Sony Clie Interface Rant

I recently got a Sony Clie SJ-30. It is a well-designed device with an excellent high-resolution color screen and small form factor. The good hardware design makes a couple of software interface flaws all the more annoying. They also illustrate that details can have a big effect on usability. Not to mention the importance of user testing. The well-tested simple interface was one of the big advantages of the Palm.

The first feature that is really annoying are images in the Address Book. This sounds like it would be a nice feature. Except that they messed up on a couple of little details. The main problem is in the edit screen the image takes up a full third of the screen. When there is no image, it is just a big blank space and a square with the text of "No Image". The Palm has a tiny screen and all the space is valuable. The wasted space means that editing important fields like address and email requires scrolling down. This is bad enough when there is no image but especially bad when there is no image, the most common case.

I can think of a couple of easy to implement ways to fix the problem. One would be to put the image at the bottom of the fields. Another would be to wrap the fields around the image. The first fields are names which tend to be short and the program does wrapping when displaying the record. Shortening the rectangle for "no image" would help with the common case.

Then there is the record list where they added a column on the left for the image icon. For most records, this is blank and results in wasted space in the already cramped display. What is especially sad is that there is already a column on the far right used for the icon indicating a note attached to the record. It makes lots more sense to put the image icon on the right. Grouping the attachment icons together is logical. It conserves space. They would probably have to design an icon that represents note and image together since the individual icons wouldn't fit in that space.

The other annoying feature is in the included image viewer, PictureGear Pocket. Its problem are useless pop-up dialogs. For example, if you go to an empty category, it gives a dialog saying effectively that there are no images. It would have made much more sense to either leave the window blank, or have a message in the main display "No images in category". This would make exploring other categories to find actual images easier. The stupid dialog even shows up when the program is started.

What makes this "feature" really annoying is that the program forgets where it was the last time it was run. I would like to keep my images on the Memory Stick in the native format. Here is how thing go when I start the application. It always defaults to the internal memory. Dismiss dialog. Switch to Memory Stick. Memory Stick defaults to DCF format. Dismiss dialog. Switch to PGP format. Finally get to see the images. Why can't it remember where it was? Why can't it check if there are any DCF images and default to that choice if there aren't any?

Another useless dialog appears when viewing image details for an image on the MemoryStick. The dialog says that the title and comment can't be edited for an image on the external card. For one in internal memory, they can be and this ability is indicated by underlining the text field like all fields on the Palm. This dialog is unneccessary. Just leaving the underlining off indicates that those fields can't be modified something that makes sense to anyone who has used the Palm. If they really thought a dialog box was required, then remembering if the dialog had been seen before would be a big help.