Anton D. Nagy contributed to The Matrix Resurrections trailer post.
Cue in a view of the San Francisco Skyline, Barney Stinson playing a therapist, and John Wick feeling a bit triggered. I know, unless you grew up in my time, it’s hard to relate to the concept of a fourth installment of The Matrix, a crazy 20 years later, and with actors you’ve seen become popular for different characters than I did. Neil Patrick Harris was Doogie Howser, M.D. for me, and Keanu Reeves, Neo. As I watched the trailer of The Matrix Resurrections unfold with the original portrayal of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, four key moments in the trailer probably left me more triggered than Thomas Anderson.
Do yourself a favor, walk the journey with me and watch it again. Stop at 0:42, 0:51, 1:05, 1:08.
Don’t worry, this is not another trailer breakdown. Instead, can I ask you a personal question: Does the time you spend on your phone make you happy? As you scroll through your Facebook feed, or your Instagram feed, the latest TikToks, and the algorithmic Tweets. I’m sure some of these make you smile, but does any of it fulfill you?
As I watched this trailer, I realized that the original Matrix in 1999 was ahead of its time, not just in special effects, but also in the message it tried to convey. Like everyone who was 19 like me at the time, I was more interested in the spectacle than in what the story was trying to tell me. In the words of Morpheus: “The Matrix is a prison for your mind.” It dove deep into how the world we lived in was not real and designed with the purpose of using you to power the Machine world. If you haven’t watched the original movie, you should. It’s no 1984, but I don’t think that was the plan either. It does start a bit scary, but just like any process of self-discovery, anyone who’s reinvented themselves will understand that the first step is never easy or fancy.
I think I failed to relate to the message because, in 1999, there was no real prison for your mind. Phones barely made phone calls as SMS messaging didn’t really become a thing until later. The Internet was in such a stage of infancy that very few people had it. As a matter of fact, most countries had Internet Cafes where you would pay a fee to use a computer and its connection for an hour to check your email or chat with complete strangers. The closest we could consider being a Social Network was the mIRC, which by today’s terms is hard to describe. The Internet wasn’t something you could carry in your pocket. It didn’t notify you of a new email, or who liked your photo. The internet was a choice you made and time you set aside, and if you wanted to be famous at the time, your possibilities required some sort of talent and half a dozen gatekeepers that would all take a cut.
So now it’s 2021. We’re still struggling with one of the worst pandemics of our lifetime. Why a sequel to the Matrix now? I’m sure many of you watched the first three movies, and many of you didn’t. I mean, sure it’s a good idea to bank on past success, but I don’t need to remind you of the risks of having “Coming to America 2” just destroy everything that made the first movie great. I have no problem admitting that regardless of how much I loved the first movie, and sort of enjoyed the entire trilogy, a late sequel spelled “Godfather 3” all over again.
It wasn’t until I watched that first half of the trailer that it all made sense. My interpretation has:
0:42 showing Neo battling his need to drink blue pills, which makes him feel worse than he was already feeling, almost serving as an analogy for a world that depends on anti-depressants and sleeping pills to cope. Watch the first movie to understand what the blue pill means.
0:51 shows Neo feeling out of place in a world full of people detached from the moment as they use their phones to serve as a window to somewhere else. Notice his sense of awkwardness.
1:05 shows Neo not recognizing himself in the mirror, which is more a Matrix topic but also serves as an analogy for a world full of filters and avatars to hide who we really are.
1:08 shows a very Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions theme, using a phrase that’s common to substance abuse, as some do so to detach from the pains of reality.
My questioning ended. What better time to make a Matrix sequel, than at a time when society has built its own version of it. In 1999 the story needed machines to hook us into farms at birth in order to play a fake simulation on life. At the time, agents needed to survey us in order to ensure that we aligned with the policies of that Matrix, sort of like the Thought Police in 1984. Our world today is definitely not any of that. Technically, today we like to think we have free will, but in all seriousness, do we?
Let me give you an example: I’ve been very vocal about my complete disenchantment for platforms like Facebook ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so I hope you don’t mind if I use it as just one of many cases. Mark Zuckerberg can stand up on stage all he wants and claim he built a system for us to connect, but at what expense? What happens when the connection turns us into the system’s product?
In any form of business, “the product” has to be available for consumption in order for the platform to be valuable to the consumer. As a result, the platform needs to figure out ways to keep that inventory at quick reach in order for the customer to want to continue investing. So, if we’re the product, and brands that pay for advertising are the consumer, maybe that helps you understand why you can spend hours mindlessly scrolling that system.
Have you ever considered that it’s actually designed to keep you hooked? From the way it works to the choices in color, to those red notifications bumping dopamine into your brain, it’s the perfect machine. I say perfect because as opposed to how the 1999 Matrix required human farms, the 2021 version is no longer forced. You technically can decide to remain hooked, but then like any cigarette addict, why is it so hard for people to quit?
I use tobacco as an analogy because as a former smoker, I know the “relaxation” excuse, and I know the tax I paid in return. In that same way, the problem with social media is what it does to you and me. Is it your responsibility to feed Facebook’s bottom line? You’re there just to connect with friends, right? Well, if I asked you at the beginning if you felt any sort of happiness as you scroll, it’s because one thing I’ve learned from my personal experience, and that of others, is that the effect is actually the opposite.
Whether intentionally or not, usually social media triggers our insecurities more than helping us fight them. For example, it’s rare, if not almost impossible, for anyone to post a bad photo of themselves. We even have filters in order to tweak those things we aren’t comfortable with within our own skin. Rarely will you see a couple who post about their real-life struggles. If you were to trust what you see on Facebook, you’d assume everyone has the perfect marriage, which sadly only serves as a way to make us compare what we see, to what we have or don’t have at home.
Our natural reaction is to present our best behavior to fit the mold, instead of questioning its perfection, or not letting it trigger our personal thought process. It then evolves into a source of gossip for some, an unlimited window to shop for what we don’t need since depression drives retail therapy. It’s the perfect storm of fake news that no one can police, which only leads to horrible disagreements between people who would never fight like that in person with anyone. Behind that phone screen, behind that computer monitor, behind that keyboard, we can be whatever we would never be in person. Hateful comments on any platform wouldn’t exist if people had to do it in person.
The biggest irony of everything I’ve just mentioned is that we do this voluntarily. If The Matrix was real, then it no longer needs agents to keep us in check. All it needs is some cool app that makes us look younger or older, which means it needs access to our camera and photos, for us to freely give our information away. In order for Facebook to give us better ads, it needs our location. Can you control what else is done with that information? Can you even read all the terms of service? Going back to my question, do you really have free will over what is done with what you share? The problem is having the willpower to fight the need to post silly photos with the funny filters on the new app as your way to not be gullible to the system. Can you?
Ever since this Pandemic began, I have dramatically dropped my interaction with social media. At first, it became my way to demonstrate sensitivity to everyone losing loved ones. I know that when I lost my Grandfather to COVID-19, the last thing I wanted to watch was another shallow challenge on Instagram Stories. Surely these services helped us remain in touch during the lockdown, but you and I know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That free connection comes at the expense of your information, your finite time, and even your sanity.
Is this why The Matrix gets a sequel in 2021? Could it be that now, all of us can relate to the idea of being voluntarily trapped in a system that’s not really designed for us, and instead made to feed someone else’s bottom line? I’m honestly sometimes disgusted to hear the market capitalization of some of these social media companies and the economical value of their CEOs. Seriously how is it that a company that sells you, without paying you, is worth more money than the economies of most poor countries? Shouldn’t it be that as the product, you deserve a cut of it?
I know this got a little deep, but as I sometimes argue with my partner to put her phone down as we sit at the dining table, I can’t help but feel like Jerry McGuire in the opening scene of the movie, or as Neo at the beginning of the first Matrix. We know there’s something wrong with the system as it is, and we can’t fix it if we just keep playing along.
You’d even say we’re part of it, and maybe that’s why you see Michael Fisher and I debate being called influencers. We’re not. Like Neo in the trailer, we come from a time when our purpose was to create useful content, and not to create a necessity for it. To help you decide what’s better, instead of being the blind voice of what isn’t for the paycheck. It’s the reason why in our 13 years of doing this, Michael and I have never accepted to make a paid review.
This trailer shook me. I’m honestly hoping the movie is as good, even if I’m already debating if the blue-haired girl is just a decoy to keep Neo in the Blue world, as the system has even learned a way to fight our own sense of questioning.
See you all at the premiere on December 22nd. Between today and then, feel free to continue joining me in my journey, as I question what I see. This is not a debate of what’s real and what’s not. It’s a debate over what’s right, and what’s wrong. It’s also my opinion.
As Morpheus told Neo in the first movie: “You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
Jaime has been a fan of technology since he got his first computer when he was 12, and has followed the evolution of mobile technology from the PDA to everything we see today. As our Multimedia Manger, he’s been in-charge of growing our YouTube hobby into one of the biggest video channels in the industry. When he’s not building one of our videos, or filming our Pocketnow Daily, he can be found in his second biggest passion, which is running and fitness. Read more about Jaime Rivera!
Tim Cook (born November 1, 1960) was appointed CEO of Apple Inc. on August 24, 2011, ten years ago yesterday. A decade later, he helped the company grow into the first U.S. company to be valued at $2tn (two trillion U.S. Dollars). Join us as we take a look back at the past decade of Apple under Tim Cook’s leadership.
Before joining Apple, Tim Cook spent 12 years, after graduating from Auburn University, with IBM’s PC business, ending up the company’s director of North American fulfillment.
He then turned to Intelligent Electronics’ computer reseller division to become its COO (Chief Operating Officer), before taking on the Vice President for Corporate Materials role at Compaq in 1997.
He only spent six months with Compaq before being approached, and ultimately hired, by one particular Steve Jobs.
Apple era, pre-CEO
Steve Jobs asked Tim Cook to join Apple in 1998. Tim Cook recalled the moment at his Commencement Address at Auburn University in 2010. In his own words:
Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq’s favor, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq… On that day in early 1998, I listened to my intuition, not the left side of my brain or for that matter even the people who knew me best… no more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple. My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company.
Between 1998 and 2007, Tim Cook was Apple’s Senior Vice President for Worldwide Operations and started shifting the company’s focus towards contract manufacturers after taking the decision to close down factories and warehouses. The move was meant to cut costs and generate profits, which it did.
In 2007 Cook was appointed to lead operations and in 2009 became Chief Executive. During this time Steve Jobs’ health started to deteriorate and, while on several leaves of absence due to health reasons, Cook became the de facto leader of Apple’s day-to-day operations through 2011, with Jobs making most of the major decisions.
Apple era, CEO
Steve Jobs ultimately resigned as CEO to become Chairman of the Board. On August 24, 2011, Cook was named the new Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc.
On October 5, 2011, just one day after the official introduction of the iPhone 4s, Steve Jobs passed away, leaving behind his legacy, a company on the uprise, and a freshly appointed CEO.
Today, Tim Cook, who made it on Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” list in 2012, is looking back at a company that was generating merely $6 billion in revenue the year he joined in 1998. On August 20, 2020, just a year ago, give or take, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $2tn.
Tim Cook’s Apple, by numbers
Apple Inc.’s revenue never stopped growing, from $6 billion in 1998 to $19.1 billion in 2006 and $274.3 billion in 2020. However, never was there a larger increase in the company’s history than between 2009 and 2012, when it grew from $42.7 to $156.3 billion, when Apple increased production volumes through its China-based partner Foxconn. It’s also when the first iPad was introduced in January of 2010.
Check out the table below for the evolution of Apple’s revenue (source)
The majority of the company’s revenue, throughout the years, was brought in by the iPhone. At its lowest point it accounted for about 40% in the last quarter of 2020, and a historical high of almost 70% in the second quarter of 2017.
Under Cook, Apple started focusing more and more on services, currently accounting for almost 20% of the company’s total revenue, at $53.6 billion in 2020, from 620 million subscribers.
You can find more details and a full rundown of Apple Inc. numbers, by category, devices, and regions, here.
We know that the iPhone 4s was mostly Steve Jobs’ doing (with the iPhone 5 being attributed to Tim Cook) and that the iPhone 13 (or whatever its name ends up being) is still a month out, but it made sense to use those two in the headline, like a bridge between the past and the future.
Here’s a brief history of iPhones, and their active years (source):
iPhone 3G (2008–2010)
iPhone 8 (2017–2020)
iPhone 3GS (2009–2012)
iPhone 8 Plus (2017–2020)
iPhone 4 (2010–2013)
iPhone X (2017–2018)
iPhone 4S (2011–2014)
iPhone XS (2018–2019)
iPhone 5 (2012–2013)
iPhone XS Max (2018–2019)
iPhone 5C (2013–2015)
iPhone 11 Pro (2019–2020)
iPhone 5S (2013–2016)
iPhone 11 Pro Max (2019–2020)
iPhone 6 (2014–2016)
iPhone XR (2018–present)
iPhone 6 Plus (2014–2016)
iPhone 11 (2019–present)
iPhone 6S (2015–2018)
iPhone SE (2nd) (2020–present)
iPhone 6S Plus (2015–2018)
iPhone 12 (2020–present)
iPhone SE (1st) (2016–2018)
iPhone 12 Mini (2020–present)
iPhone 7 (2016–2019)
iPhone 12 Pro (2020–present)
iPhone 7 Plus (2016–2019)
iPhone 12 Pro Max (2020–present)
Expanding this list to iPads alone will make this a rather long and boring read, not to include all the other Apple products, from the iMac to the MacBook, the Apple Watch, Apple TV, iPod, AirPods, the discontinued AirPort, or the new AirTags. They’re all well documented on Wikipedia, and far too many to include here.
Most of these, if not all, were launched by an Apple company that Tim Cook was working for, in one capacity or another.
Ups and downs
Before we can talk about some of the success stories, there are some key “rocking the boat” moments that stand out. One of these is the Tim Cook vs Mark Zuckerberg dispute. The two CEOs met annually at the Allen & Company investment bank organized confab.
In 2019, while Zuckerberg was under heavy scrutiny for the Cambridge Analytica scandal (50 million Facebook users’ data was harvested), he asked Cook, according to reports, how he would handle the situation. Cook allegedly responded in a way that baffled Zuckerberg, suggesting that Facebook should delete all user data collected outside of Facebook’s core apps.
This completely went against Facebook’s policy and how it depends on user data in order to sell targeted ads, and ultimately make money as a business model.
Of significant mention is also the scandal generated by Apple admitting to slowing down older iPhone models in order to conserve battery. Investigations were started all over the world with the company being fined significant amounts in several EU countries and around the world.
Worth mentioning is also the controversy surrounding the San Bernardino massacre when the FBI found a password-protected iPhone 5c directly related to the investigation. After several months of back and forth between the FBI, courts, and Apple, the company decided to oppose a court order demanding it to assist the FBI in breaking into the iPhone 5c, bypassing its security.
Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple, we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data. […] The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer. […] Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government. (source)
Probably the biggest success story in recent Apple history, aside from becoming the first $2tn U.S. company, was in 2015, when, thanks to the iPhone 6, 6s, and 6s Plus, Apple set an all-time high sales record of 231.2 million iPhones sold.
Of important note is the iPhone 5 of 2012, the first iPhone developed under Tim Cook, even if the iPhone 4s was announced with Cook as a fresh CEO of Apple one year prior.
The first “One more thing” product announcement under Cook was the original Apple Watch in 2015. This also marked the first time Cook used the sentence that was coined by Steve Jobs and used to introduce significant products towards the end of keynotes.
The second Cook “One more thing” introduced the biggest redesign in iPhone history, with the iPhone X in 2017.
We can’t write this segment without mentioning Apple’s dedication to privacy, as well as its advancements and success stories in its services department.
A significant milestone popped up just last year, when, in 2020, Apple decided to break a 15-year old partnership with Intel, in order to pursue the design of its own M-series chips to be used inside Mac computers. This model proved to be a success story over time in Apple’s mobile business, with its own A-series Bionic chips.
Without a doubt, the biggest Apple success story, to which Cook contributed in a major way, is the brand loyalty the company managed to develop, seed, and cherish with its user base. Whether mobile or computers, services or apps, Apple fans are among the most loyal out there, committed to everything Apple has and will ever offer.
Tim Cook’s story is as tumultuous as Apple’s own. From being hired by Steve Jobs to now celebrating ten years at the helms of a Big Five company (GAFAM or FAAMG if you will), there were plenty of ups and down with millions of users and billions of dollars in between, sprinkled with great products, some controversies, sporadic frustration, but mostly success stories.
As brilliant as Steve Jobs’ genius was, and still is as part of Apple’s legacy, the company is in a better place than it ever was. Of course, there will always be critics and detractors just as well as there will always be fans and supporters.
For every single person that criticizes the lack of innovation – and generally, Apple being late to the party just to bring something already employed to the table and call it its own innovation – there’s someone else who appreciates the company’s advancements, refined taste of all-around artistic design, reliability of its products and services, and the joy these bring to a more productive life and lifestyle.
It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, Apple changed everyone’s life, directly, or indirectly, and as great as Steve Jobs was, Apple is, today, a better company than the one Jobs was forced so brutally and prematurely to leave behind.
Anton D. Nagy
Anton is the Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow. As publication leader, he aims to bring Pocketnow even closer to you. His vision is mainly focused on, and oriented towards, the audience. Anton’s ambition, adopted by the entire team, is to transform Pocketnow into a reference media outlet.
Now hold on… when I say “bad design” here, I’m talking about bad design in the context of user experience and human-computer interaction design not the beautiful new immaterial background wallpaper graphics. The new background images and semi-opaque Vista-like windows look great! Human-computer interaction design generally has two important approaches; “easy to use” and “easy to learn.” There’s also the “easy to look at” approach to design, and that seems to be more what Microsoft is going for here as many of the “easy to use” and “easy to learn” aspects have been broken in Windows 11. That’s probably going to prove to be a problem since Windows is something that people often need to use instead of just look at. The best design would have a balanced yet high grade of “easy to use”, “easy to learn”, and “easy to look at”.
Why the centered start menu is bad
I know you can move the start menu button back to the lower-left corner where it has been by default since the mid-1990s by changing the settings, but there’s a lot to be said about changing its position by default. Most users will probably leave things at their default and frustratingly deal with the changes while gaining hatred for the operating system. The centered Start menu is new and different and eye-catching, but is it good? Let’s start with learning some interaction design basics.
Interaction design basics
One of the big basics of interaction design is part of Bruce Tog’s “AskTog: A Quiz Designed to Give You Fitts“. Also see “Designing for People Who Have Better Things To Do With Their Lives, Part Two“. Question 3 is “List the five-pixel locations on the screen that the user can access fastest.” The answer is:
The pixel immediately at the current cursor location: Click the mouse and you’re done.
The bottom-right corner.
The top-left corner.
The top-right corner.
The bottom-left corner.
This, of course, presumes that the user is using a computer with a mouse or trackpad, which for Windows is very likely. Touch and pen interaction efficiency has different rules. Anyway, the reason the corners of the screen are the quickest and easiest to access is that they don’t require any precision to access the target. You can flick the mouse pointer in any of those directions, and it will end up in that pixel in the corner ready to click and activate whatever is there. Logic would dictate that you should add some most-used interactive elements to those corners in order to make them easiest to access.
What functions are available in the 4 corners of Windows 11 by default?
Bottom-left corner: nothing
Bottom-right corner: show desktop (this option can be disabled, but then the corner will do nothing. Ideally, the corner click should show the notifications bar.)
Top-right corner: nothing or close program if a program is active and maximized.
Top-left corner: nothing or show windows control menu if a program is active and maximized and the top left corner windows control menu exists in that program
The only command there that I would consider frequent and useful would be the “close program” command. The windows control menu is also useful, but Windows programs no longer have that as a standard component so you can’t rely on that being consistent anymore.
Other desktop operating systems are much better at this. In fact, Windows 8, had a brilliant use of the 4 corner click pixels, but nobody knew about those since there were no visual cues or identifiers for the functions. In other words, the “easy to learn” aspect was missing for Windows 8, while the “easy to use” aspect was certainly there. Without the “easy to learn” aspect, the “easy to use” aspect is often lost.
It used to be that the bottom left corner would activate the start menu by default all the time. This was great because you could easily flick the mouse pointer in that direction, click, and get access to everything there right away. It’s been like that since 1995. You don’t even have to look at the screen… you can glance out the window while navigating if you want to.
It’s not in the right place anymore
Windows 11 removes that extremely efficient and easy-to-use interaction method (by default) in favor of putting the Start menu button closer to the center of the bottom edge of your screen. To be sure, this is not one of the quickest and easiest locations for an interactive element. But it gets worse…
It’s not even always in the same new place
While the bottom-left corner was already super easy to access, you could also build motor memory for its location. All you need to do is remember “flick to the lower-left corner, click”. So efficient! Well, on Windows 11, not only do you have to be much more precise in trying to click the start menu button, but it also moves around sometimes.
That’s right, it’s not consistently in the same location at the bottom of your screen! If I launch a bunch of programs, the app icons will fill up a larger width within the taskbar. This will displace the start menu button, task switcher, widgets, and search buttons to the left. That means you can’t build motor memory for their locations and thus have to spend some brainpower to search for the proper icon using your eyes every time you need to use them. If that sounds like it’s going to require more cognitive energy and waste your time, you’re right.
You may remember that with Windows 7, Microsoft’s research found that people would often launch programs in a specific sequence so that they would continuously be listed in the taskbar in a specific order. Windows 7 allowed users to pin programs to the taskbar in their desired position so that users could build motor memory for their most-used applications and quickly switch to them. With Windows 11’s centered taskbar, you can no longer build motor memory for application locations since their locations are always displaced depending on how many other programs are running at the same time (unless you pin all of the programs that you’ll ever use.) In other words, Windows 11’s new taskbar design degrades the usefulness of pinning applications.
Application launching is much further away
The layout of the new start menu has problems too. The “All Programs” button is about as far away from the mouse pointer’s initial location as it possibly can be, and even the listing of “pinned” applications is very far away.
On Windows 10, I can arrange my start menu’s application tiles to be very close to my mouse pointer so that I can access them with minimal mouse movement. That’s an efficiency boost and a time saver. Windows 11’s Start menu does the opposite AND doesn’t allow the user to customize it for better efficiency. That’s another “bad design” aspect of the new Start menu.
Which function in the Windows 11 Start menu is the closest to the Start button for easiest access? My username? A button that I can use to sign out? Something I’ve never done? Does that really deserve the fastest access location? Nope!
Live tiles are gone and the widget window isn’t as good
Besides being much easier to customize and arrange into an efficient layout, the Windows 10 start menu also had instant access at-a-glance live tiles that could make viewing information as simple as clicking the start menu button. With one click I could see the time in a variety of time zones, the weather, my next appointment, upcoming tasks, flagged email lists, news, etc.
The new Widgets window kind of does a lot of the same things that live tiles did, but it’s all in a completely different section from the start menu now and has a lot more irrelevant info and a lot less personal info. I mean, the calendar widget doesn’t even work yet.
That being said, Windows 10 live tiles never met their full potential as they did on Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7’s live tiles were fantastically customizable and personal. I could pin photo albums, OneNote Notebooks or pages, plane ticket PDFs, contact groups with their Facebook/Twitter/MSN latest posts, specific email folders, web pages, movies, music albums, playlists… it was far far more robust back then.
Ambiguous icons are objectively more difficult to learn & use
All of the research on the usability of interactive elements has shown that labeling buttons in the users’ native language have many advantages that make the system both “easy to learn” and “easy to use”. If you’re someone who doesn’t have anything better to do than learn new software interaction methods then this might not be a big deal to you. For people who do have better things to do, an instantly obvious and consistent user interface is a huge advantage for a positive user experience. Here are some references for you if you don’t believe me:
One of those is an article about Microsoft’s own research from 2005! Going back to Bruce Tog’s interaction designer quiz, buttons with labels also improve interaction according to Fitts’ Law since the labels increase the target area of the buttons.
You might say that aesthetically, the ribbon-style interface of 2005-2021 looks more cluttered and that’s a valid criticism, but I can much more easily determine the functions of all of those buttons because I learned about “words” when I was 2 years old. Plus, they’re all one click away, thus improving efficiency. Windows 11 makes the buttons harder to understand, harder to explain to other users, and harder to find thus requiring more cognitive energy and time. Windows 11’s file manager removes the extremely useful customizable toolbar where I could add frequently-used commands in the order I choose for extra efficiency.
So we’ve already proven many times over the past few decades that obvious interactive elements are better. Yet, today with Windows 11, we’re going backward. The new File Explorer is a good example of a bad design. While in 2005, Microsoft proved that their new “ribbon” style toolbar interface was going to be much easier to use and easier to learn (it is), now we’re throwing that out for crowded cryptic icon toolbars that Microsoft had so many problems within the 1990s. Even Windows Vista’s File Explorer was easier to use since at least that had labeled buttons that people could understand. Microsoft never even finished consistently implementing the 2005 ribbon interface across its systems, and now we’re going back to a 90s era interface design that was proven problematic decades ago.
Windows that don’t behave like Windows
Speaking of confusing unlabeled icons, in Windows 11’s taskbar we’ve got a few icons there by default that don’t behave like the other icons. They LOOK a lot like the other icons though. They’ve got blue colors just like all the other Windows program icons and they’re the same size as all the other program icons. That’s going to cause some confusion. The Windows icon, Search icon, Tasks switcher icon, and Widgets icon are all stuck to the left side of the centered taskbar, while program icons appear to the right. Program icons can be arranged how you want and they can be “pinned” so that they’ll stay on the taskbar even when not running. The Windows, Search, Tasks and Widgets icons look the same as program icons, but they cannot be arranged in the same manner. What’s worse is that they also launch windows that look like program windows (just like the program icons on the right), but these other types of windows don’t behave like program windows.
In Windows 10, we also had a series of system icons on the left side of the taskbar for similar things like the task view, start menu, Cortana, and search, but these were designed to look different from the program icons to the right. That was a good thing. We could visually identify that these icons would behave differently… AND they did behave differently. Instead of opening up a program window like the program icons did, these icons would generally open a menu that popped up from the taskbar (with the exception of “task view” which would give a full-screen overlay).
In Windows 11, not only is the difference unclear, but now those system icons no longer open menus that are clearly attached to their icons in the taskbar… instead, they open floating graphic windows. These windows look like they could be application windows, but they don’t have standard minimize/maximize/close buttons in the upper right corners like all windows are supposed to have… and they are not resizable or repositionable like all windows are supposed to be. Why would you do that to us, Microsoft? Is there any real reason for a new type of window that’s not nearly as usable or flexible as the other types of windows? Is there any reason to make their launch mechanism look exactly like the launch mechanism for windows that do behave like we expect windows to behave? The answer is no. This creates more confusion for the users and requires them to spend cognitive energy memorizing the differences when really there should be no differences.
Either the Start window, Search window, Task view, Chat, and Widgets window should behave like program windows, or the Start, Search, Tasks, Chat, and Widgets buttons should behave like taskbar menus that are clearly different from program windows. My vote is that they should all behave like program windows as that would be very useful and much more simple for understanding the system as a whole. I’d love to be able to move around and resize the search window, widgets window, and program launcher window. Microsoft already did that with Cortana; making it a normal program window as opposed to a taskbar menu (as per one of my feature requests). The whole system would be much easier to use if window behavior was consistent as users would be able to expect the same functionality and behavior from all windows in the system.
The whole system would be much easier to use if window behavior was consistent as users would be able to expect the same functionality and behavior from all windows in the system.
How awesome would it be to have the program launcher window stay open and resizable/repositionable so that I can launch as many programs as I want with one click each? Instead, I have to re-open the start/program launcher window every time I want to launch another program because it disappears as soon as I click something.
The widgets window looks like an application window, but it isn’t. How awesome would it be if it was resizable, snap-able, and max/minimizable though? If the widgets window is a menu, why isn’t it visually anywhere near the widgets button on the taskbar? What a mess!
The search window isn’t a normal window either. It disappears as soon as you click something else, which is an awful user experience. How awesome would it be if the search window was a normal window that I could snap to the side and open results in other windows without losing the results listing? That would have been really useful! The only scenario where users actually like new windows opening on-click (See “Opening Links in New Browser Windows and Tabs (nngroup.com)“) is the scenario where Microsoft makes the actual list of results disappear thus requiring a do-over of the search every time.
With an update and a reboot, I now have 5 icons on the left side of the taskbar that LOOK like program icons, but they don’t open normal program windows and they aren’t drag/drop rearrangeable. On the right part, I have 3 actual program icons that do open normal program windows and are re-arrangeable and have keyboard shortcuts like expected. It’s impossible to visually tell which icons behave normally and which do not. Why can’t they all behave normally so that users can build a simple consistent mental model of how the system works?
Speaking of a confusing lack of consistency that causes frustration among users, let’s not forget about the ridiculous number of different scrolling interfaces we’ve got to deal with on Windows 11. Sometimes we’ve got dots for scrolling, sometimes we’ve got tiny scrollbars that are difficult to click, sometimes we’ve got larger scrollbars that are easier to use, sometimes we have no scrollbars. It’s a total mess that makes interaction complicated and inefficient for users.
In the above image, you’ll see 5 different methods of vertically scrolling content in windows. The first one in the widgets window is invisible until you move your mouse over it. The second one is just two tiny dots in the start window. The third one is a very thin vertical line in the right edge of the File Explorer window that becomes slightly larger and shows up/down arrows when you mouse over it. The fourth one is a rounded scrollbar, and the fifth one is a rectangular scrollbar. The last one is probably the best since its targets are larger and it’s easy to see.
When you learned to drive a car how many different styles of steering wheels were there in that one car that you learned to drive on? Certainly not 5, right? Windows used to have a central “Appearance” control panel where you could actually customize the scrollbars in order to change the colors or make them bigger or smaller. That was pretty awesome… and, get this… It applied to all of the scrollbars in all of the programs! So simple, consistent, and easy!
While the removal of the easy-to-use ribbon interface from the file explorer, and the centered start menu are also accessibility problems, Microsoft is also removing another accessibility advantage that was present in all previous versions of Windows… access keys.
If you want to be very efficient in your computer interaction methods, you’ll probably want to learn how to use access keys and keyboard shortcuts to navigate the interface instead of taking your hands off the keyboard and reaching for the mouse, trackpad, or touch screen. In the old days, all Windows programs had menus at the top that were accessible via the keyboard. You could simply press the Alt key once followed by the underlined letter within the menu in order to quickly access that command. This was awesome for power user efficiency as well as for users with motor skill disabilities. It still works this way in many programs today.
With Microsoft’s 2005 ribbon interface, the access keys were hidden by default but would show with a single press of the Alt key, making it easy to learn the access keys even though the ribbon UI didn’t follow the menu structure of most other programs.
Today, with Windows 10 UWP apps and now Windows 11… access keys are mostly gone. The Windows key + X menu has removed them completely, and that was one of the most useful set of access keys. On Windows 10, I could type Windows key + X, u, u, in order to shut down the computer. Or I could type Windows key + X, u, s, to go into sleep mode. Those are all gone. The File explorer’s context-sensitive menu has been degraded as well, hiding the usual menu items that we’ve come to expect behind a “more options” command that makes those hidden functions more complicated and less efficient.
Keyboard navigation has been degraded with Windows 11, too. You have to use the tab key and arrow keys to sequentially select every button in a window before you can get to the one you want. No more instant access keyboard shortcuts like we had in Windows 95-Windows 7.
What about tablet interaction?
The “Tablet mode” in Windows 10 has been completely removed from Windows 11. Tablets definitely require different interaction methods from mouse/trackpad pointers, because touch screens have different capabilities.
First of all, a touch screen doesn’t let you depend on mouse-hover interactions or tooltips because that’s not possible. I can’t show a tooltip for an unlabeled icon by hovering my finger over it because 1. touch screens don’t work that way, and 2. if they did I wouldn’t be able to see the text label because my finger and hand would be covering it. This means that interactive buttons should be even more obvious so that users don’t have to spend cognitive energy trying to guess what they do before pressing them.
If the easiest to access point on a computer’s interface is the pixel right below your mouse pointer’s current location, then what’s the easiest to access area of a touch screen tablet interface? How about the area just beneath the area within reach of your fingers?
In the above photo, I’ve circled my thumbs in red so that you can see where they’re located and what area of the touch screen would be easiest for me to access with those fingers. Of course, this all depends on how you hold a tablet, but I’m willing to bet that most people hold it by the left or right edges… certainly not the center and certainly not the bottom edge.
Windows 8 actually did the tablet interface really well, but it had hidden left and right edge gestures that would reveal some extremely useful controls on the edges right below your thumbs. I could easily get the task switcher with the left edge or the start screen and a series of “charm” control buttons on the right edge. As mentioned previously, Windows 8’s downfall was not making these things clear to new users.
Windows 11 actually does have a left and right edge gesture function that reveals some controls on a tablet, but… they’re not nearly as useful as they could be.
A left edge swipe reveals the widgets window. This is much less useful than were it to reveal the task view like it did on Windows 10 or actually activate task switching like it did on Windows 8. How many times has Microsoft tried this widget thing, by the way? I guess I did think it was pretty cool in 1996 with the Windows 95 “Active Desktop”.
A right edge swipe reveals the notifications panel that lists all of your recent notifications. That’s ok, but it could have been something much better.
Worst of all, the centered start menu is about as far away as possible from my fingers as you can get, thus making application launching much more difficult than it could be.
On the other hand, the touch keyboard is very much improved with new theme capabilities and a scaling option. The scaling option is in the settings though. Really, the better way to do it would have been to allow the keyboard to behave just like a normal application window that I can resize by dragging the corners. That’s actually how the touch keyboard was in previous versions of Windows and it was so much more flexible that way.
How about that Windows Ink support and pen interaction though? Well, it looks like there’s no improvement there. Windows Ink still wants to switch tools automatically and against my will thus making things like OneNote impossible to use. Pen interaction is obviously another user interaction scenario that deserves a different design than touch and mouse as well. For pen interaction, the corners and edges aren’t as easy to access as with a mouse or finger edge swipe. The center or top of the screen does make sense for pen interaction, however, but Windows 11 doesn’t seem to be taking that into account either as so many other pen interaction functions are broken.
The “Bring Backs” List
It looks like I’m not the only one with complaints about Windows 11’s design. It was fine when all of these things were in Windows 10X because we knew that no one would have to use that (and probably wouldn’t), but now that they’re coming into Windows 11, and will ship on all new computers in the future… that’s a problem.
The “Bring backs” list is getting pretty popular on the Windows Insiders Feedback hub.
Many other people are complaining about the user interface design changes as well. It’s not just me.
Microsoft Design’s explanation
Microsoft’s Design team wrote an article explaining a lot of the design decisions in Windows 11, and many parts sound good but don’t really make sense. See: Windows 11: Designing the Next Generation | by Microsoft Design | Microsoft Design | Jul, 2021 | Medium
For example, “After listening to people express a need for more efficiency and less noise when using Start, we designed a cleaner and simpler experience that puts people at the center by prioritizing the apps they love and the documents they need. It also adapts to modern device form factors and enables easier access for all screen sizes, from a Surface Go to an ultrawide monitor.” Yeah, that sounds good, but it’s not what they did. It’s not simpler, it’s not more efficient, and I’m not seeing it adapt to modern device form factors very well. Where’s the smartphone version? The Start window can’t even be resized by the user.
Another example, “The Microsoft Windows Design Team is driven by creative pragmatism. Designing for over one billion people requires empathy. It relies on internalizing human needs to build solutions that are inclusive of all, while still delivering a personal touch. As Windows leaps into its next era, the story of its evolution is told again through human-centered product design and a deep commitment to build the most inclusive and personal operating system.” Again, that sounds good, but Windows 11 looks less inclusive, less pragmatic, less personal, and less human-centered than ever. Those words are all kind of ambiguous though.
The above video talks about how Microsoft Research decided on the new design of the Start window, and it illustrates a common mistake in how good user research should be done when it comes to interaction design. The mistake here is asking users what they want. Users are notoriously bad at self awareness, so asking users to fill out a survey or tell you what they want is often going to give you bad results. The smarter way is to observe actual user behavior during the interaction with prototypes instead and analyze the problems within those interactions in order to realize what the best solution is going to be. See: Usability Testing 101 (nngroup.com) Observe how the users actually use Windows and determine areas which could be improved based on the time it takes users to complete frequent tasks. Do we often launch programs and then open documents or do we open the File Explorer and then open documents? Are recent documents actually used, or are they created, finished, emailed and never touched again? That kind of data would be more useful for designing around simplicity and efficiency and would probably quickly reveal the problems with Windows 11’s new designs.
Apparently, Microsoft let users arrange interactive elements as pieces of paper on a table and they found some similarities in the arrangements and went with whatever was most popular. The problem here is that most of the research participants are probably doing this with a visual-priority approach, and that’s going to be very different from a interaction-efficiency-priority approach. Yes, I’m going to look at the center of the screen and if I’m from a culture that reads from top to bottom and left to right, I’ll probably look at the top left first. That’s great, but this doesn’t necessarily translate well to efficient or easy human-computer interaction designs.
Where the market is headed
“We believe that this is where the market is headed.” That’s an excuse that we often hear when companies decide to implement bad design and probably came up during discussions of this new design. I call this the “Lemmings excuse”. It’s similar to saying, “All the other kids are doing it, so why can’t I!?” My mom never fell for that excuse when I was a kid, and neither should you.
A good example is when Microsoft implemented hamburger buttons throughout Windows 10 even though all of the usability research data showed that this design reduces user engagement by 20-50%. Yeah, that’s where the market was, but it was still a bad decision. Luckily, today with Windows 11, that design convention has started to be abandoned, and Google is abandoning it too.
Copying bad design is still bad design. Yes, I get that Apple’s Mac OS does the centered dock with icons that move around in order to break motor memory, as does Chrome OS, but maybe that’s one of the reasons Windows users don’t want to use Mac OS and Chrome OS.
What Microsoft should have done
One of the interesting things in Microsoft Design’s videos was that one of the employees said that the new design is more “human”. How do you figure that?! It’s not easier to use, it’s not easier to learn, it’s not more accessible… it’s not even more accommodating to diversity. It’s worse at all of those things.
If you disagree with any of those things, then you’ll probably agree with the next paragraph.
Design for Diversity
Diversity is probably the most important “human” thing that a computing interface should be designed for. Microsoft’s excuse for removing accessibility & efficiency features that people rely on will probably be that the user metrics they capture shows that the people who use those features are in the minority. That may be true, and if you’re in the majority, you may not care, but removing things that minorities depend on is a form of discrimination. It’s also kind of sad that people who care about user interface efficiency & usability would be in the minority these days. However, it should be obvious by now that different people prefer different interaction methods & design styles so a theme/customization structure that accommodates that makes a lot of sense.
It’s sad that people who care about user interface efficiency & usability would be in the minority these days.
There is one other computing system out there that is absolutely designed for diversity (albeit in kind of a messy way). It’s Linux! There are no restrictions to what you can do with Linux, all minorities are welcome to add and use any features they want. It’s possible to make a Linux desktop environment that focuses on “easy to learn” concepts just as it’s possible to make one that focuses on “easy to use” highly efficient interaction concepts. The users have the power to choose.
User experience design in Linux is incredibly flexible. My favorite desktop environment on Linux is the Xfce Desktop Environment. By default it may look pretty old and dated, but it happens to be extremely flexible. It’s possible to create desktop environment user interface panels in XFCE that make it look like Windows or Mac OS or some combination in between. I can put whatever menus or functions I want in the corners of the screen for the most efficient easy-to-use access to those functions. If you don’t like the XFCE environment, don’t worry, there are plenty of other completely different user interface options to install and choose from.
One of the things that helps desktop environments look different is the The GTK Project’s theme structure. That’s an open source framework that many Linux systems and applications use in order to theme their programs and desktop environments. Anyone can create a theme that completely changes the design of the entire system. Some are beautiful, some are utilitarian. That’s the beauty of a system designed for technological diversity… users can choose their priorities. Also see: How to design an OS for the future and why companies should read this (pocketnow.com)
Take a look at just a hand-full of examples of system-wide tech diversity you can get on Linux:
Granted, there is a lot more bad design in the Linux community, but at least it’s far more open to diversity and it’s far easier to refine the design for more efficient workflows… and then keep that design available to you for a very long time.
It’s still possible to get very old yet consistent desktop environments running on Linux. Mate is a good example as that’s a continuation of Gnome 2.0. Choosing a GUI that’s most efficient for you and then being able to use that forever is a huge advantage for cognitive load. Users can become accustomed to the interface and spend cognitive energy on better things like innovation and getting things done more efficiently so that they can take vacations.
Prioritize “Easy to Learn” (like Windows 95 did)
Of course, on Linux, choosing a desktop environment and a compatible theme that you like can be extremely daunting. The best choice is to design for the lowest common denominator and make the default environment as “easy to learn” as possible while still providing the tools for more advanced users to customize the environment to their preference. You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time… unless you give them the tools to please themselves.
You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time… unless you give them the tools to please themselves.
Neglecting the “easy to learn” aspect was a huge problem with Windows 8 and was a big reason that failed. On the other hand, Windows 95 had a huge focus on the “easy to learn” aspect and was probably the most successful computing operating system of all time. If you look at the Windows 95 desktop environment, a beginner might think, “OMG, where do I start?” Then they’d see the button that literally says “Start” and instantly know that’s going to help them figure out where to begin and what to do next. Today’s computing operating systems have nothing so obvious and easy to figure out and thus require some investment of extra cognitive energy understanding what the designer meant to do. Interaction designers often don’t realize that The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think (nngroup.com)!
Of course, not everyone needs or wants an operating system interface that is ridiculously easy. Some may want something that just looks good. That’s where extremely flexible themes and desktop environment options come in.
Windows 11 should have or could have been just a new theme that gives users a new desktop environment option to try. Power users should be able to select and create the environment theme that’s most useful to them, while other users should be able to select the environment that may be most attractive to them. Making the design “human” means accommodating both the majorities and minorities.
Why now though?
Windows 10 was supposed to be the last version of Windows, where it would continue to evolve as a service while maintaining all of the things users have become accustomed to. Maybe they were thinking to be kind of like Mac OS X, which had been stuck at version 10 from 2001 through 2020. Now that Mac OS 11 is out, I guess Microsoft wants to catch up. Although, the Windows as a Service concept had a lot of problems, too. See: “Windows as a Service” isn’t really working | Pocketnow
Another idea goes along with the idea behind releasing Windows Vista. One goal with that was to kick start the market into buying more new computers to run the newest software. Windows 11 seems to be heading in the same direction as it requires a TPM 2.0 module that many current devices may not have. This means many computers out now will not be upgradable to Windows 11 and you’ll need to get a new one in order to use the newest operating system. This forced obsolescence didn’t work out so well for Windows Vista as that has long been labeled one of the worst computing operating systems of all time. I was a beta tester for that and I couldn’t even get it to boot until maybe 2 service packs after the official release. Many users stuck with Windows XP for many years in order to avoid Vista… even through to the Windows 7 release! That’s how hard Vista backfired.
The “Centered on you” tagline seems to be a marketing thing as well. The centered design is clearly not something that’s going to be useful in terms of productivity, and it doesn’t even bring my personal information to the forefront like the old Live Tiles of Windows 8 and Windows Phone did. It’s more of a regression to the old stale grid of icons that we had in Windows and Mac OS of the late 1980’s, but not as good since there’s no folder structure for organizing programs into categories.
I doubt that the backlash against Windows 11 will be as severe as Windows Vista or Windows 8, but I definitely predict that there will still be some backlash. You’re seeing it in the Windows Insiders Feedback Hub, and YouTube video comments already. On the other hand, you’re also seeing some comments about how Windows 11 looks awesome. Those are likely putting more weight on the “easy to look at” approach in their decisions. Either way, it should be clear that theming and customization are probably going to be the best solution for accommodating human-computer interaction design diversity. It makes a lot of sense after all… we humans like to choose and customize our own clothes, furniture, cars, houses, yards, etc. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to choose and customize our own computer interface?
Maybe we’ll get some better design for diversity and efficiency in Windows 12.
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!
If you’re already familiar with my writing on Pocketnow, you’ll know that I love to use smartphones for photography, especially when I don’t feel like carrying around any of the big cameras. I was a huge fan of the old Nokia Lumia 1020, which had been my daily driver from 2013 until the Huawei P20 Pro was released in 2018 as nothing else quite came close to the Lumia 1020’s photography capabilities within those 5 years.
For 2020 and most of 2021 so far, I’ve got a new favorite smartphone when it comes to photography and that’s the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra. That’s right… NOT the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra and not the Huawei Mate 40 Pro and I’ll tell you why.
First of all, the transparent version of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is damn gorgeous! That was a big attraction for me. Its very unique look.
It’s also got a decent price. I got the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra for about $900 whereas the more highly rated Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ is much harder to get and much more expensive. Plus, Xiaomi can still use Google services where the Huawei phones don’t. But really, we’re here to talk about photography.
4 focal lengths = great range
The big reason I like the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is for its camera array. It has 4 cameras on the back and they’re all useful. Unlike some phones that might add rarely-used things like macro photography lenses… or terrible quality gimmicks like time-of-flight fake-background-blur depth sensors… the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra has 4 different focal lengths on 4 different cameras. That means I can get 4 different fields of view without changing my physical position, and that’s a huge advantage.
Better than Optical Zoom
Some people who don’t know any better (like Apple), will call this “optical zoom”, but it’s really the act of switching between different cameras with different focal lengths and different fields of view. Optical zoom is when the lens elements move in order to change the focal length and field of view. In other words, the optics zoom. Multi-camera zoom is where we’re actually changing cameras & lenses while combining the holes in the range with digital zoom. It’s like having one camera with a prime lens, and then putting that down and picking up another camera with a different kind of prime lens.
The problem with optical zoom is that we’re limited by the physics of light within the physical movement of the optical lens. By switching to a completely different lens and a completely different camera, you’ve got much more flexibility.
RAW output support
Another huge advantage is that all 4 cameras can output to RAW digital negative file formats. That’s not always the case with these multi-camera arrays. Often, the phone manufacturer thinks they’re smarter than you and will only output to processed JPG images, or maybe they’ll only let one of the cameras output to RAW format. Sorry, but since the first Nokia phones started outputting images to RAW format in 2013, I’ve been shooting RAW on my phones. I love being able to have full control over how the image data is processed after the fact. 50% of photography is in the editing.
Widest Ultra Wide
The 12mm focal length equivalent lens camera combination on the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is the widest wide-angle lens on a phone. It’s so wide that it will see your fingers holding the phone if you wrap your hand around the back of it instead of just holding the edges. I love having such an ultra-wide angle of view option and this kind of prime lens really isn’t something that would be possible with an actual optical zoom lens. Sure there’s some distortion, but it’s a really cool look in some cases.
Another awesome feature about the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is the timer burst shot feature which one might also call time lapse. This option lets me set up the camera on a tripod or a rock or a fence somewhere, set 5 seconds between photos, and let it take however many photos I want in a row. This is great for posed or candid group photos while out with friends. Unlike other phones’ time-lapse feature… this also works with the RAW format options so there’s still plenty of room for post-processing on the desktop later.
All of the Xiaomi phones have this feature in the software, but combine it with the 4 different focal lengths and we’ve got some awesome range for group photos. Some of the below were shot with the 70mm or 120mm telephoto focal lengths while the phone was set up fairly far away. I can shoot group photos with me in them from across the pond!
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra has both a 70mm equivalent and 120mm equivalent telephoto lens/camera combo. I like the 70mm focal length range for portraits, and the 120mm range is great for further away portraits with a little more narrow depth of field. Unlike a lot of other smartphone cameras, the “5X” 120mm telephoto camera has a 48-megapixel sensor. Sure that’s quad-Bayer which really means it’s a 12Mp image, but it’ll be a nice and clean 12Mp image. The 70mm focal length range has a lesser quality 12Mp sensor and there are some chromatic aberrations with that combo, but since it supports RAW, I can clean up those issues very easily. Still, I love having two telephoto lenses to switch between for different compositions in RAW as the telephoto lenses have less distortion than the 24mm and ultra wide-angle 12mm lenses. A lot of phones depend on digital zoom for the range between lens focal lengths, but this always reduces the quality of the image, so having dedicated lens/camera combinations for different focal lengths is a huge advantage.
48Mp normal shots
The “normal” 24mm focal length lens camera combination has a second 48Mp quad-Bayer sensor that’s pretty great, as well.
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra does pretty good with video too. It can do 8K resolution at 24fps, or 4K resolution (and lower) at 60fps DEPENDING on which camera I’m using.
Last year, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra was on the top of the list for best smartphone camera phone on DXOmark. Today, it’s been surpassed by the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, Huawei Mate 40 Pro+, and Huawei Mate 40 Pro… but I still like the Mi 10 Ultra better. The Huawei Mate 40 Pro’s are nice, but their RAW processing at 50Mp is slow and the RYYB sensor has a lot of chromatic aberration problems with specular highlights outdoors. The Mate 40 Pro only has 3 focal lengths, and the Mate 40 Pro+ has 4 focal lengths but with a range that’s less attractive to me. The Mate 40 Pro+ has a 23mm normal lens, 14mm wide-angle (not as wide as the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra), a 70mm lens (good, I like that), and a 240mm focal length (way too long). The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra only has 3 focal lengths instead of 4. The Mi 11 Ultra has a similar 12mm ultra-wide, 24mm wide, and 120mm telephoto focal length lens combination, but it lacks the 70mm focal length lens/camera combo and that’s something I would really want. Using the digital zoom on a 24mm lens to get a 70mm focal length crop is going to drop the image quality too much and certainly won’t give me a decent RAW image at that size (unless I crop the RAW manually later).
The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra is only around $750-$900 too. That’s a pretty good price whereas the Mi 11 Ultra is in the $1000-$1400 range, and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is well over $1000 if you can even get it. The Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus is even rarer and might set you back $3000-$5000 on eBay for example:
Sorry, but I think I’ll go with the one that’s under $1000 and has so many other advantages. Huawei phones can’t even use Google Services anymore!
Of course, there are disadvantages to the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra. It only has one focal length on the front-facing camera, and THAT camera doesn’t support RAW output. So that’s not so good. It’s also not waterproof, so I have to avoid taking it out on the river. Still, I’ve been very happy with the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra as a photographer even now after its successor, the Mi 11 Ultra has been released.
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!