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  #30  
Old 09-07-2010, 05:07 PM
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Efficiency is just as crucial as consistency

There's no doubt that a laser-like focus on consistency - in both look *and feel* - is an important aspect of a quality UI/UX, along with visual design (although I do think eye-candy for its own sake gets too much praise/attention).

What often seems to be overlooked or marginalised is that a third aspect - efficiency - is equally important (as jonquirk referred to above).

To take just one example: given the ever increasing amount of infomation stored on / accessed through today's smartphones, protecting access to the device with a PIN (or equivalent) must increasingly become the norm - at the moment, however, this comes at a large cost in usability.

One of the most important use cases for a (smart)phone is to quickly capture some information; whether in a brief text note, as a voice recording or with the camera. With PIN protection, however, simply getting to the point where you can begin such info capture probably takes longer than actually capturing it!

Leaving aside hardware solutions, such as the fingerprint-reader-D-pad of the WinMo LG Expo device (how I'd dearly love such things to catch on!), there seems to be little attention paid in the software to streamlining this scenario... take the E52 - so S60v3 - I've been using recently:

1. Having pressed left-then-right soft-keys to unlock the keypad (~1 sec), and then entered the PIN and pressed OK (~1-2 secs), I then have to stare at a "code accepted" message for almost 4 seconds!! (3.8 when I timed it) before I'm actually able to do anything.

There should be absolutely no need for this message to even exist, let alone waste 4 seconds every single time the phone is accessed. I would assume success anyway (confirmed by then gaining access), unless I actually get a "incorrect pin, please try again" message - and if it needs a further 4 secs CPU time on top of the ~2-3 secs elapsed between starting the keypad unlock and confirming the correct pin entry in order to prepare the screen to be displayed then I'd suggest there's something very wrong in the way the OS is written! At the very least there's a huge area for improvement there.

2. If the device is both pin-locked and keypad-locked is it absolutely necessary to go through a two-stage unlock process or could they be combined somehow?

Obviously you need to prevent accidental key-presses "using up" invalid pin # attempts, but could it be enough to use only the pin-unlock with the following rules (or similar):
- only certain keys activate the unlock process (& screen), e.g. only the D-pad/send/end/soft-keys but none of the alphanumerics.
- the OK key/option to enter the pin isn't available until at least 1 (or 4 if that's the minimum pin length?) potentially-valid characters have been entered.
- once intiated, the unlock process is automatically cancelled if a pin attempt hasn't been submitted within X secs (anything entered is not tested and it doesn't count as a failed attempt)
- after a failed pin-unlock attempt the keypad-unlock process could be required before another pin can be attempted

3. Why can't the OS allow certain functions to be accessed without unlocking the device? (Preferably with at least a little ability for users for choose which functions are so blessed.)

This would be useful for some apps in their entirety (e.g. a torch app), and "data capture" apps - e.g. at least text notes, voice recording and camera - should have a "secure mode" accessible without unlocking the device whereby a new item (note/recording/photo) can be created but existing items cannot be seen/modified/deleted (trying to do so would require the pin to be entered). Then, for example, when I'm walking down the street and think of something I could simply hold down the hardware 'voice' key and and record it - total time a few seconds, or probably less than half the time currently required, and not requiring the attention on the screen/keyboard required to enter a pin.

Just off the top of my head, these would be 3 significant improvements to the efficiency/fluidity of the user experience. There may well be reasons I've not thought of that'd make them impracticable, but the sad thing is there doesn't seem to be much evidence of real consideration being given to any of these sorts of concerns!

[Note: Symbian isn't alone in this, barring minor differences the situation doesn't seem to be different on any of the other platforms from all that I've seen/read.]

Sorry for the long-ish rant!
-SteveB