What Do You Think of Custom UIs?

Let the debate beginThe debate about the benefits and challenges of custom UIs isn’t a new or revolutionary topic. On the plus side, they let users have more personalized control over what their phone looks like. On the down side, different UIs make it difficult for developers to anticipate how an app will function for any given user. There have been steps taken – like making a certain set of keys or icons mandatory on all UIs – to make things a little more uniform, but the larger question remains. Are custom skins worth the trouble they cause? As testers, I want to know what you think about this issue. I’m also curious about issues you’ve encountered while testing with a customized device. Any good stories to share with us in the comments?

To get your mind going, here’s Bonnie Cha of CNet with her two cents and a look at how a few different operating systems handle the issue:

It’s an issue that comes up most often with Android because of all the custom skins. Unless they’re offering a pure Google experience device, manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC are free to skin their smartphones and tablets with their personalized versions of Android. On the one hand, there’s value in the openness of Android, as it gives companies the opportunity to innovate and hopefully make the OS better.

I also understand why manufacturers do it. With limitations on what you can do with hardware design and specs, tweaking the software is an easy way to differentiate oneself from the competition.

On the other hand, if the UI isn’t done well, it makes for a horrible user experience and can complicate things like software updates.

Perhaps learning from other people’s mistakes and its own experience with Windows Mobile, Microsoft took a different approach with Windows Phone. The company places pretty strict restrictions on what manufacturers can do with the hardware and software. All Windows Phone handsets must have the three requisite buttons below the screen (start, back, and search) and a dedicated camera button. As I mentioned earlier, Nokia, as well as all Windows Phone partners, can only personalize the software via hubs and applications.

Microsoft argues that this more closed system offers a more consistent user experience, so even if a customer upgraded from one Windows Phone to another, he or she would instantly know how to use it since the UI is the same.

Read the full article at CNet >>>

What do you think? Do custom skins allow you to express your individuality? Are they a pain in the neck? Have you encountered any classic mistakes while testing on a custom UI (no need to get into details like company or app names)?

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