Friday, December 12, 2014

Ambience: the story behind Sailfish OS looks, part 2

In the previous part, I went through the reason to not follow what other mobile operating systems do, and stay away from a static interface style. The main problem with themes, is that they just alleviate the real problem of interfaces being static, because someone wanted it to look the same for everyone.

Instead doing small things here and there, we wanted to build the personalization story around a single strong feature. The most used way to customize a device yourself, is to change the wallpaper. But we didn't want to stop there -  we wanted the wallpaper to signify how the device currently works.

To do that, it should affect also to how individual applications look. This naturally allows the image to carry more meaning to its owner than meets the eye of an outsider. The feature was named as Ambience, which means atmosphere, surrounding, mood or environment of a given place.

Here's some examples. These are screenshots of my lock screen, home screen and calculator app (click to enlarge them). In the first set, I have created an Ambience out of Orion nebula photo, and set the device to not emit any sounds when that Ambience is active. You can see the selected image being visible throughout the interface, from lock screen to the calculator.

Alright, unto the next set. This time I have selected an image that shows a circuit board as Ambience motif. More discrete ringtones and notification sounds are defined to fit my working mood and prevent disturbing others. It's easy for me to tell apart green and red interface as they carry added significance for me (both photos are personally relevant for me, and I have defined the behavior for each Ambience). Red is silent, green is discrete. No need to squint at tiny status bar icons.

Moving on to the third set, where I used an abstract macro photo to create my casual Ambience. When activated, ringtones and volumes reflect my preferences for events, going out with friends, or just idling at home. Again, it's trivial for the owner of the device to understand the device behavior through meaningful images and colors instead of minuscule status icons.

To create a new Ambience, all you need is a large enough image. Download one from web, use camera to capture something nice, or create a unique piece with your favorite illustration software. With a little bit of testing, anyone can do it. Results will often surprise you. It's an invitation to explore how different kind of images work and shape the appearance of your device. Use images relevant to you, don't follow but pave your own style. Be playful and try different things. Delete the bad ones and enjoy keepers.

Sailfish OS Ambience journey has just barely started and currently only includes partial sound settings. To get some idea what could be done with it in the future, take a look at what our community has already proposed. In short, it's like a visual umbrella for grouping any kind of behavior you might frequently need to change based on context.

How you make use of it, is up to you. After all, it's your personal device. And this time around, it really means it. The way your phone looks like, is not shared by anyone else.

Each Sailfish OS device is unique in that sense. Reflecting their users.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.


  1. Earlier I used some time to customize my phone with those huge amount of different options. Once happy with all the settings, I left it there. When I changed to Jolla, I shouted for those tiny little options. But after a year of ambiences, I'm very happy they never arrived, and I've found myself customizing my phone much more often with this simple approach. You did the right thing!

    1. Thanks for the trust, Simo.

      If you like it now, I'm pretty sure it can only get better over time. Personally, I'm itching to get back working with the Ambience story. Together with community we have so many ways to make it more useful for everyone's daily life. Naturally the tablet work takes priority atm, so I need to be patient :)

      Great to have you stopping over to comment o/

  2. Nice explanation Jaakko, is it possible to change ambience automatically? according to time of day, location, etc? I had in mind something like profile from N9.

    1. Thank you. I'm sure it's possible. It would be useful, and pretty much what everyone has been asking for. Me including :)

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. "Together with community we have so many ways to make it more useful for everyone's daily life." Hi, Jaakko, the community is always eager to give advice on how to improve your work ))) You are doing awesome things! And thank you for cooperation, it's important. It will be fare to share some useful info with you, too - click here to read how-to tips on mobile apps development.

  4. Jaakko, what do you think about the app situations? look and feel does not follow the Sailfish style, and besides it ignores completely ambiences.

    1. Hi, I think it was bound to happen. Similar apps exist on other platforms, so porting one over is the easiest thing to do.

      The reason it's not following platform style, is that it could be faster ported to the OS, to give people the benefit it offers. It's great to see people supporting SFOS by creating and porting apps. I'm sure they'll improve over time.

      Thanks for commenting :)

  5. Hi Jaako,

    I'm pleased I found your blogspot, especially on the subject of ambience - use/creation/packaging/etc, great stuff! :)

    I have recently learned how to package an RPM on my device, but only for ambience packages.
    For me, as a NON developer, it took me many nights of trial and error before finally cracking the process, thanks to a guide from another Jolla owner, but still only to end up with a fixed ambience, that eventually, you hit 18 in the ambience drawer and that's it. Changing elements on-the-fly for ANY image, is a must have! :)

    My point being really, rather than creating fixed ambience packages, why not have 4 colour/hex sliders pop up during the "Create Ambience" process, allowing the user to adjust the 4 elements of the ambience look;
    4 sliders - 'primary', 'secondary', 'highlight' and 'secondaryhighlight' with an area to name the ambience, a tap on the main image, the 4 sliders drop away to the bottom perhaps and the new user created ambience is created.

    I realise through looking at documentation that 2 of the 4 elements of ambience UI are not really touched and I see why, some results are diabolical and result in invisible text in launcher for example.
    However, I have been playing with all 4 elements and have come up with some fairly interesting results of which I posted to Openrepos for public reaction and so far, so good, but the ambience user experience really needs to get some features, I wish I had more time to learn to program/code and get stuck in, but earning a living gets in the way of spare time.

    Just my thoughts really, I'm not sure how many Jolla owners would be interested in 'adjustable ambience'??


    1. Hi Mark,

      Apologies for a late reply. I'm glad you like the content, and it's great to hear you've found your way in making ambience packages.

      I agree that it would be great to adjust all colors derived from the image, and there was actually something like that, but it didn't yet make it to the release. And I don't really know when it will.

      In some parts of the OS, colors are still not really dynamical and according the ambience color behavior. It will take some time to get them all in such a shape, that adjusting the following colors, would not break anything:

      - primaryColor
      Completely desaturated color for high contrast, Indicates something is interactive (although exceptions exist for legibility purposes)

      - highlightColor
      bright color for indicating selected, activated, or something that's not interactive (yes, semantically strangely named)

      - highlightBackgroundColor
      more saturated color for press effects and background geometries

      - highlightDimmerColor
      strongly desaturated color for dimming things

      You're spot on about the ambience ux needing more functionality and maturity to be really useful.

      It's correct to assume not everyone wanting to customize those colors, but sometimes the algorithm just doesn't get the colors right. For those cases, it's really good if a method for user intervention would exist.

      Thanks a lot for a great comment, keep it up :)

    2. Hi Jaakko,

      Thanks for replying, nice to get a quick 'chat' with one of the senior designers of Jolla :)

      Well, here we are, exactly one month on from your reply and I noticed on one of the Zendesk pages, that some new settings will be added into the ambience UI - this truly is great news!

      While I am here and you seem to be the right guy to ask, I wondered which component/element is it, that makes the background of Jolla's Launcher, black?, I ask, as I would like to revisit early Jolla days where the launcher was what ever ambience had been chosen (I know it made app text unreadable in some cases, but for purposes of playing, I'd like to know if you'd care tell?).

      Anyway, I look forward to our next update, for which I'm already signed up as one of The First Ones ;)

      This is very much, an over used way to say well done, but `please do keep up the good work!, ALL OF YOU @JOLLA OY!`


    3. Hi Mark,

      First off, I'm really sorry for missing your comment. The delay wasn't intentional :)

      Great to hear that even small steps in ambience editing are helpful. There's definitely going to be more possibilities in the future.

      Ah, yes. Back then, home screen had a theme.highlightDimmerColor rectangle on top of background image, that increased in opacity as you scrolled deeper into launcher, finally becoming fully opaque solid color. It was then requested to always be black. I think it was changed because a more classic launcher appearance was voted better.

      Thanks for taking your time to comment, it's much appreciated. Take care :)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hi Jaakko Roppola, hope that you are fine. Can you please send me the link of your previous post???
    Do you have an skype ID??? I wana ask something regarding apps

    1. Hi John,

      All is good, thanks for asking. Here's the link to the part 1:

      You should be able to find me on skype with my name. Try messaging me between 20-23 EET.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment :)

  10. To be honest, a UI like the Ambience has been my dream since the first day I met Ubuntu Unity Dash – late 2011. I wanted all apps without any backgrounds to show my desktop wallpaper. With Jolla it came true, and also in a better way where even the text colors are based on the chameleon effect.

    1. Hi AliNa

      It's great to hear others have had the same "dream." There's still work to be done so that it behaves better and honors the original image.

      In addition to that, it would be great to get some long time ago designed functionality to be implemented for ambiences. Currently it feels a bit shallow, but I'm hoping things will improve after SfOS 2.0 rolls out.

      Thanks for commenting and the support. Hope to see you again..