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I'm puzzled by the UX additions in the latest default Camera app in Android 4.2.

The whole menu with all camera options (other than zoom) is made as a circle. You activate this circle menu by pressing the small circle button within Camera. A big circle pops up in the middle of the screen, where at the pre-determined and constant outer parts of this new big circle you can choose options such as back-/front-camera, exposure, "advanced settings menu" (includes "Scene mode" submenu, Store location bool and picture size submenu), and white-balance options.

When you select any of these options within the big circle, with the exception of the "advanced settings menu" (which provides a regular dialogue box menu for some reason) and "front/back camera" button (which just does the switch), you get the choices for the option expanded on the side of the circle where the selection option was, and all other options that you could have selected at the prior step either vanish or get replaced by the new sub-options. E.g. you if you select "Exposure", then at the "Exposure" icon, a "0" appears, and on each side of the "0", the other exposure numbers appear.

At this point, and at this circle sub-menu, I see the following problems:

  1. The option that is currently active is not shown at all. E.g. you have no clue whether the Exposure option is already set at 0, or you wanted to set it to 0 from some other option. Or you start forgetting whether flash was already on, and you were supposed to turn it off, or the other way around. Etc.

  2. Pressing the "back" button doesn't let you go to the prior step: when you see "+3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3" options around the circle for the Exposure, pressing the standard "back" button simply cancels the whole circle menu altogether.

  3. Alternatively, since the tiny little circle button (which is not part of the big circle) is still shown, I thought perhaps it can be used to go back to the starting menu in the big circle. However, pressing the little circle icon when the big circle submenu is being shown, simply gets rid of the big circle in full, without going back into the original choices on the big circle as if going back to the start of the flow. Likewise, pressing anywhere on the screen also makes the whole big circle disappear, and doesn't let you go back just one step.

I've also discovered that this big circle can also be brought by a gesture alone, without having to press on the little circle button. In this case, you simply press and hold anywhere on the screen, and, as long as you continue holding, can navigate the circle menu without releasing the hold, only doing the release once the final option you want is completely selected.

My questions would be:

Why would anyone get rid of regular buttons on the screen, and use such an obscure and inconsistent circle-based menus? Is this a total and complete violation of every UX 101 rule, or is this innovative circle menu better and more usable than I have found it to be?

I'm very certain Google must have done some extended research about this issue prior to shipping it in a production ready version of Android, have they not?

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It's actually not as innovative and obscure as you seem to think. Here are a couple of past questions on radial menus that may help you: Are radial contextual menus better than vertical list menus?, Should I use a radial menu design for a touchscreen game?. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Jan 3 '13 at 7:30
    
FWIIW, I personally didn't think it was that much innovative, since the whole thing didn't work as expected at all. :-) I've used it more now, and /sometimes/ it does seem to work much better when you use the second method of accessing this menu -- with the touch and hold gesture. Why /sometimes/? Because it seems like there's a lot of false-positives -- you're supposed to be able to get to the prior taken pictures by doing a swipe on the viewfinder, but with this new auto-activated radial menu, I very often end up hitting the front/back camera, instead of bringing up the pictures taken. –  cnst Jan 3 '13 at 18:00
    
BTW, I've been using 4.2.1 for a number of days now, and I've found that this new menu is actually more annoying that I thought: it just so happens that it intervenes with the "slide-to-see-the-past-pictures" gesture, and now I almost always end up hitting some option in this auto-activated setting circle, instead of swiping to see the pictures taken. Absolutely ridiculous and astonishingly unpolished feature! I can guesstimate that it might be replaced by 4.3 or so. –  cnst Jan 7 '13 at 18:39
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Images please! This a UX exchange, always have images! I don't have an android handset, and descriptions are harder to imagine. A picture is worth a thousand words! or in your case 478 words (excluding the question) –  Vijay Mar 12 '13 at 9:05

3 Answers 3

Is this a total and complete violation of every UX 101 rule...

I'll let you in on a little secret... there are no rules :)

There are guidelines, patterns, conventions and best practices, of course... but design is pretty far from a hard science. It's just practical imagination, really, and even the best designers don't know if something works until they show it to a customer. This article can probably explain it better than I can.

The only thing that matters at the end of the day is the users, and it sounds like you're one unhappy user. The good news is that you don't need to prove them wrong! All you have to say is "meh, it doesn't work me" and vote with your wallet.

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Google as a company and Android as a product are experimenting to a level where it get ridiculous to some extent. The answer is No! and my guess would be that they don't do enought testing, but I'm certin that they do some.

So they may perform testing in the calssic manner of hijacking anyone available telling them "Hi, we're from Google - would you try this new feature and tell us what you think?" The user whi's supposed to test this new feature UI gets starstruck and tells Google what the user thinks Google want to hear: Awesome!

Google personell walks back to office, carrying loads of biased data, telling management - It was awesome! Management release the product, thinking it's awesome - when it's far from it.

This scenario isn't uncommon, and may be why we see some Google products failing on User Experience.

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Only the Android team can properly answer that question, but I would point out that your premise is wrong. UX is not only about effectiveness and efficiency. People can indeed like UI that is error-prone, time-consuming and straight up ugly, for a variety of reasons. Those radials may feel cool and high-tech, and to many of us that gives great satisfaction. Ask yourself: when you show off your phone to your friends, do you point out how accessible and conveniently organized are the settings? Or do you go straight for the flashy features?

Unlike in traditional user testing for productivity systems, measures of usability are insufficient to approach UX design. This is especially true for devices with which you not only interact tens or hundreds of times each day, but are also concerned with ownership pride, given the cost you incurred. The choice of using those quirky radial menus is probably related to emotional factors, not efficiency ones. And those affective satisfaction factors are usually found in - you guessed it - extended research.

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Personally, I'm proud of how little money I've spent on my Galaxy Nexus and how much money I'd save over a 1-, 2- or 3- year period. I love the free tethering and the 30$/mo deal for the 5GB@4G unlimited data at T-Mo, but when I show it off to my tech friends, I not only show how many cool features it has (e.g. free tethering and bandwidth usage meter by app), but I also love to point out how crappy and unpolished almost every single app is, from Yelp to Twitter to Google Voice. The polish on Android is vastly inferior to iOS, and that's the easiest thing that I find showing. –  cnst Jan 7 '13 at 18:35

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