet portal, on the top level screen via a softkey. The UI for their service is – well – uninspired and clunky, with a design that looks straight out of 2002 (and that’s generous.) Their goal, one assumes, is to keep you in a walled garden of content — not really let you explore the wild world of the web where their chances of monetization are greatly reduced.

So where was the GOOD browser – the one that would burst me free of mobile web constraints? Nokia has about 12 categories in their top level menu. One is called “Games and Apps”, and that’s where Gmail landed when I downloaded it so you might think it would live in there. Nope. I finally stumbled across a link called “Web” in a folder called “Tools” There’s nothing to suggest this web link is any different from the Cingular MEdia Net link as the icon is exactly the same, so imagine my surprise when it indeed launched a new browser with the S60 zoom capabilities. Days after desiring and searching for this well touted feature, I’d finally FOUND it.

What’s wrong with this picture? The primary driver for my purchase took my hours to find. And I WANTED to find it. The user guide didn’t tell me where to find it. An hour’s worth of research online didn’t tell me where to find it. Cingular’s website didn’t tell me where to find it. I had to stumble across it and take a stab after having already taken many other stumbling stabs that hadn’t found a target. This experience did nothing to enamour me to either the new AT&T (there, I said it) or Nokia. While I would love to build some brand loyalty to a manufactor and/or a carrier, it hasn’t happened yet.

More observations to come.