Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bookmarks, Tabs or Spatial Layout? – How to Find What You Want on your Mobile!

It is interesting to see how old usage descriptions get adapted to new uses but keep their limitations in the new use. Bookmarks and tabs as applied to mobile user interfaces are a cases of point.

Every reader of books uses a bookmark to find where they stopped reading the last time. In cookbooks we place bookmarks at our favorite recipes so that we can easily find them. In web browsers, book-marks have come to mean the list of favorites that point to web sites we like to find. This use of bookmarks works when we have a couple or maybe 10-20 items we want to mark for later easy access. It fails when we have 30-40 and becomes unusable when we have 100.

We are used to tabs from filing cabinets or binders where they are used to group information so that we can easily find it. Each tab can contain several pieces of information, say folders, organized is some type of fashion, alphabetically or other. In web-browsers, tabs are used to keep multiple web sites open and easily accessible at the same time. This use works for 5-10 tabs but fails if we have 20-40.

Folders come to the rescue when we try to organize more material and are used to group bookmarks in lists or tabs. However, once we pass 50, these approaches to organizing our mobile phone reach their limit and become cumbersome. It is time consuming and difficult to find what you want. What can be done?

On approach is to let spatial organization help. Our minds are good at remembering spatial information and if we can organize our sites and apps spatially instead of with lists of bookmarks and tabs, we can easily find what we want. All cell phones even have a special button for spatial (up/down, left/right) navigation - the directional button. The only thing missing is a better spatial placement beyond today’s pages of icons, drop-down menus of bookmarks or lines of tabs. Is there such a way? Yes, but more about that in a later blog!

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