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Metro style – (dis)advantage of Windows Phone 7

, 4 May 2012 CPOL
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Article about advantages and disadvantages of Metro design. You can find basic information about Metro and design principles explained by examples.

My friend (with a little technical knowledge) decided to buy a new phone and asked me to help. In the shop we got a phone with an Android and the second one was a phone with Windows Phone 7. According to staff an opportunity to use both phones was the best way for making decision. And what did my friend see? By using the Android he saw a beautiful colored UI with various shapes, which was possible to customize and numerous installed programs in well-arranged menu. Delighted at this phone he took the WP7 phone. There were squares in two colors, small digital clock in right corner and few programs in strange menu before him. Decision was made…

And now imagine a situation in which staff describes features of both systems. Why didn’t he say that WP7 could be personalized too?! That it is possible to download a lot of applications using the internet connection? He could notice that UI was less attractive at first sight, but it was easy to control, battery saving and also with great hardware. It is also fast and stable. If you want to have a fun with it, you can play Xbox games. And it is really great to use it in the sun! 

I think that my friend could think absolutely different after this, don’t you think?

What is Metro

According to the title this article is focused on Metro style and its advantages and disadvantages. But you can find no answer to what is dominant. You should make your own decision. It is important to know both sides of this coin, because I think that the UI together with applications bring to mobile phone an added value and a competitive advantage.

Most of you know Metro very well, so here is only basic information. Metro is the name of the design language created for the WP7 interface. Sources of this design included Swiss influenced print and packaging with its emphasis on simplicity, way-finding graphics found in transportation hubs and other Microsoft software with a strong focus on motion and content. Metro has also revitalized third party applications. The standards that have been developed for Metro provide a great baseline, for designers and developers alike. Those standards help them to create successful gesture-driven WP 7 experiences. (Source: http://www.microsoft.com/design/toolbox/tutorials/windows-phone-7/metro/)

Advantages and disadvantages of Metro very clearly

We have created a chart containing advantages and disadvantages of Metro design according to several sources, especially web discussions and communication with users and developers. There are some features which are not explicit so you can also find a column called Neutral.

Fast and reliable

Microsoft organized an interesting competition during the International Consumer Electronics Show 2012. He wanted to show, that a phone with WP7 could do current operations (e.g. sending posts to Facebook, uploading photos to Twitter etc.) faster than smartphones with other operating systems. The owner of a mobile phone which could overmatch WP7 phone would get $100. There were phones like Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4S or BlackBerry. Results are really very interesting. Windows Phone won 21 times, once lost and twice there was no winner. (Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zQZww_C6Zgg)

One of the reasons of this success is hardware co-operating with tuned software. But I think that Metro has also a share of this success. Go on reading to find out why! 

Sharp vs. round corners

Let’s look around you; at your mouse, phone, computer, table… Are there more sharp or round edges? There are some studies, which explain perception according to the shape of objects. Bar and Neta (2006, 2007 and 2008) say that “the reason why sharp objects are liked less is that they appear as potential threats” (Source: http://barlab.mgh.harvard.edu/papers/perception_2011.pdf). I couldn’t find what shape objects should have in applications according to Metro guidelines. But almost all controls in Controls design guidelines have rectangular corners without radius. (Source: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh202879%28v=vs.92%29.aspx). I suppose that important elements of Metro design are exactly edges without radius. Each user perceives this feature differently. Some of them welcome this simplicity of shapes without radius; the others perceive sharp corners as something unpleasant.

And what’s your opinion? Is this an advantage or a disadvantage of Metro?

Black and white. Or does it seem only to me?

I couldn’t find which colors are preferred in Metro guidelines. But there are a lot of applications for WP7 with dark UI using only two colors, especially using black and white. Metro is based on simple combinations of colors and dark themes are really dominant (my opinion). Majority of users consider this combination really depressive. 

Where is the problem? Why not to use more colors?

One of Microsoft guidelines says: “An application that mimics a real-world device or tool can be valuable to people. “ (Source: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh202891%28v=vs.92%29.aspx) E.g., user can interact with 3D compass intuitively when it appears in an application. Or if user sees cylinders, he knows that it is possible to rotate them.

People don’t like reading manuals and if they don’t know intuitively how to use an application, they don’t use it as much. If developers are interested only in functionality (e.g.,  Bauhaus design), applications are cold and impersonal. Imagine your own room arranged in Bauhaus design. There are only things which are exactly usable, nothing more. No decorations, no flowers. And everything has sharp corners…

There are also nice applications in Metro style, but if developer doesn’t have an ability to create well-looking app and doesn’t cooperate with designer, ugly application is in the world…

Green phone saving battery

I can’t say that mobiles with WP7 are “green”, but I think that they are “greener” than others based on battery consumption. Of course it is very difficult to measure exactly a standby time. Metro is helpful also in this way. Simple user interface without gradient fill and with few colors has not so high requirements of processor, which logically spends less energy. Dark themes are also smaller wolfs of energy. This is a big advantage of Metro! 

I am not sure that you have noticed that WP7 runs in 16bpp. It is consistent with Metro, because it doesn’t use wide colors palette. But there is also an opportunity to use 32bpp in your application.

But why Microsoft decided to use 16bpp?  

We can only discuss about this, but it is comprehensible that it has some advantages, e.g., battery life, performance, memory. (Source : http://wp7developers.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/death-to-banding-windows-phone-devs-please-upgrade-your-apps-to-32-bitsperpixel/)

But speaking of displays…

OLED 

We know some types of displays used in mobile phones, e.g., TFT, OLED, AMOLED…  Windows Phone 7 displays likely use OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology. We can find some advantages and disadvantages of using this type. The most interesting is power consumption. An OLED display consumes less than half the power of an LCD display of the same size, but only when the screen is mostly black. For an all-white screen, an OLED consumes more than three times the power of an LCD. (Source: Programming Windows Phone 7 by Charles Petzold)

It is a moot point because own preferences of each customer can significantly influence battery life. As we can see in Metro applications and WP7 GUI, it is preferred to use two colors and dark themes.

Symbols and text

This symbol is well known wherever you are. It is a standard symbol used everywhere in the world in the same way.

But let’s go back. I have mentioned that it is really great if you can control an application intuitively. We can accomplish this by using similar structure and standardized symbols together with right placement. Looking at Metro we see the uniformity which helps to use different applications really very simply – controls are at same places and symbols have the same meaning. This information contribution is also an advantage of Metro design.

But text is also very important. And text denies this principle of Metro in some way. We need it because of an information value but there is sometimes really a lot of text in Metro design. Then users are confused. Sometimes they can’t even read the whole text. I think that Metro designers should find equilibrium of text and symbols. 

New WP7 phone with non-Metro applications

I tried all installed apps after buying my new HTC with WP7. There were some applications by Microsoft and some applications by HTC there. I  focused on two of them which potentially contradict Metro design – Calculator and Converter (both by HTC).

Using of expressive gradient fill and round corners is very intriguing in Calculator. But I don’t think that this is Metro. The second application has also gradient fill and round corners and look at the picker of units! Very similar to iPhone… 

And here is a question. Where are Metro principles? It’s true, that there is no rule to use Metro in each application. But Microsoft says:  ,, Keep in mind that as you create your application, it is recommended that you adopt the Metro design style whenever possible.”(Source: http://www.microsoft.com/design/toolbox/tutorials/windows-phone-7/photoshop/).

Why does Microsoft allow installing apps which are not Metro at all into WP7 phones? If HTC can do this, why other developers can’t?

Conclusion

Metro style is absolutely “fresh air” in the world of GUIs. It has a lot of advantages, but as all things in the world, it has also some disadvantages. 

Let’s ask! Is Metro really used in real applications in its full scale or is it mixed with other styles? And what is the opinion of big companies, the developers and mainly the opinion of Microsoft?

But whose opinion is the most important?  The opinion of the customers of course… Because mobile phones and applications have to accomplish their requirements primarily. 

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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Lukas Copus
Marketing Bee Mobile G&M Dynamics, www.beemobile4.net
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Comments and Discussions

 
Questionthe big "color problem" [modified] PinmemberMember 661742119-May-12 8:29 
AnswerRe: the big "color problem" PinmemberLukas Copus21-May-12 1:05 

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