Watching the Ubuntu Phone Video

Watching the Ubuntu Phone Video

Quick look: The UI looks clean, with a touch of typography and panning from you-know-where, a lot of Ubuntu “everything everywhere”  integration, a decent app model, fresh takes on basic interactions. No stupid tiles, no ugly chrome, good flatness, no skeumorphism makes for a happy designer, or rather design-judgment-dealer-outer.

Based on past Ubuntu incarnations on the PC, one can’t help but wonder how far under the surface one has to dig until this all falls apart. There is some room for optimism, since mobile development community generally brings more design sense to the table then the traditional desktop open source development community does. So, will economics compel established mobile developers to branch out to this platform ? (Maybe because they aren’t making any profits in the established platforms either… not a great motivator, but a real one.) Or is this platform the inroad-to-mobile for open source ugliness ?

 

The Ubuntu phone looks compelling in that it takes the shedding of desktop tropes further then the alternatives do. It’s good to see another incarnation of swipe-ology as a touch/mobile native interaction paradigm. There are many new details that offer places for new devils to hide, but at least some old ones get banned.

If I look at non-digital-natives struggling with the very basics of their iPhones and Androids though, I wonder if this step forward widens the digital moat, via departure from conventions and upping the complexity of of the mental model required. Or will the better experience nativity ultimately contribute to bridging the divide instead, lowering the barrier for users with minds unspoiled by desktop ballast ? This comes down to the UI design zero-sum game: more appropriate representations – better design – enable more understanding of complexity, but at the same time, the complexity of the systems represented raises.

The battleground for user acceptance is in emerging markets, not in the US / Europe, so we’ll watch from a distance. User’s actual preferences are of course only a small part in the acceptance of an alternative OS. The phone is still a utilitarian, shrink-wrapped black box for most users, just as carriersaurs want it. In this situation, the user experience is more of a potential motivator for decision makers to give the platform a shot with users. The platform’s provider-oriented economics around installation cost and app store control are probably more important factors, but the experience is still an enormous success motivator – its intuitive, tangible qualities act in a counterintuitively intangible way.

 

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