The Demise of the Handheld Interface

Am I the only person depressed by the idea that Treos are now going to be Windows Mobile-powered? (It remains to be seen whether there’ll be Palm versions too; it would make sense, at least for a while.)

First off, feel sorry for all the third party developers who came up with great Palm software over the years. Mourn the small file sizes. Mourn the simple interface.

For sure, Palm and the OS had their weaknesses. They never seemed to really improve on the software that was in the Palm IIIs except add some colour. They missed more opportunities than your average Premier League club. And my Treeo 650 still crashes on a regular basis. But Windows? Why has nobody ever questioned the wisdom of mimicking a Windows environment and GUI on a screen the size of a cigarette box? The whole idea of Windows is to have lots of programs open that you can see on your screen and move stuff between. When did anybody ever do that on a Pocket PC?

I hate everything about Pocket PC Windows. I really do. There’s no style, no grace to it. Too many unnecessary lines. Big clunky scroll bars. Silly start menus that are at the bottom or top of screens, making for awkward stylus (or finger nail gestures.) Why is the only serious innovation in this field done by outsiders such as the great University of Maryland-developed Datelens? And what’s so Windowsy about Pocket PC Windows anyway? Why, for example, has Microsoft (nor Palm, for this matter) not figured out how to throw up status messages that don’t take up the whole screen?

Sorry, I’m cranky today. But while I long ago lost hope in Palm turning its software into more than a colour version of its mid 1990s original, I have never been a convert to Windows on a handheld. Is there no vision out there about how we use our portable devices that isn’t just an ugly, stripped down and clunky version of what we have to put up with on our desktop? Why haven’t these wonderfully simple new ideas about interfaces from, say, 37signals spread to the handheld? Or is the future Apple shaped and we haven’t seen it yet?

26. September 2005 by jeremy
Categories: Design, Interfaces, Phones, Software, apps | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. We need a handheld reset. It’s because they’re trying to be a compact edition of windows, instead of an OS for handhelds.

  2. The more things change the more things stay the same. I was one of the first in developing software for Apple’s Newton which IMO was far superior to anything that Palm made. But, Palm killed the Newton because it was smaller and in some ways more focused on what it was trying to do for handheld devices. The Newton was just too big and handwriting recognition via word-based schemes just didn’t cut it. Palm with Graffiti was almost as good.

    Now we see Pocket PC OS killing Palm OS – but maybe it will coexist? The PalmOS is also pretty ordinary – let’s hope someone will challenge soo – an Apple designed Phone-OS??? Can’t wait to see that.

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