some thoughts about sailfish

My first thoughts about Sailfish were that it was a bit too convoluted, that they broke their own architecture of hierarchy either in app or out, at random.

I also didn’t like the new fade effect instead of harmattan’s swipe, and thought of it more as a patent avoidance issue.

Now I think I was wrong. I was trying to find an analogy to the actual world and I constructed one, then thought that some parts of the OS were breaking it. Truth is there wasn’t one.

The fade animation I mentioned above is not just a different way to handle swipes. It tells you right in your face, that there aren’t any layers. You can swipe from the same edge to toggle two views: good luck finding a structure with a physical equivalent that has this property.

iOS’ 6 skeuomorphy was a visual one. Harmattan’s was a structural one. You could always have an analogy of layers in your mind which helped you remember where you were supposed to find things. Like all other real-world analogies, they are good as long as the user is unfamiliar and hasn’t yet fully embraced technology, but after a tipping point it becomes an obstacle, and one very difficult to overcome, just because **everybody else does it that way**

For how many years have we put up with an inbox and outbox in our mail/sms software? It has clogged the internet and filled our mails with TOFU replies just because years ago we had inboxes and outboxes on our physical offices. It is obviously better to sort by conversation, we were just too blind to see it.
Files and folders in filesystems are another example. In the real world you can’t put a file, the same one (as in if you change one, changes appear in the other location too), in two places at the same time. We still keep that limitation in modern operating systems, despite being only a logical one. Hardlinks are supported by all modern filesystems, yet there is no integration in any modern OS. (On the other hand, GMail has abused IMAP folders -calls them labels- to put an email in two folders at once).

Sailfish has gotten rid of the structural skeuomorphy. And it’s beautiful. It allows gestures to be general purpose, just as software buttons are. A swipe right can mean different things, like Accept, or go to relevant information, or something else. Visual cues are there to teach you what a swipe will do at each time, you just need to erase your muscle memory and look before you swipe, just like you look at the label before you press a button. Is it slower? Maybe. But it allows for so much more functionality without adding clutter that it’s worth it. Because there are countless times where you can’t put something there just because it breaks the self-imposed structure.

This is the reason most reviews said it’s too complicated: you can’t expect things to be in a certain place neither because they are there in other platforms, nor because they follow a replica of a physical media. You have to learn where things are. But they are a few of them, they are easy to learn, and that effort is well-compensated with the ability to do more with less clutter.

I’ve got some concerns on the other hand too, however: silica is too much focused on listViews. A great bunch of content-consuming apps are really lists, but the current offering seems unable to support productive apps. What about editing a 10-page long document? Will I have to scroll to the top to access the pulley? How would a context menu on a page look like? Is it up to the developer to decide?

Even if the current component set is to be streched to it’s boundaries to support more advanced applications than your run-of-the-mill twitter client, I think that some official mockups would help a lot to establish UI practices.

Sidenote: I’d like if a swipe back from a specific view could be ‘undone’ just like forward in the browser, or like the nautilus breadcrumbs: as long as you don’t branch away from the path, the forward/deeper history remains.

One thought on “some thoughts about sailfish

  1. IMO, Sailfish has introduced some really great, fresh new stuff into the UI arena.

    The one thing that’ll always stick around in my mind would be the countdown-to-delete – there’s just this something about “Are you sure you want to delete X?” dialogs that we’ve gotten used to.

    However, even with the OS-wide swipe actions, and even after playing around with it for two whole days now, I think that the “memorization curve” (as opposed to learning curve) will take some time.

    There simply isn’t enough (for me) nuance and context to each UI element – take a quick glance at the screen and all I see is whatever color ambiance I set. It takes some time for the whole thing to sink in – for my mind to put together an image of what’s there.

    It’s pretty, and at the same time pretty usable, but I think that there’s still some room for improvement – here’s hoping the community feedback will help with that.

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