Sunday, January 25, 2009

Functionality vs Prettiness

Although I’ve traditionally been a proponent of Windows Mobile as a platform for pocket devices, the arrival of the iPhone certainly shakes the foundations of that conviction.  Watching now the rapid spread of the iPhone I wonder at how something like that could become so popular.  After all, PDA devices that mixed the PDA functionality with a phone are nothing new.  Consider the O2 XDA range for example, which has been out for years.  Nor is the tilt sensor anything unique – Nokia N95 had done it earlier.  GPS – others had it.  We can argue that it was all these features finally have come together in one reasonable package, and we’d be right.  Mostly.  There is however another feature that I think cuts to the bottom of the iPhone sales mystery – the UI.  Apple recognises that great functionality only gets you so far – the average user is a sucker for a pretty UI.  The iPhone is simply a pleasure to look at and operate. Everything from the sliding menus to the gradient background screams “luxury”.

For a lark, consider a unit/currency conversion application. Let’s ignore multi-touch, GPS and tilt sensors  Here’s a screenshot of an existing iPhone app that does this:


And here’s the same functionality, mocked up in a Windows Mobile 5 emulator under Visual Studio 2008, using the Compact Framework:


Sure, I could have made custom controls to beautify the thing, but the point is how far one could get with mostly out of the box tools, and there is no contest.  I’d buy the mobile that gives me the great looking UI, given the same functionality.  In fact I suspect a lot of people will take a hit on functionality for the sake of snazzy UI.  This is one of the reasons Silverlight on Windows Mobile is a big deal, and I look forward to it in “Q1 of 2009”.  No doubt MS will be playing catch-up to Apple for a few years.

PS: I don’t actually own an iPhone, the above is strictly based on short impressions, however I’d argue that a lot of purchasing decisions are made that way, for the majority of the shopping populace.

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