iPad Missed Opportunities Part 3: Dashboard home screen

I think I’ll probably get an iPad and, in the long run, I’ll probably think it’s a very well designed device.  However, my first impression when I saw a picture of the iPad was, “Well that’s a goofy home screen.”  Take a look:

Now it’s not too bad.  It’s clean and simple and no-nonsense.  The icons are all far apart, I suppose to keep you from accidentally hitting the wrong thing, and maybe when I get my hands on an iPad I’ll be glad things are spaced so far apart.  But my first impression was that it was a big waste of space.  Also, there’s very little information here; the only think I know from looking at this screen is that I have some unread email, but I have no idea from who or regarding what.

What I had anticipated and hoped for when I heard rumor of the iPad would be that it would give you something a little more useful and information-dense.  I was hoping that the primary home screen would be a sort of dashboard with a whole lot of information available at a glance.  Here’s a mockup just to give an idea:

Now admittedly I’m not an interface designer or even a graphic designer, but the big idea here is to present the user with an aggregated feed of information from several sources.  You have a consolidated inbox of all email accounts, but also the most recent SMS messages, IM conversations, voicemail transcriptions, and even incoming social networking notifications.  Below that, you have news feeds to let you know what’s going on in the world.  There’s a search box that would search all the information on your device, a box that gives you time, date, and the weather, and below that a box that shows a list of contacts in your address book, including the contacts’ IM status.  At the very bottom, a series of shortcuts to the user’s favorite applications.  All in one screen, right there without needing to flip back and forth between applications.

At the risk of overstating things, I think it’s important to note that this isn’t just a different design, but I think it’s actually a different conceptual approach to the interface.  Apple has had a long history of object-oriented user interfaces.  Apple was one of the early developers to use the desktop metaphor, and Mac OS retained a spacial file manager for all the way until OSX.  Even OSX’s Finder exhibits spacial behavior if you hide the toolbar and sidebar.  Apple seems to be sticking with their conventional interface concepts, so it makes sense that the first screen you see is essentially a bunch of little objects– little buttons to press on, and those buttons do things.

Twenty years ago, interfaces pretty much needed to be object oriented and spacial in order for people to make sense of them, but I think people today are ready for interfaces that are a little more abstract.  I propose that it’s time to put the information front and center.  Although I’m generally a fan of Apple’s products, I was impressed to see Microsoft’s new OS for phones.  Instead of filling the interface with icons and fancy jelly-bean buttons, it’s all minimalist white text on a black background.  I don’t know if the UI will be intuitive and pleasant to use, but it looks pretty slick.

Just to be clear, I haven’t presented this interface mockup to propose it as an idea interface.  Interface design is pretty complicated, and I’m sure Apple could come up with something much better.  Still, I’d like to argue that information-driven interfaces could be more efficient than more classic object-oriented approaches. The mockup is just a visual aid.