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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Canola and the future of the Nokia tablets

Normally the Internet Tablet School refrains from any kind of editorial position, we're usually just trying to help people get the most from their internet tablets. However, the following article is an exception.

We now feel that the time has come for Nokia to abandon the current graphical interface used by the tablets, and replace it with something simpler, more streamlined and intuitive. It should be something that even a non-technical person could use without any prior knowledge, and without having to consult any instructions.

There's a wonderful interface already available on the tablets which is up to this task, but so far Nokia don't seem to want to use it. It's called Canola.


How the tablets got their current interface

The Nokia internet tablets currently use a graphical interface called Hildon, which was first developed for their 7700 and 7710 smartphones way back in 2004. The latest version of Hildon is to be found in OS2008 on the N800 and N810, and it still follows the basic design principles of the original 2004 version.

However, the world has changed quite a bit since 2004. More and more ordinary people want to use the internet on a portable device. Pocket-sized computers are no longer playthings of nerds and businesspeople, they're becoming useful tools in everyday life. The portable internet is going mass market, just like mobile phones went mass market.

The very fact that a site like the Internet Tablet School now receives thousands of visitors a day shows how Nokia's tablets have entered the mainstream. We only write tutorials for tablet beginners, and our visitor numbers keep growing and growing.

These everyday users need to be catered to if the tablets are to mature beyond their "hobbyist" image and attract large numbers of users.

The very first home computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s had their roots in hobbyist computer kits that sold a few thousand. Home computer sales skyrocketed into the millions when they became easy enough for anyone to use, and didn't expect users to have any prior knowledge. The Nokia tablets are now at a similar sort of turning point.


Why Canola should become the Nokia tablets' new interface

Canola tears up all the rules that Hildon laid down about interfaces. It does the job mentioned above: it completely ignores what's gone before and reinvents the tablets as devices that anyone could use, even people who are using them for the very first time.

The visual prompts and layouts used by Canola are spot-on, it's always obvious what you have to do to make something happen. This is very important because if you instinctively know how to use the interface first time round, you won't forget how to do it later.

The beauty of Canola is that, unlike Hildon, it requires no instructions at all in order to use it. Every icon and option has a very specific and unambiguous meaning, so navigation between pages is extremely intuitive. When something moves on the screen in Canola it does so gracefully, making the whole process seem efficient and fast. Put all these together and you have a very newbie-friendly interface indeed, which is what the tablets need right now.

You can see a demonstration of Canola in action in the video above.

You can also try Canola out on your N800 or N810 tablet right now by going to maemo.org on your tablet's browser, then click on Downloads, search for Canola, then click on its title, and finally click on the green arrow to install it.

Canola isn't perfect, and it still needs lots of work because at present it only handles multimedia applications. However, based on what it's like so far, we are absolutely convinced that Canola (or something very much like Canola) is what Nokia should use as a basis for a new tablet interface.

Hildon's design princples are from the days when portable devices were bought by small numbers of serious users. Canola points to the future, and shows us portable devices being bought by large numbers of casual users. If Nokia wants the tablets to survive and thrive, they need to embrace the future and adopt a Canola-like tablet interface.

That's all.