Nokia N90 text messaging downgrade 10:38 on Tuesday

After a few upbeat posts, let’s get back to the regular programming: rants! This is my sixth notion about Nokia’s N90 on the second day of using it. See the N90 category for older posts.

How does N90 feel compared to my old phone? N90 might be called a “smart” phone, but in many ways my old Nokia 6310i felt more intelligent. In reality it’s probably more like a dumb & dumber scenario, though. Slowness is not stupidity, but if it was, the old Nokia would win the IQ contest hands down.

The N90 is sluggish in two ways.

  1. Slow to respond: you need to wait for screens to appear and applications to load.
  2. Slow to use: complex, multi-step interactions for often used functions.

An illustrative example is sending a text message, or more accurately, selecting a recipient for the message. Here’s the process of sending a text message to my friend Pete on Nokia 6310i:

  1. Open key lock.
  2. Press Menu and number key 1 three times repeatedly. This and the previous step come from muscle memory and are lightning fast compared to anything that involves looking at the screen. And the phone can actually handle the input as fast as I type.
  3. Write message.
  4. Press green phone to enter contact list.
  5. Press 7 to enter letter “p”, and the contact list jumps to “P ete”. I’ve used a space in the name to get him to the top of the list of contacts starting with “P”. This way the most used contacts are accessible quickly.
  6. Press green phone to send. Done!

And now get your coffee cup ready and let’s send a message on Nokia N90:

  1. Open shell.
  2. Look at the screen to make sure you’re in the Active Idle mode. If not, press red phone to exit whatever is on the screen.
  3. Press arrow right to move over the New Message item. The Active Idle screen can be customized and I have no recollection if that’s where New Message was originally or if I put it there, next to the first choice.
  4. Press middle button to enter new message screen. Wait for the messaging app to load. Meanwhile, watch the flickering screen in amusement.
  5. You will arrive at the recipient field, so I guess you are supposed to select recipient(s) first. Check that you’re actually in text entering mode, not number mode. For some unexplainable reason, the phone seems to remember this setting, not from the last time you were entering a recipient for a text message, but from the last time you were entering text anywhere in the phone UI.
  6. Now that we’re sure our key presses actually enter letters, let’s enter “petri”. “pete” is not recognized even though I’ve manually added his nickname to the phonebook (nicknames do not get synced over from my Mac). The old “P ete” shortcut doesn’t work on N90, so entering the name will take 10 key presses. Some names will of course come up with just one letter and one key press, but this is a real-world example.
  7. Press middle button to show a list of matching contacts.
  8. Petri is not first in the list. Scan the list to find Petri’s name. It’s third on the list. Press arrow down 2 times to highlight Petri’s name.
  9. Press left function key, labeled “OK” to select the name and exit the list of matching contacts.
  10. Press arrow down to enter message text area.
  11. Enter message text.
  12. Press green phone to send the message. If you got this far without accidentally pressing the application key, that is.

Compared to the 6310i, the cognitive overhead in the N90 example is huge.

So why this complexity? In N90 and other Series 60 phones sending a text message to multiple recipients at once has been made easier, but at the cost of making it disproportionately laborious to send a message to a single recipient. I send maybe 999 messages to a single recipient versus 1 message to multiple recipients. You?

Nokia ex-employee Christian Lindholm actually has a gem to make it easier to send single recipient messages. It involves creating a group with a single recipient. So the groups feature is a shortcut for sending messages to single recipients and the regular contact list is made to accommodate easy sending to multiple recipients. I would seriously suggest re-visiting the interaction design for this feature.

One Response to “Nokia N90 text messaging downgrade”


  1. Taneli Says:

    Interesting rant! I feel much the same way as you about pretty much all the S60 applications and stay away from them if at all possible (alas, I have 6600 at work). There is a heavy smell of over-design about the whole system, not just certain applications — maybe a symptom of the NIH (not-invented-here) syndrome which, I believe, is prevalent at nokia. Oh, by the way, programming the damned little devices is waaay meaner than just using them. Devilish build system, missing include files, APIs are a maze of twisty little passages, all sligthly different, but confusing all the same, non-existent documentation and a very brittle OS, screaming like a schoolgirl if poked at wrong times or angles and then bringing down everything. Oh well, it does hava blinking lights and beeping sounds. On a good day you can even answer a call with it.