Apple wins with Lion

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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2011-07-20 10:10:59

There's a really really long review of Mac OS X Lion on Ars Technica. The changes Apple has made blown my mind. Completely.

Here's a company that has a winning formula in the Mac, and do what no other company would dare: radically change large pieces of the UI. Mostly for the better, but it's a huge risk. Take switching scrolling direction. Now, if you do the two-finger swipe down, instead of going down in the document, you're going to go up. It effectively changes from you controlling the viewport to you dragging the document. Why change scrolling behavior that's been around for decades? Because it was done wrong the first time. As iOS showed, dragging the document allows you to get rid of scrollbars and is more intuitive for the user. On the desktop it doesn't make much difference either way, but if you look at the sum of the experience across platforms, document-dragging is strictly superior. So, for consistency, they decided to change it on the desktop too, despite the fact that it breaks with how things have been done for decades.

The Ars article is full of these sorts of examples, and I'm astounded and excited that Apple had the guts to do some of these things. I'm also glad they implemented the permission-based file access idea I described nearly 4 years ago. Although I'm not really happy with how they just pulled in the permissions/entitlement model from mobile platforms wholesale. More on that later though.

Posted by varun at 2011-07-20 16:15:01
Wait, what? Dragging down showing more of the lower portion of the document is dragging the document. Dragging up to show the lower portion of the document is dragging the view and is wrong.

That better be a togglable option - otherwise, looks like my $29 is going to Canonical from henceforth.
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Posted by stak at 2011-07-20 21:50:23
Yes, it is a togglable option.

Dragging up to show more of the lower portion uses the paper/document metaphor - it's like your finger on a piece of paper and pushing it up so the bottom comes into view. The opposite is the view metaphor, where you're pushing a viewable frame around on top of a large piece of paper. That's the way things were done originally because of how scrollbars were designed, so dragging the scroll tab down made you go down.
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Posted by varun at 2011-07-20 22:41:18
Ohhh, I see, you're using a physical metaphor. And I have to say that unless you're dealing with something like an infinite printout from a dot matrix, in reality, you move your eyes down (aka, view metaphor) not the paper up. Try it - print out something and tell me - do you move the paper or your eyes? And the page turn metaphor breaks down almost instantly. So why on earth would we use this outdated metaphor?

I gave up the use of physical metaphors on computers. I loathe the fact that Apple is regressing to make their apps look more like physical objects - objects we have no connection with in this day and age. When's the last time you've dealt with a desk blotter, for instance, which is the metaphor for the calendar app on the ipad and now on the Mac?

And Apple is becoming increasingly schizophrenic about this: witness the removal of the CD from the itunes icon, but we're now getting PIM apps that look like address books from the 1920s?
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Posted by stak at 2011-07-21 08:09:21
I'm using a physical metaphor to describe what happens, not to argue that it's the more sensible option. It's more sensible because on a mobile device where you can't afford to have scrollbars taking up screen real estate, it's the most intuitive approach.

I agree that physical metaphors for computers are not that useful any more, and yes, I dislike some of the changes Apple has made, including the address book and calendar app UIs.

Maybe it got buried in the example I used, but the main thesis of my post was this sentence: I'm astounded and excited that Apple had the guts to do some of these things. I'm sure that for every change they made, 70-80% of their users will hate it (maybe a different 70% for each change, and I'm included in some of those sets). The point is they did it anyway, and that takes the kind of guts and long-term vision that no other company in their position has.
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Posted by varun at 2011-07-21 09:04:21
Ahhhh, yes, that's true, they do have guts. Witness the killing of the ipod mini, which was at the time, their best selling ipod. Or the 3.5" disk drive. And now, the optical drive.

All good decisions, actually. But I'm not sure that trying to force people to think differently on something as fundamental as scroll is going to make friends. :)
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Posted by stak at 2011-07-21 16:27:16
Also, I just realized today that Leopard/Snow Leopard themselves are inconsistent with the document/viewport metaphor - when you do a two-finger rotation in Preview to rotate an image/document, that uses the document metaphor while scrolling is still viewport metaphor.
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Posted by varun at 2011-07-22 17:44:51

In all fairness, though, now that I've had a chance to play with the Lion-style scrolling, I can feel secure my first impression is correct: wrong.
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