Mobile computing is a revolution in technology that was a very, very long time coming. However, the idea behind pocket computing devices isn’t new, having been greatly explored (if surrealistically) by science fiction such as Star Trek, where mobile devices and tablets, called padds, are used as slim clients to communicate with a central cloud computing cluster. Well, Star Trek’s zany UI design lent us no real look at the way to handle mobile UI design, or really any computer interface design.
So, when pocket computing first became a thing, with PDAs, early fundamentals behind mobile UI design were laid out, with the exception of Windows portables.
This was a time when the realization of the need for complex GUI on limited screen real estate and resolution was finally present, but experimenting with it in various directions was less risky, as PDAs were expensive and a niche market.
Still, a lot of standards that carried over to the smart phone, when it replaced the PDA unceremoniously, were laid out in the early days. Of course, multi-touch screens has changed some of the interaction a bit, with multiple fingers to gesture, rather than simply tapping one point of the screen at a time. But, what should we bear in mind now, as mobile continues to get attention?
#1 – Design for Accelerometers!
What’s an accelerometer? Well, for those not familiar with this term (and that’s nothing to be ashamed of), it’s the component in most mobile devices and tablets, which detects its rotation (landscape versus portrait), and is used for tilting mechanics and the like by games and certain applications.
Now, designing for these isn’t complex, as applications merely run a simple system query to get the different rotations and speeds on three dimensional axes. So, design your systems to support full rotation.
Some devices grip differently than others, due to plugs and ports being on various sides. So, holding a device “upside down” might be comfortable on a unit, because it keeps cords out of the way. Design your interface and UI to shift for all these directions.
#2 – Reduce Long Taps
Long tap is the equivalent of right click on a mobile device, and is pretty universal across different designs and operating systems in this field. Avoid forcing it to be too heavily used, as it’s not a natural feeling gesture.
Include menu tie ins that allow for you to do things by button tapping rather than long clicks.
#3 – Mind Margins
Something that a lot of apps have problems with is margins being a bit off. Tapping things really tightly on any border of the screen makes it hard to press them on multi touch displays, because they’re less precise than magnetic or transistor touch surfaces.
ES File Explorer, for example, mismanages this with gusto, I’m afraid to say.
Mobile UI design has a lot of nuances, so I can’t really condense it into a simple set of points. Minding these would remove a lot of mistakes and annoyances that plague the mobile industry for now. However, things won’t get truly better until tactile keyboards become standard in all mobile devices.