Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Android Wednesday: Inconsistencies Abound

One week ago today I was complaining about the inconsistency between virtual keyboards on the T-Mobile myTouch 4G running Android 2.2.1. I have since been shown additional inconsistencies in the user interface by my sainted wife, who uses hers to text our children as well as many of her friends.

To illustrate the problem we start with the standard touch input keypad in the texting application. I call your attention to the second right button in the middle text area with the paper clip icon. I've touched it to have it extend out to the left. It has a five features that allow you to insert non-textual information into the text message; photo, video, emotion (emoticons), GPS (position) and contact information. The one item my wife is keen on is the emoticon insertion.

Texting in portrait orientation

I don't know why my wife finds the emoticon insert vital, but she does. She uses it extensively. What got her talking to me was her annoyance in not being able to use the emoticons "all the time". She told me that sometimes it was there, and sometimes it wasn't. That's when I had her sit down and show me what she meant.

What I discovered is that the attachment function is different depending on whether the handset is in portrait orientation or landscape orientation.

Texting in landscape orientation

The upper half of the attachment menu

In landscape orientation the attachment button produces a completely different, more elaborate menu than it does in portrait orientation. The elaborate menu completely covers text area and keyboard, and can cause some degree of disorientation, particularly if it's not what you want and you want to get rid of it. For the portrait orientation you just hit the attachment button again to make it disappear. In landscape mode you have to remember to hit the back key on the bottom/right edge of the handset. Very inconsistent. A remove/delete symbol on the right top corner of the menu would go a long way to achieving some degree of similarity with the portrait behavior.

The problem is compounded by the selections offered. They are photo, video, audio, app recommendation, location (GPS), appointment, and slide show.

There a more attachments, some of those that are similar have different names (location/GPS), and the emoticon insert is missing.

The lower half of the attachment menu

The more I work with this version of Android the more I've come to realize just how inconsistent the UI is. I can't believe the same individual/team worked on the subsystems that go to make up the texting application. At the very least, I would have made sure that the same features in the portrait view of the attachment menu were the same in the landscape attachment menu, in the same order, and using the same wording; for example, in landscape mode, 'Location' would be 'GPS Location' to unambiguously drive home that they're the same function. Note that it was done correctly with Contact (vCard). Then add the new extended features.

More generally, I would add a destroy/remove symbol on all large menus that cover the screen so that it's very simple to, well, remove them, especially when you accidentally invoke one. Having to reach away from the screen to a sliver of a button at the bottom edge of the handset is inconsistent and unintuitive.

It's these many little annoyances that have motivated me to learn the internals and intricacies of Android. Right now I'm waiting on the promised OTA upgrade of my handset to Gingerbread/Android 2.3. It's been promised for sometime in June. I'll get a chance to go back and see if any of this is any better. If it isn't then it'll be time to roll up the sleeves and find ways to programmatically fix these issues, if possible, and then distribute them out to the user community, starting with my wife.

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