Pictures under glass

Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.

First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.

Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.

Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.

Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.

How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.

A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.

Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it

Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.

The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.

iMeh

Some context: For large parts of my working day I’m sitting at my PC reading and writing e-mails, Word things, database things. I also sit and read/write in the canteen with a cup of something. And at various points throughout the week I go to meetings where I also do the sit/read/write/drink-tea thing.

Sheets of A4 are involved quite heavily in all that, and I was asked if the paperless theme I’m so keen on when discuss the department’s systems and processes could be extended to my own ways of working. So I borrowed an iPad.

I’ve had it for over a week now and feel decidedly meh about it (if that’s not a contradiction).

Overall? Interface; nice. Access to the Word files I need; a faff, Dropbox notwithstanding. Ability to take notes and scribbles; still not as good/quick/free as a pen and paper.

I’ve found that I’m more likely to keep on top of my e-mails with it (which I’m guessing is a good thing?) and it’s very handy to have a fuller web with me when out and about, but if I was just looking at it as a way of cutting down the paper when I’m away from my desk, I think I’ll pass.

What would help more would be a netbook, I think. Something I can access my stuff on more easily. Something read/write. I’ve no doubt that there are many app(lication!)s out there that can help with that, but I’m just not sold enough on the notion to invest time and energy in searching them all out.

And that VMware View app(lication!) I had a go with. I was really excited about that and loved being able to connect to my desktop to get at my shared folders and files (hang on a minute, you mean- just like a laptop?). I could run Word and Excel, and even Access on it (like a laptop?), and being able to log in to our student records system (like you can do on a laptop?) has come in handy a couple of times. But, dear me, what a pain without a proper keyboard. Or a proper mouse. Just little things like the tab key, or F5 and F6 can make a big difference to your experience of something if they’re not there. Very frustrating, like trying to type wearing mittens. I’d imagine.

PS: My initial unease with this iPad, from an interface design point of view, has become clearer thanks to this BBC news story about Jonathan Ive and Blue Peter. Apparently there’s a word for it, skeuomorph:

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents. [Link]

Not before time.

Patchy first impressions

eye-patchI’m all for paperless this and online that at work, in terms of the systems and processes I try to roll out in place for the people I work with and for, but I was asked to put my money where my mouth is and remove the paper from my own ways of working.

I love lists, and those lists tend to be paper-based. It wasn’t so much those that I was asked to look at (thank goodness), but how I deal with all the reports and papers for the meetings and committees I go to. I did have a look at this before, but with not much success, so I agreed to have another go and asked our IT dept to lend me this here iPad.

Now I’ve had iPhones for a while, and have been a fan, but this is the first time I’ve had a proper go on an iPad, and I’m finding it a little frustrating.

Yes, the interface is all lovely, pinching this and spinning that, but that distant art student in me still has a problem with its schizophrenic approach to design: wonderful hardware, sleek, shiny, minimal, parred down, distinctive; but the software? ‘Notes‘, written on yellow pretend paper, complete with pretend perforation and pretend red margin, set in some kind of pretend leather folio, complete with white pretend stitching round the outside? ‘Contacts‘, set in a similar pretend address book, with pretend pages held together with pretend stitching along the pretend spine? I know that there are other work-related app(lications) out there that aren’t as bad, but still.

The thing that really jumped out at me, though, were those small pretend-raised lines under the F and J keys, ostensibly there to help the touch typists locate the home keys. I mean! The thing with the moveable split keyboard notwithstanding, that still feels wrong, right?

So no, I’m not sure I’m going to get on with this iPad.

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards

Love this, being a big fan of antique typewriters. You can either buy an antique typewriter already converted or just the kit to convert your own. The Underwood was my favourite. They’re heavy buggers, them. I think I’ve still got my old Remington though. Might give this a go.

Antique typewriters converted to keyboards enpundit.com