Nokia Interface Expert on Phones, Blogs
With the addition of cameras, music players and more, mobile phones are becoming increasingly more integrated with consumer electronics and a staple of everyday life. BetaNews spoke with Nokia's top user interface guru, Christian Lindholm -- once dubbed the "godfather of mobile phone users" -- to discuss the design challenges prevented by such convergence, and his new project called Lifeblog.
BetaNews: To start off, can you provide us with a bit of background on your work at Nokia? You developed the Series 60 user interface and the Navi-Key. How did you get started on interface design and what were your
goals with the work?
Christian Lindholm: I got interested in user interface through my studies in economics. I have been keen to research what the economic value of design is and what 'laws' govern design. Before joining Nokia I spent a year doing postgraduate research in design management at London Business School. My
focus was on entry strategies into emerging markets where no dominant design was prevailing. I looked at Apple's Newton and compared it to Psion Series 3a. For some reason the software started to interest me more.
One day I saw an ad in the newspaper, where Nokia was looking for a product manager for user interface. I applied and my background in design management landed me the job, I knew little or nothing about phone UIs. In retrospect I think this was my blessing, no mental baggage. I looked around and learned as much I could from my colleagues and I challenged the status quo. My superiors were very patient and supportive of me.
I had two goals when I joined: improve on the first generation of the softkey UI and create an entry level UI. The result of the work was the UI featured in the Nokia 6110 and the Navi-Key UI. The goal has always been the same: enable ordinary people to accomplish what they want to accomplish. I get great satisfaction when people realize that they can do things with phones.
BetaNews: Numerous phone manufacturers have begun focusing around Windows Mobile with their high-end devices to give customers a more familiar interface and applications. How do you think Series 60 compares with Microsoft's mobile interface work?
Christian Lindholm: It has been very interesting to see the evolution of Windows Mobile from very PC centric to the current form of being very phone centric; Windows Mobile devices are more similar to Nokia phone style experience than to Windows PC style experience. I am an advocate of choice for users and the choice is best when there is tough competition.
BN: With communication between computers and mobile devices becoming increasingly important in daily life, is Nokia at a disadvantage by not having native integration with Windows on an interface and application level?
Lindholm: I do not think it is a problem, the Windows platform is a solid and mature platform and lots of companies have been able to create value on top of it. For example, in Lifeblog we do very sophisticated synchronization of multimedia without integration of Windows.
BN: You have said that one-handed operation is key to reaching a mass market. Can you expand on this? Are the Sony PlayStation Portable and
Microsoft Portable Media Centers too big to really catch on in your
Lindholm: One-hand operation is key for any type of multi-tasking. The mobile phone is evolving to a moving computer, a computer that is used while you physically move and here the only way is to enable one hand use.
If you sit down, the usability reward of taking out a PC with big screen and proper keyboard is big, and hence, I think the mass market gravitates to two devices rather than one. The key problem that has not been solved on the media consoles is text input.
BN: How do you feel about the convergence of consumer electronics with the mobile phone? Every year phones are expected to pack in more functionality including cameras, radios and music players, PIMs and more. Is this a step in the right direction or are phones becoming too "bloated" and hard to use?
Lindholm: I see a constant evolution in the form of the devices, so Louis Sullivan's old axiom "Form follows function" is very true.
BN: Your current work at Nokia has revolved around Lifeblog. Can you tell us a bit about the project and its aim?
Lindholm: The aim of Lifeblog is simplify the collection, organization and sharing of digital memories. When users annotate what the machine created automatically, it becomes your digital diary. As digital cameras in phones become ubiquitous then the behavior of photography changes from event based to a form of memory augmentation.
BN: How does the mobile phone fit into this new "blog" culture?
Lindholm: I think it is a perfect match. PC driven blogs are text driven and, hence, visual media to illustrate them is either someone's copyright or hard to create. The camera phone makes this amazingly easy. This is just an evolution of SMS text messaging where you do not communicate with a person but a place frequented by people.
The more you feed into the blog the richer the experience becomes. If you look at my public timeline on my blog it has a few hundred pictures with annotations and this has been created in the past 14 months. Each picture and text is an interesting little snippet or story, but there is also value in the whole timeline.
If I would have spent the same effort for example to send an MMS to an individual, then there would never accumulate an asset like the one I have now. I think blogging will just evolve into another form of communication; it has a very unique purpose along side e-mail, chat and SMS.
BN: What are your future plans with Lifeblog - where do you see it headed? Do you have plans to ship the software with Nokia phones?
Lindholm: I am not able to discuss future product plans, but we are evolving it and we are getting interesting feedback from users where they would like to take the product.
BN: What are some things you like about current mobile devices and what are some things you want to see changed?
Lindholm: I am still amazed by how cool it is to have a camera in the phone. For example the Nokia 6680, which has a shutter slide, is ergonomically one of the best cameras I ever used. Hold the device and shoot images without needing to switch position is really great.
The key thing where I would like to see much more effort put is on text
input. It is hard to do, but of all the enablers it is one of the key ones.
BN: Lastly, aside from your phone, what is your favorite interface that you use on a daily basis?
Lindholm: I have many: My wife and kids, Series 60, Google, Firefox. I am very picky, but I do like to use Lifeblog. I am pleased with how it turned out, and the utility of it surprised me.