The design of the MeeGo-Harmattan UI: A closer look

| June 29, 2011 | 52 Replies

Just like we did with the original MeeGo handset UI deep dive back in June in last year, we’re back again with an up close and personal look at the user interface and usage paradigm running on the lovely N9. For the curious among us, Nokia have provided an extensive consumer facing page to demo the N9 over at and a more technical/developer focused page for those that care for a little more detail and less “shiny”.


UI Model:

The UI model exists in two z-planes with the application view and the lockscreen occupying one z-plane and the home area occupying the other, lower z-plane.

The lockscreen is always the first screen presented to the user when they unlock the device, either through the power button or the magical double tap gesture and is dismissed by either activating on of the notifications by swiping it, or by swiping the entire screen from the edge of the display to the center.

The Swipe!

The swipe gesture as we’ve all been told is the entire idea! It is the over-riding aspect of the user interface and is the one around which the UI was designed. Swipe from the lockscreen to get to the home area, swipe from one area of the home area such as notifications to get to the applications grid, another swipe to get to the multitasking view.

Nokia have also added the “quick-launch swipe” which after a short swipe up from the bottom of the display, a set of 4 application shortcuts (of your choosing) will be readily available. Even better is that there is supposedly an option to close applications using a swipe from the top of the screen  all the way down. If true, those are VERY nice and VERY intuitive touches.

Although this is not completely confirmed, the touch-surface on the N9 and as a result, the touchscreen controller in the device might use “first-pixel” sensitivity in order to facilitate the swipe gesture (it’s relatively common knowledge that capacitive touchscreens have nigh-dreadful sensitivity at the edges of the display.

Unless Nokia have significantly extended the display past the active area of the display (likely) or have used specialized technology (aforementioned) the swipe gesture would not be possible.

The Lockscreen and Home Area:

The lock screen, nothing overly exciting about it really. Much like the lockscreen on Windows Phone 7 and iOS shows the time and any notifications, the date and anything else of import. Unlike Windows Phone (to my chagrin) and much like iOS5, The N9 UI displays detailed information on notifications and allows users to go directly from the lockscreen to address the notification of their choice. It’s something so obvious that I simply cannot understand why it hasn’t been done as well before.

A general swipe from the lockscreen, not on any specific notification brings you to either the Home area or the last accessed application.


The Home area is broken into three main sections, a looped-panorama  if you will  (much like the Maemo 5 homescreens just vertically oriented instead of horizontally). Unlike the Maemo 5 screens however, the idea of free-form widgets holding tons of information is deprecated for the simplicity of an Applications view, an Events view and a “live” grid of your open applications.




The events area is supposedly where all your notifications and social networking updates will be aggregated. There are both good and bad points to this. Good that I can easily find and view my twitter feed. Bad that the important parts of my twitter feed and Facebook feeds will be buried in an immense scrolling list with no easy jump feature nor a mention that we’ll be able to prioritise the important people in either feed. Will know more about it when I get the chance to test it out but can only see this being used for a cursory glance at the newest information as opposed to a place where I spend much of my time.

The good/great  bit is that tapping on any notification or feed update will take you directly into the application from which the feed was generated. Even better is the fact that all the accounts used to aggregate the information for this events view can all be managed from one centralised settings location. (THANK YOUR RESPECTIVE DEITY!!)

Applications view:

Nothing overly special here, a reorganisable list of your installed applications is what we get, though the ability to create bookmarks and place them in this list, complete with the requisite favicon is a very nice touch indeed. Applications are placed in this list in terms of how recently they’ve been installed, new apps to the bottom, older apps closer to the top. Though you’re free to move em as much as you wanna via a long press on any icon. That long press brings up an “edit” view replete with little “x” marks in the corners of applications which  will uninstall the application or in the case of a bookmark, just remove the shortcut.


This area is probably where the closest resemblance to good old Maemo 5 lies.  While you won’t be playing and viewing any videos in this view like some people would do on Maemo 5 (just to brag really), the applications in this view are more or less fully active here. The best example of this being demonstrate is a compass application that updates as the device is turned. Pretty nice that we don’t have to worry about apps not resuming in timely fashion or running when we want ’em to but let’s hope devs are judicious in when and how these are run. The battery in the N9 ain’t huge guys (Please go easy on it!). Let’s hope that things like the camera won’t be kept/left running indefinitely, (can you say dead battery?), some of us forget to shut these things down in the heat of the moment. Unlike pretty much every implementation of  “cards” or “live-views” the N9 allows us to switch between the larger view of a smaller number of applications or a smaller view of more applications, all accessible by a pinch-to-zoom gesture :-P. Nice touch eh?

Apps can also be closed via a long press with the option to close applications one by one or close all. Nokia really appealing to the power/tech-savvy users with all of this.

Status Bar:

Tap Status bar to reveal Settings Shortcuts menu

Occupying the top 45 pixels on the display in all but full screen applications (mostly media-related ones for obvious reasons) is the Android-esque status bar. Much like Maemo 5 it gives access to quick toggles for bluetooth and WiFi, the ability to change ring-type (vibrate etc), media volume, your Facebook and other cloud services status and information on pending downloads and all the other fun stuff we’ve come to expect at the very tops of our screens. No information on whether things like battery percentages and estimated active usage time will make the cut before release but those are things I’d hope to see make it. In any case, it’s a worthwhile “feature” to include in this next iteration.



MeeGo-Harmattan is one of the most colourful, beautiful and most functional (from all indications of course) Operating Systems I’ve ever laid eyes on. It is truly the spiritual successor to Maemo 5 and lives up to and exceeds expectations (not just ours) and it’s painful to think how much better life could have been if this could have been completed by end of 2010. None of us here would know much about or care for Windows Phone 7, though both it and MeeGo-Harmattan do share some of the same design philosophies (head-up, user-centric, unique design, different interaction paradigm, emphasis on swipe gesture).

There’s so much I’ve left out already, including the keyboards(language switches on the fly!) , application updating (without going into the Ovi Store app I might add), the Maemo 5-esque integration with cloud services (Flickr, Gtalk, SIP, Picasa, Facebook with chat, MfE the whole lot) and tons of other little touches that are described in the developer documentation but suffice it to say that there’s going to be lot of talk around this device when it launches and clearly a bit more of a disruption of the current dichotomy dominating the mobile landscape.

I beg, nay, BESEECH Nokia to give serious consideration as to the feasibility of keeping this platform around even if it means minimal devices per year. Windows Phone can be your Android, Nokia; ubiquitous, popular with devs and users but not quite as open as pure Linux or as capable due to intrinsic limitations of the software environments of both. MeeGo-Harmattan (even if you develop it yourselves) could be the antithesis to Apple’s approach yet equally (if not more so) beautiful, user-friendly AND functional.


1 device a year Nokia, replete with a major OS update every 12 months with small bug-fixes in between and you’ll be making a lot of people happy, myself included.


If you haven’t seen already the videos of the N9 in action, not only is there clearly something wrong with you, but you should probably hit up our nigh-hundred of other posts on the device!






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Category: Nokia

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So you've read something I've written. yay!! As you already know, my name is Andre and I'm currently a student based in Atlanta. Much like Jay, I pretty much blog here in my free time. Follow me on twitter @andre1989 or contact me directly at Andre(at)mynokiablog(dot)com. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.