CES 2010: Mobile Interfaces At Crossroads

With the growing popularity of Android, we're seeing a rapid increase in the emphasis that major mobile device makers put on their own branded user interfaces.

Two years ago, Samsung showed the big effect a really polished UI can have with the introduction of its TouchWiz UI on Windows Mobile 6.1. Last year, companies such as LG, HTC, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung all unveiled new UIs that appeared on dozens of new devices.

Now, in the first weeks of calendar 2010, LG's S-Class UI can be found on most of its major smartphones. LG's S-Class UI appears on a majority of its smartphones, HTC is developing its Sense atop three mobile platforms, Sony Ericsson continues to make waves with "Rachael," and Motorola has introduced its second MotoBLUR device in what is expected to be a long line of them.

I asked Motorola the "chicken or egg" question of user interfaces yesterday: Do you design the hardware first, and then optimize the UI to fit into it, or do you design the UI first, and then optimize the hardware to appropriately utilize the UI?

"We're very much taking it project-by-project. Different phones have different briefs for them. So, as you're aware, the Droid doesn't have MotoBLUR. We thought about the hardware, we had discussions with our carrier partners, with Google, we thought about the individual market needs. So we developed Droid and Milestone without MotoBlur. But then, working on the Cliq product, we felt we needed something special over and above the regular Android, so we developed MotoBlur on that."

So how will the UI experience differ between the MotoBLUR experience on Cliq from something like the Backflip, or one of the many other products the company expects to release this year?

"All of the BLUR experiences in the two products are the same, it's an identical release. Really, it's the design of the phone that's uniquely different this time around. With something like the back trackpad, this would have been something that required a whole team of software engineers trying to then exploit that, now we're going to release the APIs, and say to the developers, 'Have at it, guys!' When developers get a hold of the Backtrack, we'll see it in games and it's going to be really cool."

According to this, it's pretty clear that MotoBLUR is an "egg." The Cliq hardware came first, and then MotoBLUR came in to make it shine, and then the same experience was ported over to the Backflip, and when the APIs for its unique features are released, the user experience will be tailored to fit it. Hardware first, user experience second.

So how will the UI experience differ between the MotoBLUR experience on Cliq from something like the Backflip, or one of the many other products the company expects to release this year?

"All of the BLUR experiences in the two products are the same, it's an identical release. Really, it's the design of the phone that's uniquely different this time around. With something like the back trackpad, this would have been something that required a whole team of software engineers trying to then exploit that, now we're going to release the APIs, and say to the developers, 'Have at it, guys!' When developers get a hold of the Backtrack, we'll see it in games and it's going to be really cool."

According to this, it's pretty clear that MotoBLUR is an "egg." The Cliq hardware came first, and then MotoBLUR came in to make it shine, and then the same experience was ported over to the Backflip, and when the APIs for its unique features are released, the user experience will be tailored to fit it. Hardware first, user experience second.