Microsoft explains why they moved the tabs button in IE9 Mobile–no-one was using it

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In a blog post Amin Lakhani, Program Manager, Windows Phone explained some of the UI changes in IE9 Mobile, including the controversial movement of the tabs button the menu section.

First, he explained that the address bar was moved from the top to the bottom of the page to expose more content on the screen and create a “faster, more minimal browser that stripped away needless visual distractions.”

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More controversially, he explained the move move of the tabs button to the menu area. 

…we looked at the anonymous usage data that some Windows Phone owners voluntarily submit to us.

Not surprisingly, we found that people spend most of their time simply viewing and interacting with the websites they visit (reaffirming our belief that putting sites in the spotlight was the right design goal). The address bar—which doubles as a search box—was the most frequently used browser feature.

One big surprise was that that the favorites and tabs buttons were used much less frequently, even though they were front and center on the screen.

After establishing a goal, analyzing data from real users, and observing people holding their phones, we were at a crossroads. Design always involves tradeoffs. Since our primary goal in Mango was to put the focus on websites, we decided to move the address bar down into the app bar, and turn the favorites and tabs buttons into menu options.

That wasn’t all. We also heard from Windows Phone 7 owners that the refresh/stop button was difficult to tap, so we enlarged it and moved it out of the address bar. We also chose to hide the phone status info—time, signal strength, battery life indicator—to make the browser feel less "boxed in" and provide even more room for web content.

Personally I am not a fan of any of the changes they made, including hiding the tabs button one click further, hiding the phone status info or even moving the address bar to the bottom.  In my opinion Microsoft could have achieved all of their UI goals simply by auto-hiding the “chrome” of the web browser like most other browsers do, until the user touches the screen.

Testing is a Microsoft religion, and can lead their teams astray. A simple example is the lack of screen shot capability which will be used by 0.01% of their users, but hampers the ability for the media to tell hundreds of millions of people of their product.

If you are a fan of the changes, or maybe want to register your protest (IE9 Mobile is independently updatable after all) Amin is inviting your feedback at the Windows Team Blog here.

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