March 05, 2010

home is where i want to be

As an iPhone user, Jason Snell’s writeup of what he’s learned from using a Nexus One is enlightening. (“If the iPhone didn’t exist, I would have the Nexus One in my pocket right now—but then again, if the iPhone didn’t exist, the Nexus One wouldn’t either.”)

slide-screen I keep hearing fundamental things about the Nexus One that turn me off, like, for example, the fact that the on-screen keyboard can’t keep up with any reasonable pace of typing. I do a lot of writing (email, notes, twitter, etc.) on my phone, and if the Nexus One’s typing experience is a step backwards from the iPhone, then it’s a deal breaker.

The part of Snell’s piece that I found the most interesting, though, is the discussion about the home screen and notifications. It’s the one place where the Android platform is seeing a lot of developer experimentation and innovation, from the user customization tools that are built into the Android OS, to fully baked and branded experiences like MOTOBLUR, or independently developed applications like SlideScreen (pictured here).

Assume for a minute that Apple does want to evolve the home screen / notification experience in the next rev of the iPhone OS. Here are three things they could do (they aren’t mutually exclusive) to drive that evolution:

  1. A better Apple-provided out-of-the-box solution for notifications and glanceable home screen summaries of messages, events, social network notifications, etc. Likelihood: high.

  2. A framework for third party applications to provide “out of sandbox” information snippets and notifications (beyond cloud-delivered push notifications) that will appear in the notification stream or on the user’s homescreen. Likelihood: maybe.

  3. The ability for third-party developers to ship applications designed to be installed and run as “home screen apps,” and essentially take over the role of notification delivery vehicle and application launcher. These home-screen apps would presumably have access to snippets and notifications delivered by other apps. Likelihood: no way.

I can see (1) happening - they really do have to at least fix the notification problem, and they have to do something with the UI to catch up to (or leapfrog?) all the innovation that’s happening in the Android space. And I’d love to see (2), where notifications are delivered from the cloud, and the “badge count” metaphor is expanded to include headlines or snippets of information. (Don’t just show me I have 12 things due today in Things, show me the headlines of the first few and then let me tap into launch the app and view them all.)

But I just don’t see (3) happening. No way, no how. Especially in the context of the current patent suits – there’s no chance in hell they’d risk sending the market the message of “you know that core iPhone experience that we’re suing you over? Well, now any application developer can override it.”

I seriously hope they’re doing something to improve the notification / home screen experience. Because in the meantime I’m looking at all the activity in Android land and it makes me jealous. Not that any one of them has completely nailed it (though I think SlideScreen is very nice), it’s that there’s action happening there: designers in market evolving design approaches to the opportunity of an always-on, always-connected 3.5” glass screen in your pocket.