Symbian UI concept video from SEE 2009

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At last week's Symbian Exchange and Exposition, Lee Williams (Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation) showed, during the keynote, a concept video of what a future Symbian UI might look like. The video shows a typical use case: accepting an invite to a party via Facebook and, the next day, attending the party. There's a glimpse of a new look homescreen, complete with social web integration, navigation and mapping features enhanced by augmented reality functionality. Read on to view the video and my comments.

The video

To be clear, this is a concept video of a future Symbian UI. This is not the UI for Symbian^4 (although big UI changes are currently planned for this release). However, many of the ideas and principles that appear in the video will likely feature in the future implementations of the Symbian platform.

"An artist's concept of the future of the Symbian UI, also shown in Lee Williams' keynote at SEE 2009 on 27 October 2009. This concept is not part of the Symbian UI Roadmap, but we hope some of the cool features and effects will make it into our reference UI and/or delivered handsets."

Notable features

  • The hardware has a send, end, home and back keys. A 'soft' toolbar running along the bottom of the screen at all times (replacing the tradition two softkey layout) indicates that the UI is optimised for one-handed usage.

    The toolbar changes dependent on the context of the task being carried out (e.g. in navigation mode it switches to 'car', 'walk' and 'transit'. The individual icons contain information, for example, the messaging icon, in the image below, shows that there are three new/unread messages.

  • Additional commands are accessed via a drop down menu at the top of the screen. The status bar area is also notably smaller than at the present time.

    When combined with the bottom toolbar (above), this UI concept would allow for a flatter hierarchy of commands (i.e. no longer has all commands hanging off an Options menu).

  • A long press (tap and hold) to bring up a context sensitive pop-up menu for further actions. Additionally, the screen is faded out to show the currently active action more prominently.

  • A widget based homescreen with slide-in, variable sized, and gesture-to-full-screen support.

  • Seamless integration between different application and web services. For example, the mash up of native mapping functionality with Facebook event information.

  • Kinetic scrolling within a layered window, suggestive of a more advanced graphics framework and a more fluid UX / UI.

    These last three items suggest a move away from an application-based paradigm (application launcher / grids) to a task-based paradigm (homescreen).

Features arriving in Symbian^2, Symbian^3 and Symbian^4

Although this is a concept video, many of the features will arrive in upcoming Symbian updates. In the Symbian Developer Forums Scott Weiss, Chair of the Symbian Foundation's UI Council, offers the following commentary:

  1. Kinetic scrolling (in Symbian^2)
  2. Location-based services (in Symbian^2)
  3. Different widget sizes (coming in Symbian^3)
  4. Animations and transitions (coming with NGA in Symbian^3)
  5. Compass and accelerator integration (coming in Symbian^3)
  6. Menu at the top of the screen (inspirational idea)
  7. Toolbar at the bottom of the screen, replacing soft keys (inspirational idea)
  8. Augmented reality integration (inspirational idea)

The Symbian Foundation is looking for your comments on the UI concept - you can add comments to the YouTube video or post on the Symbian Developer Forums.

Rafe Blandford