Design Philosophies

To discover the essence of the Palm OS design philosophy, ponder the first riddle.

Riddle #1

Q: How can a gorilla learn to fly?



Hint: You must understand the essence of the gorilla.

Think about the inherent differences between a gorilla and an eagle. Because of their essential natures, the gorilla rules the jungle and the eagle rules the sky. Now think about the intrinsic differences between handhelds and personal computers (PCs).

A handheld is not just a little desktop or laptop PC. A handheld is something else. This is a fundamental lesson that is not so easy to comprehend. Of course you can spot some obvious differences, such as size, but there are implications and usage patterns that are more difficult to discern yet are vitally important when you design for handhelds.

The Essence of PCs

In the PC world there is a linear relationship between features and value. More features are always better. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Corp. President and CEO, put it this way, “Software should get bigger every year.”

In PCs, more features are better

This is the essence of PC thinking: it’s always better to have more features. The customer will be able to do more tasks and, not coincidentally, will have to upgrade hardware and software to get those benefits.

Lost in this formula is the user experience. Lost are the questions: More features for what purpose? What does the user really want to do most with his computer? How long does it take to learn to use, and how hard is it to remember, once learned? Does the computer become a tool for a job, or an alternate experience of its own, in which productivity and utility are forgotten?

In the relationship between features and user experience, a PC is like an sports utility vehicle (SUV). An SUV is large and can carry a lot of people and things. You can add heavy accessories to it without much of a penalty. For instance, you can add a ski rack on the roof, a bicycle carrier on the back, and a minibar in the backseat. If you were going on a camping trip, you could even store a week’s worth of provisions in the rear compartment. In a pinch, you could even set up a small cot and sleep in it! None of these add-ons is a real liability. In all, bigger is better, and more gets you more.

Likewise, in the PC world, more features are better. New circuitry may soak up more electricity, but you are not likely to notice the increase. New components may add weight to the PC, but again, it’s no big deal.

The Essence of Handhelds

A handheld is a different creature: it is like a sports car. An SUV is fine until you need to race in the Indy 500 or escape the bad guys in a high-speed chase. A sports car doesn’t have time for extras that will weigh it down. It has to be maniacally focussed on speed and maneuverability.

Handhelds excel at perceived speed.

A handheld must be quick to use. A handheld is like a sports car because it gets the user from one place to another quickly. The actual technical specifications of a handheld are of little real interest to the user. What matters is how quickly she can reach for the device, open it, find the appropriate information, and proceed with her other tasks. How long this interaction takes can be described as perceived speed. It is a measure of the user’s subjective experience with the handheld. The user doesn’t care how fast the wheels are spinning, if the car is elevated on a rack. People use handhelds to do things–now!

Too many features frustrate customers.

A necessary precondition of perceived speed is an uncluttered and essential set of features. It’s fine to sell someone a knife that has 56 different uses, but if the user can’t find the main blade or the bottle opener without flipping dozens of identical-looking levers, the knife is a novelty, not a tool. Likewise, a handheld application has to offer what the user needs to do and offer it in a way that’s quick to learn and easy to use.

A handheld must be free to roam about.

Furthermore, handhelds take on features at a cost. Some hardware features may sound cutting-edge on the marketing brochure, but could increase power consumption enough to seriously degrade battery life. If one of the requirements of the handheld device was to operate without a recharge or new batteries for several days at a time, then the handheld’s designers have lost focus. An unfocused and undisciplined loading of features makes the handheld bigger and heavier, leading to a spiral of doom, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 More can be less



Handhelds must be wearable

Handhelds must be more than just portable. Handhelds must be so small and light that a person can carry one everywhere, in a pocket or a purse, without even thinking about it. If the device is a burden to carry, it will get left behind and not used. Ideally, it is like a clothing accessory that the user can “wear.” PCs—even laptop PCs—don’t have the same portability or power constraints as handhelds.

Handhelds are about the user

All this means one thing: there is a point of diminishing returns when adding features to a handheld. Adding too much degrades the user experience, as shown in Figure 1.2. And the user experience, not a list of features, is what a handheld is all about.

Figure 1.2 Feature list vs. user experience



Inverse Usage Patterns

Usage patterns also differ fundamentally between handhelds and PCs. People tend to sit down at a desktop or laptop PC for a few long sessions, using the keyboard, large screen, and hard disk to create and edit large amounts of information. For example, a user opens a word processor or spreadsheet and works for half an hour.

Handhelds are used frequently but briefly

People generally use handhelds in frequent, short bursts—more like a watch than a PC. They take a handheld out of their pocket or briefcase to review and update small chunks of information. For example, they look up a phone number or quickly check their schedule. Figure 1.3 graphically contrasts how frequently and how long people use handhelds and laptop PCs.

In fact, the usage patterns of handhelds are exactly opposite those of PCs. Therefore, taking similar approaches to product design is a fundamental mistake.

Figure 1.3 Opposite usage patterns



Different Design Approaches

When designing for handhelds, you need to take a different approach than when designing for PCs. Trying to fit a full desktop application in the palm of your hand is the worst mistake you can make. It will ultimately lead to failure.

PC Approach

In the PC world, users demand and expect to be able to do many kinds of complex activities. The PC is a tool for doing everything and anything. As a result, applications are typically stuffed with features. They try to cover as many contingencies as possible. In this world where there are few trade-offs for adding functionality, the more features you can give to customers, the better.

Handheld Approach

The practicalities of the handheld world call for a different design approach. Rather than brute force, you have to focus on clever solutions. Hone in on what really matters. A handheld application that is overstuffed with features actually fails its users. You must carefully consider what’s important to put in and what’s important to leave out. You will find this approach more challenging, but the sleek, usable handheld application that results will be worth your effort.

Power is the ability to get the job done

Don’t misunderstand us: customers of Palm-Powered products do want power! But the power they seek is the ability to get the job done. If more features and functions makes a product cumbersome to use, they don’t provide any real power.

If a few well-chosen features enable you to get the job done, you’ve created an application that is actually more powerful than a feature-heavy one that obscures the user’s primary goals. Remember that utility and convenience equal power.

Solution to Riddle #1

Now we’re ready to answer the first riddle. We understand the essential difference between PCs and handhelds. We know that when you add feature after feature to a handheld, you reach a point of diminishing returns and customer frustration. We know that people use handhelds and PCs differently—a few long sessions with a PC and many short sessions with a handheld. In these short sessions, too many features make a handheld cumbersome. On handhelds, the most straightforward designs are the most powerful.

Q: How can a gorilla learn to fly?



A: Only by becoming an eagle.

Learning to fly means learning to think like an aerodynamic creature—one that takes off, ascends, swoops, glides, and lands. It means leaving transportation of coconuts to the gorilla.

If you want to soar like an eagle and design successful products for the Palm OS platform, you must be willing to set aside instincts, knowledge, and experience that you acquired designing PC products.

A note of encouragement: Once you learn to design successful handheld applications, you will find pleasure in whittling down a vaguely-defined, feature-riddled PC application and making it fly on the handheld. You will learn that although the eagle might covet the gorilla’s massive strength and long arms, if it had these features it could not get off the ground.

via:Zen Of Palm


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