Mobile user interfaces have been a subject of heated discussion in the last few years. There seems to be a chorus that any keen mobile enthusiast must be aware of by now – and possibly repeated too. In this article, I will use the user interfaces of the two top mobile OSes as examples.
It goes something like “Symbian is dated; Android is sleek“; “The Symbian folder menu system is unintuitive. You have to go into folders to get to the app you want“. Usually, those commenting are so enarmoured with the swiping that they do on Android that they do not see that they are simply biased.
A few weeks ago when Dayo and I met to discuss towards Mobility Nigeria’s maiden Smartphone Show, we discussed mobile user interfaces. As we both explored the subject, we arrived at the same conclusion that both the folder menu system (Symbian) and the flat menu system (Android) are simply equal alternatives to solving the same problem.
Basically, the problem is that the main menu (and indeed any single menu) page on any mobile device is insufficient to display all the apps on the phone. In order words, there must be a means of getting to the other apps that don’t fit into the main menu.
Mobile UI designers have taken two major approaches – the folder-based menu system and the flat menu system.
With the folder menu system, the user has to tap to get into a folder to access other apps. That’s one step beyond the main menu. Android fanboys regularly lash out at this extra step of tapping to enter a folder.
With the flat menu system, the user has to swipe to open another page to access other apps. That is also one step beyond the main menu. Both menu systems require that extra action. One is not more intuitive than the other. They are simply alternative solutions to the same problem.
In many cases, on flat menu devices (read android), you have to swipe through up to five (5) pages to reach some apps. I know how many reviews of Android devices that I have read in which die-hard Android users themselves mention that they often have trouble remembering what page an app is – and they have to swipe around to find it.
What people need to see is that the question of whether you are tapping or swiping is simply a matter of personal preference. While swiping may seem like more fun to some people, it can be even more time-wasting and energy-dissipating than tapping through folders to look for apps. You see, folders are usually aptly named, making it easy to find what you are looking for. For example, you know not to tap a folder named “Media” when looking for your calendar app. It can be argued that the folder menu system is more user-friendly.
I have used both devices with folder and flat menu systems and I honestly do not see how the flat system is superior to the folder system. I mentioned in my recent review of the Symbian-powered Nokia E5 that I did not see what was “dated” (as people say) about the Symbian user interface (S60 5th Edition had other issues of inconsistency in number of taps – and that has been noted to have been rectifed in the new Symbian touch UI).
What Is Wrong With Those Icons?
It is ridiculous, I know, but I keep reading about the Symbian icons being dated. I have taken a look at icons from iOS, Android, and Symbian and can not honestly tell what that means.
Perhaps what is going on simply is what is encapsuled in the popular saying, “Familiarity brings contempt“? Maybe people just gripe about Symbian icons because they are familiar. You know, there is always the excitement associated with new things.
There are probably a few other valid issues. However, whatever is the problem with Symbian, it is not the folder menu system and it is certainly not the icons. If we are going to criticize, it is important that we present credible criticism.
Please keep your comments to the subject of mobile user interface. I know how easy it is for fanboys to jump in to defend their platform with every other argument but those concerning what is being discussed. Comments that stray outside of mobile interfaces will simply be trashed. Seriously. 😉
For the records, my current smartphone is an Android device, and I love it to bits. I plan on replacing it soon out of necessity, but I have no Symbian device in view. As a matter of fact, all the devices that I am eyeing as replacements all run Android. There.
Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.