Well, as every grandma knows today is the fable iTablet/iSlate/iPad unveiling day and in its spirit I thought I do a little unveiling myself. Over the last couple of months in my spare time I've been developing a Silverlight "application runtime", somewhat like Cloud Light, that is designed around a touch-oriented and tablet-style use. Below are some screenshots from my work, which unfortunately is not quite completed yet and obviously draws a lot of inspiration from a certain touch device.
Some earlier development screenshots.
Now in terms of UX there is a lot more to the above than what meets the eye, especially in terms of an out-and-out touch experience. Pictures can't speak, but from my experience developing this runtime there are two fundamental challenges - one windows management, and two application's design. Because I practically started from scratch, windows management has been my primary focus till now - and I can tell you this, getting the subtleties and usability right is almost a "fine art" deliverable. I don't think I have mastered it but I do think I have a starting point, however from my vantage-point I get the feeling of being caught between the richness of a desktop and the simplicity of an enlarged phone experience. Also, I seriously think to really nail the touch experience we need some breakthrough UX metaphors, something on the lines of what cover-flow brought. I have been thinking hard about it for sometime, and I have some ideas but they are still that just, ideas - let's see what iTablet/iSlate/iPad brings forth in this regard.
And I suppose the bigger of the two problem is what you can broadly term "application's design", and by that I mean how do you best visually structure/expose an application's content. iPhone in this regards was a breakthrough, it gave us a general outline of how to visually structure an application - now, arguably the iPhone'ish way could transpose to a bigger device but I have little physical/hands-on experience to conclusively argue that. Only recently have I have been trying to think about applications in such a form/factor, well, you can try some of my experiments in Cloud Light to see how it might or might-not work in terms of UX.
Lastly, this is no revelation but I am pretty sure transposing a normal mouse+keyboard application directly in a touch-environment will fail in terms of usability. Add to that the lesson iPhone Apps taught us in terms of the value of designing the experience to both a hardware's limitations and feature-set, makes me think that specialized apps are the way to go. And in this space Apple is quite smart; as the rumors suggest, Apple is actively courting content specifically for the hardware at hand - and that is a winning strategy in my book as it locks in the content with the infrastructure they sell. And if Microsoft's strategy is to combat Apple with Window 7 on an Hp Slate device, I think they will loose badly yet again.
As for my project, I will keep churning it and take it as far as Silverlight can go. And despite how it might appear, my aim is not to mimic Apple but to expand my UX horizons and develop a supporting framework for both in-browser and out-of-browser applications. Let's see how it goes, for now its over to you Mr. Jobs.
Posted by Rishi on 26-Jan-10 2:54 PM, 44 Comments