As we get closer and closer to the launch of the device which is only in a few weeks according to Jolla’s Chairman Antti Saarnio, everything gets more excited. Recently we have found out about the mapping system on Sailfish OS made by the Swedish company called Appello based on HERE maps material.
Then we’ve got informed about Jolla’s Russian Android application store called Yandex.Store that made a partnership with our battleship so we Jolla Users, can access thousands of Android applications on our device + ability to support any secondary store as well 😉
So today we come to you with our own good news!
Remember the day I tweeted that something exclusive is on the way?
— Jolla Users (@JollaUsers) November 5, 2013
Well today is the day of reveal! That tweet was about Jollausers official forum, and an exclusive interview with Jolla’s senior designer, Mr. Jaakko Roppola regarding the design of Sailfish OS.
You can visit our forum here (We’ll post an extra article regarding our plans for the forum)
For now I want to gather your attention to the more important stuff which is our exclusive interview. Why exclusive you ask? because it’s a detailed explanation of Sailfish UI and how it works + the philosophy and thinking behind it.
So without further ado, let’s cut to the chase:
Jolla Users: Hi there Mr. Roppola. Hope everything is going fine. Now if you please, explain your position in Jolla headquarters for our readers before we start?
- Jaakko Roppola: Warm greetings to all Jollausers readers from Finland. I’m Jaakko Roppola, an industrial designer working as a senior designer, focusing on conceptual, visual and interaction design of both Sailfish operating system and applications.To keep this interview in manageable size, I’ll be only answering frequently asked questions related to Sailfish operating system. The correct person to comment Jolla phone industrial design and product as a whole is our lead designer Martin Schuele. Details about applications deserves a separate topic.So without further ado, first question please. There’s a lot of ground to cover.
J.U: A question from the community that has been asked several times: Are there going to be music controls available on the lock screen?
- Jaakko: We certainly have thought about music playback controls in lock screen, but as a small company, we have to gradually build the core experience and, instead of feature quantity, focus on the quality. Expect to see features popping up and existing ones getting improved after the initial sales release.
J.U: Many people in the community have asked about the limit of open apps. We all know that at the moment it is only limited to 9 apps which personally think it’s practical enough for some important apps to be open. But the main question is, what happens when we open the 10th app?
- Jaakko: This is a frequent question we get, yet an impossible one to answer briefly. I’ll give it a shot: In short, at Home screen there’s space for 9 active covers that will represent your recently used applications, in the order of recency. On launch of the tenth app, the least used application will be hidden, but kept still running. No progress is lost and you can access it always from the launcher below. With that said, I dare you to read past this point for more tidbits about Sailfish multitasking and the thinking behind it. However, there’s no shame in skipping to the next question if you’re just skimming through.As a preface before diving in, an application switcher is an entry point to either running or suspended applications, depending of the operating system. Many of them abstract most of the actual application content, using only an icon to represent the application in question. Some others operating systems reveal more, up to an actual live application window for more authentic overview of recently used applications.Still, many modern mobile operating systems follow a rather black and white model for interpreting application usage, meaning that at any time, user either is or is not using an application. However, even if binary models are easier to implement, people do not work like software does. For us, there are several use cases that wouldn’t necessarily require entering the application at all. Many of them relate to just checking application information, or performing a simple action.
That in mind, application switcher in Sailfish was designed to challenge the black and white industry standard. Let’s look at how.
First, promote information. We gave applications a separate layout that is shown when they appear in the task switcher. It’s used for prioritizing important application information. We call them “covers”. They give applications a meaningful and unique appearance to locate and access them quickly. The information on them maintains user understanding of the application states much better than downscaled thumbnails of full-screen applications, where the shrinking has effectively done away with the legibility.
Second, streamline important use cases. Up to two actions can be triggered by gesturing the application cover horizontally. They are used to control important application features straight from Home, without entering the application, like refreshing a web page, controlling music playback or ending a call. The action can also bring up an application page to streamline common use cases inside an application, like creating a new browser tab, selecting person to call to or setting up a new alarm or timer. So, when a user chooses to leave any application to quickly perform another task, these actions will keep the absence short.
- Jaakko (Continues): Third, forget the desktop model. A good desktop experience requires screen real-estate, which in phone form factor is a bit of a challenge. Instead of a going for a tiny desktop, we placed the task switcher in the very center of Sailfish user experience. Everything revolves around and flows through it. In majority of other operating systems featuring a task switcher, desktop is usually prioritized over it, making task switching more or less optional or detached.Finally, let’s circle back to the current limit of 9 visible application covers. The role models for all task switchers are naturally the ones found from the desktop environment. With large screens, accurate pointing devices and accessories that increase user input bandwidth; the desktop grade multi-tasking is well out of reach of interfaces limited to small touch screens. We also wanted to avoid migrating a common problem from desktop multitasking we like to call “window pollution”. It’s caused by everything being placed inside separate windows. It can easily turn a tidy task switcher into an unsightly mess of identical windows of different shades of gray with minuscule details on them. To prevent that from happening in Sailfish, applications are limited to having a single cover, and also designed that limitation in mind. While 9 covers might sound limited, they can regardless provide extremely efficient multitasking experience. When a single application can have multiple states for its cover, each potentially having unique cover actions to match, user can perform longer and more powerful task sequences with a speed unseen in the mobile landscape, directly from Home screen.
I’d like to remind that while we can refit many current use cases to take use of application covers and actions they provide, we’ve only begun to explore the possibilities. Sailfish application covers do not only increase the multi-tasking proficiency, but equally enable new ways for people to use, design and create applications.
J.U: Like many modern mobile operating systems, also Sailfish uses a lot of gestures. Not everybody likes them, because it’s difficult to remember what all those gestures do. What is the benefit in the approach you’ve selected?
- Jaakko: Don’t worry; you’ll be right at Home when you try it. Outside the virtual world, people are used to swiping, pushing, pulling and flicking things to interact with them. Using similar approach to interact with a touch interfaces makes a lot of sense. Gestures we’ve selected are really easy to perform when on the move, compared to tapping on a single target like a back or home button. However, the way we use gestures is not by any means excluding conventional button usage, but rather complimenting it.Tapping on small targets like toolbar icons is sensitive to movement from any gross motor activity like walking, which is pretty common in a mobile context. A linear drag or flick gesture is less so, because a movement like that is easier for our fine motor skills to perform and for software to interpret.
That’s why gestures are used both in Sailfish OS level and application page stack navigation, to allow more effortless control scheme when not directly interacting with the page content. Obviously, using a gesture to navigate back from an application sub-page removes the need for a dedicated navigation toolbar and frees space for content. Going back one application page feels exactly the same as going to a previous photo in image gallery when flicking to the right. Similarly our signature component, pulley menu, is used with a linear pulling motion. User can place his or her finger wherever it comfortably lands on the application page and by pulling down; use the page as an “extension” to interact with menu options, without the need to particularly touch at any interactive element.
For many people, Swipe UI that was developed for Nokia N9 smartphone, made edge gestures popular. They were used in minimizing the active application to background. When continuing that work, we took the button-less interaction paradigm a step further. Following images illustrate how user can navigate in the system level in Sailfish by using these simple edge gestures. First image focuses to applications and the second one to Home and lock screen.
J.U: How is Jolla going to keep the end user happy in terms of social networking? As you may remember, MeeGo-Harmattan was a great example of it, how are you guys going to continue that superb work and make the native social networking satisfying enough and cope with all the updates that are being added everyday by for instance Facebook or Twitter?
- Jaakko: When compared to the legendary N9, where the social network aggregation was done in one of the three home pages, in Sailfish, Events view is separated from Home and is globally accessible from the bottom edge (See the gesture direction image) without forcing user to minimize the currently active application. The way people use social networks to share and consume content, intentionally filling in gaps between everyday activities and pacing other tasks, mandates that this location can be accessed fast and consistently. Grouping such use cases into a dedicated view also reduces the need for using standalone clients, freeing up space for other application covers.User is able to peek into the Events view without leaving the current location (i.e. browser, video playback or lock screen) by stopping the edge gesture half-way. When observing the Events view content this way, user can, but is not forced to, exit the current application by completing the gesture, or staying in by cancelling it.
Offering competitive social networking experience simply means working with various services providers and to equally offer constant support from the platform side to keep up with the changes in the industry.
J.U: Some community members have asked: When an app is being launched, there’s an unusual glitch at the beginning (Which I personally believe it’s a fast peak on the clock, signal and battery status since there’s no status bar.) So, any comments on that?
- True. It’s actually a combination of several things that require Sailfish Home screen to perform as it does. Let’s go through them one by one.First. Animating home into “peek” position is a visually strong feedback for application launching. You can see the new application cover highlighted on the grid with information about the startup state. Regardless of user launching an application from the lock screen, deep from the launcher grid, from Events view or from another application, user will always be brought here, into Home peek position before entering the launched application. As mentioned earlier, this is very important in terms of supporting user awareness of the system status. It also communicates clearly when user is moved to a different application when launching another application is required to perform a desired action.
Second. Has anyone wondered where splash screens in Sailfish are? Those of you not familiar with the term, splash screens are images that imitate a full-screen application appearance, or are used for branding purposes. That image is shown as a part of an application startup or switching (a screenshot for the latter), before the application UI is ready. Naturally, as it’s just an image, it doesn’t offer any functionality what so ever. It’s intended to make application startup/restoring feel more responsive, even though it’s not. It’s a known cover up for missing or partial application optimization. Simply put, we don’t like them, never had them and intend to keep it that way. Instead, we keep user in peek position at Home, until the application has loaded and is ready to be used. We don’t want users to stare into a non-functional fake UI that has nothing to do with application launching speed or overall device performance.
Third. We like to think that launching an application is a journey between two places: Home and the launched application. By definition, there’s something in between the starting point and destination. For us, it’s this position of Home that exposes user to time, system status, and what’s happening in other open applications. This is time well spent compared to staring a splash screen and waiting for the application to become responsive. Even during that elusive moment it takes to a native application to load; your brain has logged in a good amount of useful information, before you reach to your destination. Sailfish is not letting you waste even that moment.
Fourth. Most of us are brought up to leave things in their original places after using them, making sure it’s easier to find it next time. Sailfish Home screen is no different. Once you enter an application, leaving Home screen behind, Home will be diligently waiting for you in the exact same position you left it. You can always check on how Home is holding up with intermediately performing side edge gesture. Completing the gesture slides Home screen back in its place from the peek position.
- Jaakko (Continues): Fifth. Familiarity and learning are based on repetition. Because Home is the pivotal point for majority of user stories in Sailfish OS, all traffic is routed through it. The more you use different applications, switch between them and interact with application covers, the more exposed you become to time and system status, effectively removing the need for a persistent status bar. Because the Sailfish status area is an integral part of the journey between applications and Home screen, we can use generously sized information when the status area is shown; making sure that critical information captures user’s attention when required.
J.U: You’re an extremely busy man, so I’m not going to bother you anymore after this question!
The visual style of Sailfish applications and Silica components is pretty minimalistic compared to some of the other operating systems. What can you tell us about that?
- Jaakko: Sure thing. Our goal was never to compete in who can make the most extraordinary buttons or other UI elements for that matter. We think people are ready for something more than another UI that is rubbing “Hey, I’m a button, you can press me” to their face. Instead, we wanted to create a visual style that’s almost invisible and builds its appeal on top of user content and dynamic behavior. Something that’s beautiful, personal, valuable, fun to use and smoothly performing.
- Jaakko (Continues): Because the glass surface on smartphone display is smooth in reality, faking real world controls with tactile attributes on them gets really old, really fast. Instead, as user doesn’t have any way to touch the flipside of the touch screen, we imitate a subtle glass texture there to differentiate Home and application context. Some of our Silica components like pulley menu and page indicators, sliders, buttons and switches use a diffused light source shining through that pattern. After all, the control is affecting functionality inside the device and below the glass layer. As user moves content around, the texture stays still, creating an illusion of light sources moving under the glass. I tried my best describing it, but the best way really to experience it, is to actually try it yourself.And that’s it, Sailfish user experience in a very tight nutshell. Thanks for reading.
J.U: Thanks a million for taking the time and answering all my questions Jaakko it really helped the community to understand the situation of the OS better with more clarity. We all hope the best of everything for Jolla, and we are desperately looking forward to have our hands on the final production of Jolla device. Have a great time ahead and see you in Finland on November 27th!
- Jaakko: Thank you for the interview. As we’re continuously hard at work with the product itself, you have to excuse us for not providing thorough material about the thinking behind it. I hope these answers help to clarify things a bit and possibly iron out some misconceptions before we get the official material released. At Jolla, we’re really grateful for the great support and spirit of Jollausers and everyone in our supportive community. We owe you all a great deal. If there are any questions arising from this interview, I’ll try to stop by and answer from time to time. No promises, though, we have a product to ship.Thanks
And that was our interview with the greatest and most passionate designer in the world!
I hope you enjoyed and learned a lot from Jaakko about Sailfish operating system.
Don’t forget to visit our forum and sign up as a new member, discuss stuff and have fun! 😉
Sepehr Noori (James)