Mobile UI Trends: Is More Better?

zenzui.jpg A couple weeks ago, a couple of new pieces of mobile phone software debuted, both (coincidentally, I think) connected to Microsoft. ZenZui, a company spun out of Microsoft’s research labs that’s developed a new interface for mobile content browsing, and Deepfish, a mobile browser also from the company’s labs. In addition to the Microsoft connection, both ZenZui and Deepfish have something else in common: they’re both built around the idea of “zooming”.

Deepfish (you can check out its demo renders web pages by using a server-side element to send thumbnail images down to a mobile device, and users then choose where they want to zoom in; the system then sends down more detailed versions of the area users want to see up close. ZenZui (they’ve got a demo video too) could be seen as a widget type of system, in which users select “tiles” that represent precached content from various web sites or content provider (sounds similar to Adobe’s Flash Cast). ZenZui — the Zui stands for zoomable user interface — gives users a display of a large number of tiles, then they zoom in to clusters of four, then zoom into an individual tile that displays the relevant content.

Marek Pawlowski has some interesting thoughts on ZenZui as part of a trend towards an object-based, rather than list-based UI, and says such an idea makes a lot more sense in a world where data plays a more central role to the mobile experience — and in particular, one where operators want to drive data usage (hence deals such as Verizon’s to offer Flash Cast). I don’t disagree with him at all, but I’m a little more intrigued by the use of zooming as the central feature of the UI of both ZenZui and Deepfish to accomplish this, because it seems like they’re both simply trying to devise a way to fit more information onto the limited space of a mobile device’s screen.

A common complaint about the mobile web is that it’s unattractive, or even useless, because of the small screen size, but I’ve never much bought into that. Is this focus on zooming a reflection of the idea that making the mobile web and mobile content better is just a question of fitting more on the screen? When we talk about “more” in this context, the focus should be on richness, not sheer quantity, and I remain convinced that this is a information architecture issue as much as a technical issue. The right idea isn’t to simply throw more information at mobile users, but to deliver better information to them.

Deepfish and ZenZui are both interesting products with their own merits, and both do offer a lot of ideas on how to improve the mobile browsing experience. I’m just not convinced that the optimal solution is going to be based only around making it easier for mobile users to sort through more information and content

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