Sent to you via Google ReaderEntelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.
One of the more recent trends in UI design has been the attempt to make the digital appear analog. It arguably started with the NeXT OS, which had photrealistic icons and used a clever gray scale techniques to give three dimensional depth to windows, scroll bars and other elements. Today, Apple's iPhone compass app looks like it might be more at home on an 18th century clipper ship, and the voice recorder app looks at home in a recording studio somewhere around 1950 -- tap on the "microphone" and the VU meter will react much as it would in real life. Google's added subtle 3D effects to Android's app scrolling. I haven't thought that much about this trend until I recently spent some time using Windows Phone 7.
It's perhaps a minor issue but one of the things I like about WP7 is that it's not a digital UI pretending to be analog. The user interface is flat. There are no photorealistic depictions of real world items, no shading, and no 3D effects. Everything is conveyed through the use of fonts, shapes and color. It's digital and it's proud. Overall, I like it, and the more I use it, the more I prefer it. Returning to a more digital approach means Microsoft was able to rethink the nature of applications and services and create the concept of hubs, where like functions meet similar functions without the need for separate applications. It takes some getting used to, but the more I use it, the more natural it feels.
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