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PARIS, France – Speaking at the leading internet conference LeWeb earlier today, Nokia’s Marko Ahtisaari, SVP Design and User Experience, talked about the dominant patterns of interface and user experience design in the smartphone industry. He also hinted at his vision for future devices and the ways that our use of phones will change. Check out our report from the event below.

Ahtisaari heads up industrial design, user interface and experience design at Nokia. This is what he had to say:

The smartphone space is so hot and overcovered by the media that it gives the false impression that the market has matured.

In fact, the smartphone industry is pretty much at the place of the automotive industry in 1890. At that point, cars still had tillers – like boats – to steer them. It took another 15 years for the industry to settle on the steering wheel as the user interface for steering and the gear shift to move to the place it occupies now. With smartphones, that’s where we’re up to – the middle of the beginning.

Dominant Patterns

At the moment, there are two main patterns for smartphone interfaces and user experiences…

There’s the pattern used by iOS. You get screens full of apps and a physical home key. It’s a very beautiful, elegant and simple pattern. It’s almost like navigating through a house. You’re at the front door and you can go into the dining room. If you want to go to the living room, you go back to the front door and then straight into there.

The second pattern is that used by both Symbian and Android – multiple, personalisable homescreens. The user fills these out with their own preference of widgets. Doing that is so simple and organic that they end up being able to use the whole phone from their homescreens. This content can take many different forms, such as shortcuts to apps and live information widgets.

These two patterns are both very interesting, but it’s hard to believe that this is where smartphone evolution ends.

The Windows 7 smartphone design has just been introduced and that shows that there is a demand for new patterns. It’s very interesting but it’s too early to tell how successful it will be.

Nokia will introduce its own new pattern with MeeGo in 2011.

Where next?

Looking forward, I see two main influencers.

If you look at people using touchscreen devices today, they’ve got their heads down. The devices are immersive and require full attention. You’ll see couples in coffee shops who’ve been together 10-15 years both sat with their heads down, operating their devices.

We need to give people their head up again. The ability to keep social interaction with the people that they’re physically with. That means a better ability to use the devices single-handed and them requiring less of our attention for peripheral interactions. Notifications, for example, could be much improved so they require much less from us.

The second big influence for the most competitive devices will be the way they are able to harness the collective intelligence of their users. Smartphone users create a lot of data. The collective use of Ovi Maps for navigation, for example, circumnavigates the globe 80 times a day. The average owner makes use of it 11 times a month.

We can use that data to make the devices more intelligent: for example, to avoid traffic jams and create alternative routes. We can also use it to improve the maps – if we see people going in directions that don’t exist on the map, we can see there’s something to fix.

But it’s not just maps, as we have more sensors on the device we can answer almost any question. The research on collective intelligence says that it needs a large, independent, diverse group of people to solve problems – that’s what we’ve got. Soon phones will allow you to arrive somewhere – say the LeWeb party tonight – and it’ll know where the bar is and where to find the discotheque.