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Mobile User Experience according to Google
Leland Rechis presented Googles Mobile User Experience Strategy in a talk in NYC last year:
- Understanding users, anywhere, anytime
- Fits in your pocket
- More personal than the PC
- Consistency across modes
- Localization is intensified
- Integrated devices, modes, products
Nothing revolutionary, but mostly sound principles. For a utility application like email the core is: Can the user get the information, and fast? Answer this question and you're far ahead of everyone else.
Gmail mobile is the kind of application that lends itself to a Activity-Centered Design. It certainly don't try to make the experience fun or interesting, the approach is: get the job done with a minimum of hassle. Gmail should be evaluated on these premises. Btw, I'm using version 1.5 on a N95.
Gmail mobile in general is a great app. Its a painless install, it starts reasonably fast, it is responsive and does not freeze your phone while it's retrieving mail. This is good. If you know Gmail from the fixed web, you recognize it immediately. Gmail organizes your mail in conversations. This is great, way better than organizing emails in folders. Gmail carries this over to mobile. The primary activities for most users are checking and reading email, and this main use case is well executed.
I managed this only once
The not so positive
The bad news is that Gmail stumbles when it comes to the secondary use cases: Searching mail and Composing mail.
Don't lose my text
Text entry on a mobile phone is hard for most users and one of the most important rules in mobile development is: "Thou shalt not mess up thy users data". Mobile use is fragmented. Suddenly the phone rings, the cab arrives, your bike tilts, you mistakenly hit the red button because a velociraptor bumped into you, whatever the reason.
It's easy to close Gmail. Hit the red button (End Call) and its gone. If you receive a phone call and hit the red button twice when you hang up, Gmail closes.
This is fine. What is not fine is that Gmail also loses the mail you were in the middle of typing. I think Gmail tries to save, but it's buggy. I managed to recover the mail once out of 10 tries.
Adding recipients is clumsy with several screens, a lot of clicking and separate functions for entering email addresses or selecting from "most contacted" or "all recipients". All of this could be done much more elegantly in a single screen with a continuous filter.
The built-in Address Book on my phone is full of email addresses, but there is no way add recipients from the Address Book. This not a technical problem, and it would be a useful feature in my case.
It's only possible to have a single draft. Mobile drafts and drafts in Gmail on the web is not related. I'm not sure I understand the reason for this.
Search don't work
Search Results Page
Conversations can grow long, especially if you subscribe to mailing lists, you can easily have 100 emails in a conversation.
If you search for something Gmail will return the conversation, not the individual email containing the word. It will tell you that "somewhere in these 100 mails we found your search term". Gmail does not highlight the hits in the text either, so you have to manually open each email and look for the text. Sort of ironic that Google can't get search right, but there you go.
A basic rule of an SRP (Search Results Page) is that it should display the results in an easily scannable way. The SRP uses a dual line list, and one improvement could be to display the search text in context on the second line. Another could be to use triple line lists. And the results should show the actual mails, not the first mail in a conversation.
Inconsistent use of UI controls
Adding recipients is clumsy
Who sets the standard anyway? If you make a desktop application, you are wise to follow the UI style of the OS, be it Mac, Windows or something else. The assumption is that users are familiar with how buttons, menus, windows etc. behave elsewhere on their computer so you are doing yourself and your users a disservice by introducing a different behavior.
The same goes for mobile. Many developers goes to great lengths to make their application behave consistently across different handsets. This is misguided. You should make your application consistent with the mobile OS it runs on. That means that your application will behave slightly different on different handsets.
Google tries to be consistent across handsets, and that means that Gmail won't feel completely home for anybody.
One example of this is that Gmail uses the left arrow key as a Clear key. Instead of using the Clear key that exist on the majority of phones, and implement a multimode right soft-key on phones that does not have it like Series 40. There is no phone in the universe that uses the left arrow key as a Clear key. Lazy mans solution, I say!
I guess a verdict would be that reading emails works great, the rest needs work.