30 October 2008

The Quiet

Its been pretty quiet on this blog for the last 6 weeks or so. I have been very busy working on an interesting, fairly complex and fairly large JavaScript application during the day and then recovering from it at night! I also had the pleasure of a lovely week away in this period of quiet.

I have also recently got my hands on a rather sexy new phone - an HTC Touch Diamond - and have spent a lot of time playing with that. Its a Windows Mobile PocketPC and its been an interesting experience, particularly Opera 9.5 Mobile which is the default browser.

Browsing on a handheld device has been a new experience for me. My phone comes with Pocket IE installed as well, but that is rather archaic. I have done all I can to avoid using it.

Opera Mobile however is a fantastic browser. Its fairly fast, pretty standards compliant and renders most pages rather well. It has also given me a useful insight into a different type of user agent for browsing the web. Its quite a different experience and its easy to see which sites are well designed and which are not.

I have taken away a couple of important lessons from my experience. Firstly, clear interface design is very important on this type of device. The browser can zoom into pages but when a page loads, it is zoomed out and most text cannot be read clearly at all. However, a site with good design is very usable as I can zoom in on just the right area. Clearly defined navigation really helps with browsing on a mobile device.

The second lesson I have learnt is that the easiest sites to use employ a liquid or semi-liquid layout. My phone has a resolution of 480x640 and if a site can flow its content to fit into either of those widths, that helps greatly. If I were designing a website today, I would definitely ensure it works in a browser width of 640 pixels!

The final lesson I have taken with me thus far is that the size of elements on screen really matters. I use my finger to navigate a website and having links tightly packed together with a small font size makes life very difficult. Having small form fields or form fields with a small font size and another link right next to or just underneath the form field can make it difficult to select the element I want to interact with. Finally, having heavily styled buttons, especially image buttons makes submitting a form harder than it needs to be, particularly if pressing enter on the keyboard does not work.

For me, the most noteworthy new aspect of interface development that I will carry with me is the importance of keyboard interaction with a form - never ever stop a form being submitted with the enter key!

There is much more to say about this phone and browsing the web using Opera, but at least for now, the quiet is no more!

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