December 30, 2009

Apple Touch Inconsistency

Apple is really known for their user interface design. I'd say they generally have a lot more hits than misses, but one miss recently came as a surprise for me.

Take an iPhone, go to the Settings screen. Scroll the screen with your finger. Notice that the text moves in the direction of your fingers and the scrollbar moves in the opposite direction. The paradigm is that your finger is controlling the text, directly moving it. The scrollbar is just illustrative to let you know how far you are in the document.

Now take a Macbook or Macbook Pro with a multitouch trackpad. Use two fingers to scroll a webpage or other window that has a scrollbar. Notice that this time the text moves in the opposite direction of your stroke, while the scrollbar moves in the same direction as your fingers. The paradigm here is that your fingers control the scrollbar, which then inversely moves the text. One might say this method is indirect control.

So that's kind of strange. Two Apple devices using touch in entirely different and opposite ways. One going for direct control and the other indirect. This inconsistency could be Apple experimenting with touch user interface concepts or just be a result of legacy user interface design. But whatever the reason, they will someday have to make a choice.

As we head towards a future in which iPhone apps and OSX apps merge and play together on a singular device - possibly the fabled touch tablet - Apple will have to decide which of the touch paradigms will live on. Which one will it be?

Tags: ux