Archive for May 5th, 2011

News tickers suck as widgets

The latest thing I strongly feel that I have to pick on is Android widgets. News-related widgets to be more precise. Like the Facebook, Twitter, and NYTimes widgets. They all suck. They’re completely and utterly useless.

Instead of showing actual text of updates/headlines/news, all there should have been there were pretty icons & numbers. For example:
– Facebook: A 1×1 widget showing the number of unread notifications & messages.
– Twitter: A 1×1 widget showing the number of unread replies and messages. I wrote about it last year, nothing came out of it.
– NYTimes: A 4×1 widget showing 10 “news category” icons (5×2 small icons at the same style as Android’s “power control” widget), with each having a number on them if there are unread articles under the said category. NYTimes has over 10 categories, so these can be customized by the user to fit in the matrix.

See, in their current incarnations, these widgets just fit ONE single news item to show each time. Who in their right mind turns ON their device just to read a single item? And then the user must hit a very thin “next” arrow icon to get to the next item. Difficult to hit properly, and honestly, why bother? If all you want is to read all news items, just open the freaking app! It will be MUCH FASTER to just gaze through a vertical screen full of info, rather than having a 2-3 line overview of a single item each time.

Having icons and numbers instead (the way NewsRob does it), it is more visual, and so it’s way faster for the brain to find the right information. For example, by knowing that there are 6 unread “sports” news items at NYTimes, the user immediately can make a calculated decision as to if he must read them now, gaze through them now or later, or he should let more of these articles accumulate before he sits down and goes through them. In this situation, the widget helps him make decisions about how to use the main app, and when, and how much work that would be to do so approximately. The way things are now, we just click “next”, “next” “next”, often spending time reading headlines we don’t always care about. The information coming from Facebook or NYTimes is so much, that trying to fit it on a 4×1 or 4×2 widget is utterly ridiculous. Heck, there’s a reason why these kinds of apps are even more successful on a tablet than on a phone: too much information that requires more resolution. So their current widgets use a broken widget design. Instead, in this case, the widget must simply help us decide if it’s time to open the main app or not.

Is all this really too difficult to comprehend? Where are the usability designers in this day and age? Are they hiding somewhere? Or are the managers don’t listen to anyone anymore?