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Taking a Look Around the Pocket PC GUI

If you're new to the Pocket PC platform, you're in for a pleasant surprise when it comes to the Pocket PC GUI. Pocket PC 2002 represents the fourth major revision of the GUI, and Microsoft has done a good job of answering the requests of users over the past few years as the technology has evolved. A few things might take some getting used to, especially if you're coming purely from a desktop environment such as Windows XP, but rest assured that the Pocket PC GUI is organized the way it is for a reason. Screen real estate is extremely limited on mobile devices, which dictates a very tight GUI where everything has a practical reason for its location. Additionally, the uniqueness of entering most information via a stylus results in subtle differences between the Pocket PC GUI and a desktop GUI. All things considered, however, you should be able to adjust to the differences very quickly.

The Pocket PC GUI can be broken down into four major components:

  • Navigation bar

  • Today screen

  • Command bar

  • Text input

Figure 3.9 shows how the first three components of the Pocket PC GUI fit into the overall scheme of things; the fourth is accessible only within the context of an application. The next few sections explore these pieces of the Pocket PC GUI puzzle, along with another little GUI feature you'll find interesting.

Figure 3.9 The major components of the Pocket PC GUI are the Navigation bar, Today screen, and Command bar.

The Navigation Bar

The Navigation bar is located at the top of the screen (refer to Figure 3.9) and is visible in most applications. In addition to displaying the speaker volume and current time on the right side of the screen, the Navigation bar is responsible for housing the Start menu on the left side. The Start menu is a convenient place to launch applications, much like you would find in Windows XP. When you run an application, the word "Start" in the Start menu changes to reflect the name of the application. However, you can still access the Start menu by clicking the Start menu icon (the little colored window) to the left of the application name. Figure 3.10 shows the opened Start menu.

Figure 3.10 The Start menu provides a convenient starting point for launching Pocket PC applications.

The contents of the Start menu consist of applications that you can launch. One neat feature of the Start menu is the line of icons at the top of the menu just above the Today menu item. These icons indicate the last six applications that were run and provide a quick way to launch any of the applications again. This icon list changes to reflect the last six applications you've used, which is one example of how the Pocket PC GUI accommodates usability needs.

The Today Screen

The Today screen is located just below the Navigation bar (refer to Figure 3.9) and serves as the default screen that is displayed when you aren't working in an application. The Today screen displays the current day and date; the owner of the Pocket PC; and any upcoming appointments, messages, and tasks for the day. In conjunction with the Navigation and Command bars, the Today screen serves as a great starting point for performing most Pocket PC operations. You can customize the Today screen considerably by using themes and altering the graphics that appear within it.

To find out how to customize the Today screen, see Chapter 4, "Personalizing Your Pocket PC."

The Command Bar

Below the Today screen you'll find the Command bar (refer to Figure 3.9), which is used to display system information, perform application-specific operations, and enter text information via the Input Panel button. On the left side of the Command bar is a menu that changes with respect to the currently active application. For example, on the Today screen the menu consists solely of a New submenu, which displays a list of menu items that enable you to create a new appointment, contact, e-mail message, Excel workbook, note, task, or Word document. On the right side of the Command bar there can appear various icons that display system information; these icons function as a minimal system tray to give you clues regarding the status of the device. For example, if you establish a network connection, a small icon will appear to indicate that the connection is active.

The Command bar icons are displayed only when the Today screen is active; if an application is executing, the Input Panel button is displayed instead. Figure 3.11 shows the Pocket Word application, which uses a more interesting menu in the Command bar, and the Input Panel button. The Input Panel provides several alternatives to entering text, which you learn about next.

Figure 3.11 Pocket Word is an example of an application that takes advantage of the Command bar for its menu and uses the Input Panel button.

Text Input

The Input Panel button is located on the right side of the Command bar in applications that support text entry. This button enables you to select the method of input used to enter text and provides access to four types of text input:

  • Soft keyboard—The soft keyboard is a scaled-down keyboard that is displayed on the screen. You can type on the soft keyboard by tapping its keys with the stylus, which is similar to how you might peck at keys on a real keyboard if you have no typing background.

  • Letter Recognizer—The Letter Recognizer is a handwriting interface that enables you to write individual characters and have them recognized and converted into text. Although the handwriting recognition is quite effective, it can be time-consuming writing individual characters one at a time.

  • Transcriber—The Transcriber provides a more powerful means of entering hand- written text by allowing you to write anywhere on the screen. This gives you plenty of room to write a few words or an entire sentence. Transcriber uses natural handwriting recognition, which means you can write on your Pocket PC screen as if you were writing on a piece of paper and Transcriber will convert it into text. To carry out this ambitious task, Transcriber relies on fuzzy logic and neural network algorithms, which is a techie way of saying that Transcriber uses some very sophisticated artificial intelligence to interpret handwriting.

  • Block Recognizer—If you've migrated to the Pocket PC from a Palm device, you might be interested in the Block Recognizer input method, which is new to Pocket PC 2002 and offers a text-entry solution to people who have grown accustomed to using the Graffiti input system on Palm devices. The idea behind the Block Recognizer is to provide a smooth path for Palm users to migrate to the Pocket PC platform without having to relearn their approaches to text entry.

You will likely select a single input method and stick with it as you get comfortable entering information into your Pocket PC. Keep in mind, though, that you also can purchase a portable keyboard for your device in the event that you want to do some heavy-duty text entry.

For more information about portable keyboards, see Appendix A, "A Pocket PC Hardware Accessory Tour."

To learn more about the four text input methods, see Chapter 5, "Making the Most of Input Methods."

Bubble Notifications

Although it might not qualify as a major component of the Pocket PC GUI, the bubble notification is a feature new to Pocket PC 2002 that nonetheless proves to be quite useful. Whenever a relatively small piece of information needs to be presented to you, a small pop-up window known as a bubble notification appears. It is similar to a comic strip bubble. Bubble notifications are used throughout the Pocket PC GUI in various scenarios. One of the quickest ways to get acquainted with bubble notifications is by tapping the time on the Navigation bar, which results in a bubble notification appearing that resembles the one shown in Figure 3.12.

Figure 3.12 Bubble notifications are used to present relatively small pieces of information to the user without being too disruptive.

Unlike dialog boxes in the desktop Windows GUI, bubble notifications are designed so that they don't disrupt what you're doing to any significant extent. For example, many bubble notifications automatically disappear after a few seconds if they don't require any information from you; you can also tap outside a bubble notification to make it go away. The idea is to quickly notify you of something, such as an appointment, and then get out of the way. Bubble notifications are a very efficient and highly intuitive improvement to the Pocket PC GUI that you'll no doubt come to appreciate.

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