Analysing the 5800 – Nokia’s big day, part II


Turning our attention to the 5800, we’ll start once again with the price, because it is remarkable: just EUR 279 (about GBP 220) without subsidies. It is testament to the scale of Nokia’s purchasing power, the efficiency of its supply chain and its manufacturing expertise that it can afford to market a device with these specifications at such a price.

By comparison, the first iPhone cost more than 2.5 times as much when it launched in the UK for GBP 599.

The 5800 features a 640 x 360 touchscreen capable of displaying 16m colours. There are also surround sound speakers, 8 Gb of internal storage, expandable through MicroSD, a 3.2 megapixel camera and integrated GPS.

When it reaches widespread commercial availability in a few months time, I believe it will be one of the best specified and best priced handsets on the market.

However, as we have seen before, specifications alone mean nothing. The big question is whether Nokia has managed to marry all of these components into a cohesive user experience.

Actual review samples are still hard to come by, but Nokia has produced a wide range of demonstration videos to show different features of the handset.

My first reaction is they have tried to do too much in a single device. The hardware design looks good and the new, touch-enabled version of Series 60 looks relatively easy to use. Overall though, it seems there are a few too many options, a few too many clicks to achieve each user objective and too much on-screen clutter.

It is admirable, for instance, that Nokia has chosen to include a simulated T9-style keypad, onscreen QWERTY keyboard and handwriting recognition. However, the practical reality is this wealth of options will likely confuse the user, causing frustration as customers are presented with different style input options for different applications. For all the criticism levelled at the iPhone virtual keyboard, it has one major advantage – consistency.

Consitency of input method is one of the most effective short-cuts a device manufacturer can take when trying to simplify the user experience. Cognitive science teaches us the human brain masters routine and repetitive gestures very effectively. This is why it is much quicker for a user to press the same key 20 times in a row than it is to press 5 different keys – it is the thinking time in between key presses which damages the user experience.

The 5800 supports input via a stylus, guitarist-style plectrum and finger touch.

I also have concerns about the usability of the touchscreen technology employed by Nokia. Take a look at this Phonescoop.com video on YouTube and you will see how many attempts it takes the reviewer to successfully select an item on the screen:

This is worrying. The unit is a pre-production version, but unless Nokia plans to use an entirely different type of touch layer for the commercial product, it is hard to see how they can sufficiently optimise the technology to provide an acceptable experience.

Again, the iPhone provides the current benchmark in this area and Apple has only achieved a reputation for excellence with its touch layer by marrying clever software with the very best hardware components. I hope Nokia has not taken a short-sighted decision to keep the price of the 5800 lower by using a less than optimal touch layer – this is one area where a hardware manufacturer cannot afford to make compromises.

The first HTC Touch devices suffered in this respect, with the heavily marketed input features failing to live up to expectations. It is a sure fire way to leave customers frustrated and disappointed. If I were a product manager trying to keep the bill of materials (BOM) costs under control, I would be more inclined to sacrifice screen size or quality than the capabilities of the touch layer.

However, Nokia has also made some important improvements in other areas of the MMI. The addition of a single, consistent key for returning to the homescreen and applications list should not be underestimated.

This has been one of the major weaknesses of Series 60-based devices since they launched. So-called ‘Home’ buttons have only just started to appear on some Nokia E-Series business handsets. I believe it is one of the main reasons few Series 60 users take full advantage of the power of the platform and install third party applications.

Many users appear confused by the current Series 60 ‘application’ button which takes them to the main page of icons. Almost no-one outside the mobile business understands that if you hold down this button, it will pop-up a list of open programs, allowing you to switch between them. One of the most useful features of the platform has been hidden behind a poorly conceived UI.

The new key on the 5800 should address this issue. Nokia has also been smart to include dedicated hardware ‘send’ and ‘end’ keys. Although it is entirely possible to implement these in software through the touchscreen, I think users will appreciate the tactile sensation of proper hardware buttons.

This brings me on to one of the key hardware differentiators for the 5800 versus the iPhone and HTC’s growing range of touch products – haptic feedback. The 5800 utilises haptic technology to provide responsive sensation when the screen is touched. It is a difficult thing to describe. The only way to fully understand the difference this makes is to use a handset where it has been implemented (LG and Samsung already offer several).

The inclusion of this technology potentially transforms the user experience, especially for those users who have never been able to get on with touchscreen devices in the past. It just seems to add life to the interaction process. As a user you feel reassured that your touch has been registered and that the device is going to respond, even if it takes a couple of seconds for something visual to happen on screen.

Of course, the caveat here is whether the touch layer itself is of sufficient quality, as I mentioned earlier in the article.

We’ll look at the software platform in more detail in the next article, when we examine Series 60 5th edition, but there are some key new 5800 features which are introduced to take advantage of the large touchscreen.

Chief among these is a new system for handling contacts. Nokia has developed a UI which puts people, rather than functions, at the heart of the interface. For instance, when you select a contact, the screen will display recent text messages and emails you’ve received from that person, entries from their blog and the latest photos from their Flickr stream.

I’ve long held the view that this is a much more logical approach than isolating functions within individual application silos. Humans think about tasks first and then they choose their tools, but for a long time mobile interfaces have been structured the other way around.

Another important addition is the ‘Media Bar’, accessible through a hybrid touch / hardware button located just above the screen. This means it is always available, allowing users to easily get to their photos, videos, music, web and Ovi services from anywhere within the Series 60 platform. This is a big improvement on the previous method of holding down the applications key to open a list of running programmes.

The 5800 will go on sale in several countries, including India, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Russia and Spain. However, it will miss the holiday shopping season in key markets such as the UK, Scandanavia, Germany and the US.

The sales strategy remains ambiguous. For instance, it is not clear if it will be sold in all markets as part of a ‘Comes with music’ unlimited package or whether it will also be made available customised for particular operators.

The 5800 will likely be a strong seller for Nokia. The company is clearly prepared to invest considerable resources in marketing it and, combined with the growing range of companion services offered by the Finnish manufacturer, it makes an attractive sales proposition. Paired with a ‘Comes with music’ subscription, it is the best value portable audio experience currently available.

However, without spending some time living with the device day-to-day, it is difficult to allay some of the fears I have about its usability. I remain concerned about the quality of the touch sensitivity and the impact the huge screen will have on battery life.

I also have a general sense of unease about the methodology behind the software interface. What I have seen so far leaves me worried that Nokia has chosen power and flexibility over simplicity. Historically, that kind of approach has not served the mobile industry well when launching new generations of products.

Check back later in the week for part III, where we will look at the new edition of the Series 60 platform and explain what all these announcements mean in a strategic context for Nokia, its competitors and the mobile consumer.

If you missed part I, where we analysed ‘Comes with music’, you can read it here.

Let me know what you think about the 5800. Are you tempted? Will you be queuing up to buy one when it goes on sale? Will the UI match the elegant simplicity of the iPhone? Post your comments to the blog.


4 Comments

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  1. 1
    Marek Pawlowski

    Let me know what you think about the 5800. Are you tempted? Will you be queuing up to buy one when it goes on sale? Will the UI match the elegant simplicity of the iPhone? Post your comments to the blog.

  2. 2
    Sarah Lipman

    Marek, thanks for covering this launch. I think you’re exactly right that the 5800 is Nokia’s big day.

    Will I be queuing up? Probably. This is one of the most exciting phones I’ve seen in years.

    If the haptic feedback is similar to what I’ve seen implemented up until now, then I hope it has the option of turning it off. As I said back in March (http://www.reallysarahsyndication.com/2008/03/04/iphone-haptics/):

    “I played with some haptic feedback devices at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month and was really disappointed. The vibration comes from somewhere in the back of the phone — from a specific location where the vibrating buzzer is. In other words, the haptic feedback comes from a location not associated with the area with which you’re interacting. For me, it was a distraction rather than a feedback.”

    I still feel that way.

    Sarah

  3. 3
    Marek Pawlowski

    Hello Sarah, thanks for sharing your views on this. A lot of the devices I saw at MWC this year were very much part of the first generation of haptic feedback technology. I’ve not experienced it on the 5800 yet, but the technology is advancing all the time. The major patent holders in this area are Immersion Corporation and they have a hand in most of the implementations coming to market.

    The next step is embedding piezo electric mechanisms directly beneath the screen, which will allow feedback to be localised to the area of touch. They are also advancing the ways in which touch can be simulated, allowing for different types of vibration depending on what you’ve clicked on the screen.

    Check out my article from MWC for more details:

    http://www.mobileuserexperience.com/?p=463

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