Comparing Smartphone UIs: The Status Bar

04Feb10

This is the first installment in a series that will compare how various smartphone UIs approach UI conventions. I hope you find it interesting, although truthfully I’m doing it mostly for myself so I have a handy set of screenshots to access for comparing how a Blackberry does X compared to Symbian, or Android, or whatever.

In addition to the screenshots, I’ll try to comment on anything that strikes me as interesting…but feel free to pitch in in the comments. So, we’ll start with:

The Status Bar

The status bar is perhaps the most ubiquitous UI construct across smartphone UIs: It’s the little bar at the top that shows battery charge, carrier signal, time of day. On some platforms it is merely an information display, but on others it has some interactive elements. Let’s take a look at a few…

iPhone

The iPhone status bar is a simple information display: Signal strength, carrier, time, charge, and assorted other icons. It doesn’t have any interactive elements.

Status Bar, iPhone

Status Bar, iPhone.

Android

Motorola has taken shots at the iPhone OS in its Droid ads, pointing out that the status bar on Android phones alerts users to incoming messages or other things. I’m of the opinion that it’s a worthy criticism of the iPhone: The modal nature of the iPhone alert pop-ups can be a distracting experience whereas the Android interface does a nice job of subtly alerting a user to incoming items of interest.

Android Stats Bar

Android status bar showing incoming text message.

When a user touches the status bar, a drag element appears, suggesting that the user can reveal more from the status bar (this is especially hand if you want to find out more about that new text message).

Android Status Bar, OnTouch

When touching the status bar, an element appears suggesting that the user can drag the status window down.

So, let’s drag the element down:

Android Status Bar, Mid-Drag

Dragging down the alerts window on the Android status bar.

And here we are with the fully expanded alerts window, with a menu of things that could use my attention. All in all, I think Android does a very good job of subtly alerting the user to incoming alerts, and allowing them to view all alert items in a single place with a simple touch-and-drag gesture.

Android Alerts Window, Dragged Out of Status Bar

Android Alerts Window, Dragged Out of Status Bar

webOS

I know most people have written off webOS already…Palm just has no hope of competing against the other big phone OS players. Probably true, I guess, but I really enjoy the webOS. It just seems fun and pleasurable to use, although it’s not as smooth as iPhone or Android.

The webOS status status bar of course shows time, carrier, bars, etc. in its top pane. When alerts such as text messages come in, they are displayed in a scroll at the bottom.

webOS Status Bar

Web OS Status Bar. Usual stuff at the top, and scrolling alerts at bottom.

Interestingly, the status bar starts to do double-duty when an app is opened, offering the app name as a touchable element as part of the status bar. Touch the element, and a contextual menu for that app opens.

webOS Status Bar w. App-Specific Contextual Menu

When in an app, the status bar will show the app name as a clickable element.

webOS Status Bar w. Contextual Menu

Touch the menu item, and a contextual menu pops up.

Blackberry

Blackberry? You get the usual stuff in the status bar, plus alert icons. Done and done.

Blackberry Status Bar

Blackberry Status Bar, almost as simplified as iPhone.

Symbian

I’d never played too much with Symbian phones before stealing the office N97 to take some screenshots, and I must say it’s s somewhat underwhelming experience. The whole touch experience just seems very wonky and it’s easy to get lost in the UI.

The status bar is similarly inscrutable. I’m pretty sure the battery was fully charged when this image was taken, but you could hardly tell. And what does the X to the far left mean? No signal, maybe? Weird.

Symbian Status Bar

Symbian status bar.

Also strange is Symbian’s interactive element. Click to pop up and see…the time?

Symbian Status Bar

Symbian status bar, with not-entirely-helpful pop-up clock.

WinMo 6.5

WinMo 7 is supposed to come out…when? Soon? Anyway, the much-maligned Windows Mobile 6.5 isn’t so bad really, I think. It kind of acts like Windows (duh) so if you know your way around a PC then it’s not so bad.

The status bar as what you’d expect in terms of various status icons. The “Start” in the upper-left corner is touchable, as you would expect from using a windows machine, but the behavior is different. Touching “Start” toggles between a general wallpaper page (with clock) and a list of apps. It’s a little strange to try to use a UI convention from windows that has a certain expectation, and then see it behave differently on the phone.

The far-right of the status bar is clickable, and hows the apps currently running, similar to the windows task bar.

WinMo Status Bar

WinMo status bar. Notice clickable task-bar icon on far right.

WinMo Status Bar w. Task Bar

Showing currently running programs after clicking in upper right. This is handy for hopping around applications. (Multi-tasking! Yes!)

Last Word

So, which of these is the best?

  • I definitely like how Android uses the status bar to subtly alert the user to alerts, and makes the status bar expandable to see all alert/status items that the user may wish to see.
  • And I like how WinMo makes it easy to hop between whatever apps the user has open.

Let me know if there are future UI conventions you’d like me to investigate, and thanks for reading.

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17 Responses to “Comparing Smartphone UIs: The Status Bar”

  1. 1 Greg

    Nice post! Android-like notifications on the iPhone would be really great. Interesting enough: the Read It Later iPhone app replaces the status bar to show some informations like download progression and number of items:
    http://readitlaterlist.com/i/i/2-0-list-dl.png

  2. 2 Dominick

    Good article.. But you were very off on the Symbian os.. I use an iPhone now but I switch between a Nokia. Anyways.. The status bar actually shows quite a lot.. When you have any new things.. Mail, text messge, missed called or voicemail it’ll all show up in that little box… And when you click it the phone will take you right to that program

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