As the editor of Macworld Australia I receive a lot of email from readers asking questions, making comments and sharing various points of view. And I read forum comments (of which there are fewer unfortunately). Over recent months something has become apparent to me.
Many of you are less than happy with Apple’s direction when it comes to the user experience.
These comments manifest in a couple of different ways. Some of you lament product quality, particularly with software that many feel is released prematurely and with more bugs than ever before.
That’s something I wrote about a few weeks ago when iOS users faced three software updates in a fortnight (see iOS 9.0.2 is out – feeling like a beta tester).
But some others have noted that Apple’s much heralded usability has taken a beating. With a focus on simplicity and subtlety Apple has been throwing away the ‘good design baby’ with with the ‘clutter free water’.
Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini have written a long, detailed but excellent article about how Apple is giving design a bad name. They cite a number of examples where Apple’s attention on creating elegant and clutter free interfaces is getting in the way of functionality.
Among the examples they discuss are the font styles that are used.
“Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read.”
As I’m approaching my 50th year on this planet, I am finding it a little harder to read some text, particularly finer fonts. Norman and Tognazzini note that they have friends who have to use iOS’s accessibility functions to increase font size and contrast. As a result, Apple’s desire for interface elegance is bypassed.
The authors make mention of several other issues (some of which have been addressed since they did their research).
One of the challenges I’ve faced comes from Apple’s newest evolution in software design – 3D Touch. When we first started using multi-touch interfaces, things were pretty intuitive. All we had to do was tap, tap-hold, pinch and swipe. And we could usually tell which was the right action based on the what we were doing – or the context we were in.
But now we add Peek and Pop to the equation. If you were a new iOS user would you have any clue as to which gesture out of tap, tap-hold, Peek or Pop was the right one to use?
According to the authors, Apple has relegated important principles such as discoverability (the ability to easily discover how an application works), recoverability (the ability to go back a step if you make an error), feedback (a response to an action) and feedforward (the ability to anticipate what will happen if you do something in an application) in favour of hiding anything that might clutter the interface – like a button that makes an application easy to use.
My favourite example of this, and one that Norman and Tognazzini note, is the ‘Undo’ command.
In most applications, Undo is represented by a curved arrow pointing to the left. On the iPhone, Undo, if software developers decide to use the option, is achieved by vigourously shaking the device.
Think about your computing experience over the last two decades or so. At what point were you taught that shaking a computer was a good thing? This command is counterintuitive.
Furthermore, if it doesn’t work, how do you know if you’ve shaken hard enough or if the option is supported by the application developer?
Even useful tools, such as the ability to create a RAID array in OS X, have been removed for the sake of simplicity. The ability to do what used to be a few clicks of the mouse is still there – replaced with a bunch of Terminal commands.
In simplifying an application – Disk Utility in this case – Apple has made life harder for some users.
In my view, the simplification of user interfaces is a good thing. But it can go too far. I feel things have tipped a little too far.