The shell is starting (and ending?) point where everyone interacts with the phone. Its where users start to use their phone, from launching apps, to viewing notifications.
How does the Windows Phone 7.5 shell compare to iOS5? Read on.
- The iOS shell is VERY straightforward. Out of the box you see a bunch of app icons on your home screen. The home screen can pan several ‘pages’ as you add apps.
- Developers can display ‘badges’ to the app icons to get the user’s attention. The badges can only display numbers, and nothing else.
- The look and feel of iOS has been the same since iOS3, with only very subtle but important improvements made over time (folders, background customizations). Hence, I won’t write much as there’s sufficient written about all over the web.
- iOS is and has always been smooth and slick to use. Even Android phones with dual core processors stutter when swiping screens and scrolling. The iOS does things very smoothly, but on my aging iPhone 4, it occasionally stutters and and isn’t as smooth as it used to be.
- Thankfully with iOS5, there is now a ‘Notification Center’ which can be opened by swiping down from the top of the screen. The Notification center can display a bit more information for apps, like the first few lines of emails, or anything that can be defined by the developer to appear on a popup alert.
- The notification center has tracking and managing notifications among the best on mobile platforms. Its smooth, its informative.
- Individual apps can be configured to display their notifications as either popup alerts(as in previous versions), or as banners (WP7 calls these ‘toasts’) which unobtrusively appear and disappear at the top of the screen. This flexibility is useful as you can set different setting for apps that need to notify you differently. For instance I set the Mail app to just show a banner stating a new mail has arrived, but for ‘Reminders’, I set the notification as ‘Alert’ as I want to ensure the I interact with the notification before dismissing it.
- Notifications also appear on the lock screen as a list, and you can configure which apps’ notifications appear on the lock screen.
- Notifications on iOS is superb. Again, Apple has taken something they were weak at and improved and leapfrogged the competition in making it slick, simple and usable.
- Visually, you can customize the Lock screen and Home screen background wallpaper. That’s all. Enjoy.
- Audibly, you can customize ring and alert tones, even the vibration pattern (very interesting, though not entirely useful). You can sync custom ringtones via iTunes and use them as Alarm, Ring or Text tones.
- WP7 shell offers more functionality than iOS5 (which mostly centers around notifications and list of apps.)
- With WP7, Microsoft introduced a new ‘concept’ of apps
- an app’s main screen acts as a ‘hub’ – a panoramic view of ‘sections’ of the app. Each section can provide an ‘overview’ of information, and users delve deeper into the app’s functionality from those sections. You can swipe left or right to view sections of the panorama and the transitions between panorama is smooth and slick. Developers don’t even have to code this functionality, its all taken care of by the OS.
- An app can be ‘pinned’ to the Start page, and be an ‘extension’ of the app that lives on the Start page – kinda like a widget. This is called a Live Tile, more in this below.
- With the above MSFT has given an additional dimension to how an app interacts with the person using the phone.
Look and feel
- The look and feel of the Metro UI feels rather ‘flat’ after getting used to iOS’s drop shadowed app icons, springboard that has reflections, and toolbars that have gradients and drop shadows. iOS gives a sense of ‘z-axis’ (depth) to its apps. However with so much visual elements on a screen, it can get a bit ‘heavy’ on the eyes.
- Metro UI feels very 2D when first looked at. This is not a bad thing at all, just different – which is exactly what Microsoft wanted to achieve. The Metro UI was designed with simplicity and clarity in mind. Using large and simple iconography, a user can take a quick glance and know what’s its stands for. Mind you, it may seem simple to look at, but its actually quite difficult to design effective icons with a two-color scheme.
- In fact, if you look paid attention to design trends in other industries – advertising, print media, infographics, etc. you’ll see that the trend is to use smaller color palettes, and Windows Phone actually seems to fit right in. Apps that use this usage of smaller color palettes are found to be easy to navigate and use.
- The typography on the Metro UI is excellent, text is large, clean, readable and provides good separation of content.
- Most tap-able content will ‘pivot’ when pressed indicating that this is tap-able. The pivot direction changes based on which side of the tap-able element you’re tapping on. A very nice touch.
- The only thing I would complain is that there is sometimes a lack of visual cue as to what text is tap-able and what isn’t.
- Even though Metro UI doesn’t use as rich a color scheme as iOS, does not mean it lacks in terms of eye-candy. In fact, it feels more engaging than iOS. When a live tile is tapped, the tiles ‘explode’ out and to the left and the app’s UI revolves into view from underneath. When launching the SMS app, the keyboard and text input swipe from underneath and ‘bob’ just that little bit when fully in view.
- The Metro UI is very visually engaging, but not distracting. I find it more engaging than iOS at the moment and always enjoy using the Metro UI.
- Microsoft has even published very useful and detailed user interface guidelines which, when adhered to by developers, give apps a very unified and consistent feel to them. The guideline even gives performance related tips to developers so that they can develop smooth and performant apps. This is just typical of Microsoft which , in my opinion, provides the best development ecosystem (toolset, documentation and community support) a developer could need.
- It is worth mentioning that Metro UI transitions are VERY SMOOTH, even smoother than Android devices that run dual core processors (WP7 does not support multicore processors, but WP8 will). It’s smooth and WP7 is smoother than iOS in some respects. I recommend you actually pick one up and start using it to see the simplicity and beauty of Metro UI.
- Having said all above, I still think feel WP7 should have some sense of depth to it. Putting a little drop shadow, or gradients on some of its UI elements will make feel more ‘polished’ not like a prototype mockup of an OS. Its like watching the original TRON after watching ‘Avatar’. Let me be clear, these are not shortcomings, but the design philosophy of WP7, and they are entitled to do what they want, but my personal opinion is that if you want to wow existing iOS / Android users, I think a little more ‘polish’ is required.
- The Start page acts as a ‘dashboard’ where you can add ‘Live tiles’, widgets that:
- Are shortcuts to the apps. Tapping them launch the app, or can even take to a specific function within the app.
- Can show information to the user without having to launch the app, like, latest tweets, rss feed summary, weather, whatever use the developer can think of.
- Show a notification count telling the user something’s waiting for them.
- The Live Tile is a huge selling point for WP7 as it allows users to get a ‘snapshot’ of things they are interested to know without having to launch the app.
- After iOS5, notifications on WP7 looks weak. Yes you get unobtrusive ‘toasts’ of notifications at the top of the screen but once the toast disappears, you don’t have a centralized list of previous notifications. Apps like messaging, phone and email will show a number of pending notifications, and the same can be achieved by other apps, but the app HAS to be pinned to the Start screen in order to show the notification count. For example, I have the Facebook app on my phone, but its not pinned to the Start screen. If I get a facebook notification, a toast will appear at the top of the screen, but after its gone, there is no more visual cue to indicate that a notification occurred.
- Putting too many apps to the Start does not affect performance, but it creates a long, long list of apps to scroll. Hopefully Microsoft will listen to users and implement a way to group apps.
- I think WP7 needs a ‘notification page’, accessible maybe by swipe-right on from the Start page (a swipe left currently takes you to the list of apps). This page should show recent notifications in a centralized place.
- On the lock screen the only notification icons available are for missed calls, sms or email.
- Interestingly, if a ‘toast’ appears when screen is locked, unlocking will not bring you to the notification’s app. If you tap the notification toast, and then unlock the phone, you will be taken to the notification’s app. In other words, two taps required to go action notification toasts.
- You can customize the Lock screen background wallpaper.
- You can customize the background to be ‘dark’ or ‘light’ and change the ‘accent’. The accents are used throughout the OS and is used to for various purposes, like differentiating unread from read mail, new texts, etc. The combination of changing dark|light backgrounds + different accents allows you give the phone a different ‘mood’ at any time you want. Changes are quick and immediate, there is not even hint of hesitation when changing accents or background colour.
Its hard to say which is better, they are just… different. iOS shell does not offer much functionality, but has the best notification system, while WP7.5 has a weak notification system, but has allows more functionality and information to be displayed to users through its Live Tile system.