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Jonathan Erickson

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Hub-a, Hub-a, Hub-a

February 16, 2010

 

This week's headlines generally read "Microsoft Unveils Windows Phone 7 Series." More accurately they probably should have said something like "Microsoft takes yet another run at mobile phones." Of course, that doesn't mean that the Phone 7 isn't interesting and newsworthy. What I find interesting about the Phone 7 is the implementation of "hubs," although I probably would have shyed away from describing them as "unrivaled." But more on that shortly.

 

According to Microsoft, "hubs bring together related content from the Web, applications and services into a single view to simplify common tasks." The company goes on to say that the Phone 7 Series includes six hubs built on specific themes reflecting activities that, according to focus groups I suppose, matter most to people:

  • People. This hub delivers a social experience by bringing together relevant content based on the person, including his or her live feeds from social networks and photos. It also provides a central place from which to post updates to Facebook and Windows Live in one step.
  • Pictures. This hub makes is for sharing pictures and video to a social network.
  • Games. This hub delivers the first and only official Xbox LIVE experience on a phone, including Xbox LIVE games, Spotlight feed and the ability to see a gamer's avatar, achievements and gamer profile.
  • Music and Video. This hub creates an media experience that includes content from a user's PC, online music services and a built-in FM radio.
  • Marketplace. This hub lets users discover and load the phone with "certified" applications and games.
  • Office. This hub enables access to Office, OneNote, SharePoint Workspace, and Outlook Mobile.

Again these are the six out-of-the-box Microsoft hubs, with the suggestion that more can come in the future, both from Microsoft and third-party developers. This will likely require special tools, of course, and an SDK will be made available in mid March 2010.

Microsoft isn't the inventor of the hub concept, and in fact, hubs aren't even new to the world of Windows developers. Infragistics, for instance,  provides a Hub and Spoke pattern as part of its Quince pattern library.

All of which prompted me to get in touch with Tobias Komischke, Director of User Experience at Infragistics, who told me:

"I like the idea of the hub concept, because it helps to consolidate and organize various content into just a few, manageable access points -- and that's just what is needed for a phone in times of convergence where you have most information and data available anywhere and anytime.

"The hubs thus help greatly to provide a welcoming first impression when starting the phone experience: non-cluttered, clearly segmented information and access points that still allow for customization.

"It appears to me that the hubs are the reloaded portals that we saw on the web 10 years ago. Back then, there was a website -- a portal -- that allowed access to an entire world of related information. But we had to go there -- we had to dare entering the portal to access this information. Now the hub concept not only provides 6 and not only one "portal", but the hub tiles live and show updated information (e.g. new emails), so the transition between seeing a hub and entering it, feels more natural."

According to Infragistics, the hub and spoke pattern is most commonly seen on phones and other small devices where having global navigation (and even the ability to interact with it were it displayed) is difficult or in situations where there is an open plug-in model for applications, such as Facebook, where the hub is more of a facilitator for disparate services and applications to come together in one place. The iPhone and now the Phone 7 fits both of these constraints. Other classes of software solutions that warrant this approach include games -- peoople expect to and usually want to be immersed in them. Sensitive tasks that require a person's full attention could be another. These are examples of home/launching point.

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