Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How Apple Is Giving Design a Bad Name (fastcodesign.com)
188 points by andyjohnson0 on Nov 14, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments

"Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, 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. We have obscure gestures that are beyond even the developer’s ability to remember. We have great features that most people don’t realize exist."

OMG have you guys tried to navigate the Apple Music iOS app?? You wouldn't think they could make it harder to use than iTunes... but they did! Almost impossible to find features, and when you finally do figure something out, it's hard to remember by the next time you run the app.

The bloated number of swipe gestures on iOS is ridiculous too... I am always cursing after swiping in some direction by mistake.

(I am generally a big apple fan...)

> I am always cursing after swiping in some direction by mistake.

Spotify is the same way. If you swipe the wrong way when trying to queue a song it removes the song from your library without the (shake) option to undo. It's infuriating.

Also, the app gets slower and slower with every update, having become mostly useless on older hardware, to the point where it reminds me of my grandma's radio, where you had to warm up the tubes for a minute before you could listen to music...

I agree that Apple's fonts are too thin and low-contrast, but it's pretty ironic for this to be called out by a publication whose standards are no better (and probably a tad worse). Talk about the pot calling the kettle gray!

... though obviously you can't blame the authors for the website's design. Maybe you could have a go at http://www.nngroup.com/

Talking of which, Alertbox never had that problem. I rather miss it ;-)

I think Apple's move to San Francisco actually addresses this issue quite well. The move to ultra thin Helvetica weights was a tad too much.

Discoverability is a big deal. It's what makes or breaks the new user experience, and that is (arguably) the most important time to please the user.

So many things have become undiscoverable in the name of "clean" interfaces. Apple's not alone in this.

That app is the worst. Is there even any way to go to an album listing from the "now playing" screen (i.e. the album that the song currently playing is on)? I tried yesterday and couldn't figure it out.

That's simply the most recent of my many complaints.

I love most of my OS X and iOS stuff, and find it easy to use with no major issues. The Apple Music app, however, is the single most frustrating application I have ever used. It is just so, so bad.

A good article with data from facebook and others on the value of discovery over cleanliness:


It contradicts current trends and the preferences of many designers.

The issue is really a catch-22 usability testing rather than saying 1 way works better than another. On mobile app's you have more screen real-estate to play with, while in the browser you have less. A website with a header anf floating footer cause many site's to become un-readable and un-navagatable. You then have the issue of responsive design that allows for the bun to come into play nicely rather than having to change a site's design to fit within multiple viewport sizes. I get the argument in a mobile application, but in a browser-based site you are left with either mystery meat, leaving out part of the navigation, or changing a responsive design completely to allow for easier mobile navigation. Options are limited and purely based upon time and budget - and even then it's a geusing game without proper split testing.

In general UX at the expense of usability is an annoying trend that last was a major issue when Flash became popular. I don't think Apple is giving design a bad name, this is what design is usually about. Apple's (usual) focus on usability actually gave design a good name which designers strive to damage with their over-emphasis on aesthetics.

I think that guy is seriously wrong, not every hidden part of a user interface is evil. The hamburger menu tells the user that he will find the first-level navigation if he taps it.

It is about as bad as a right-click context menu on the desktop.

Indeed, and that's why Apple discourages the use of a contextual menu as the sole means to offer functionality as well [1]:

  Always ensure that contextual menu items are also available as menu commands.
  A contextual menu is hidden by default and a user might not know it exists, so it should never be the only way to access a command.
  In particular, you want to avoid using a contextual menu as the only way to access an advanced or power-user feature.
[1]: https://developer.apple.com/library/mac/documentation/UserEx...

Like you a big Apple fan who is horribly confused by the iOS music app — which, functionally is all I could hope for (the play list manager is something I've wanted forever) but seriously wtf?

I've long found it strange that the same company that didn't want a second mouse button because they didn't want to hide functionality in context menus now hide so much functionality behind gestures with a varying amount of fingers. This started while Jobs where still at Apple, so it can't be blamed entirely on his successors.

This issue has been getting worse in OS X, too. I find myself continuously finding hidden functionality by holding in the option or command button while clicking or dragging.

Frankly, and this may just be cynicism, I speculate that these hidden functions are a way for Apple to hold consumers hostage to their platform. If someone spends a few years learning all the idiosyncrasies of OS X and iOS, they may be too intimidated to switch to another platform, since they've invested so much time into learning Apple's OS.

Nah, the original Mac had all that too. You'd select multiple files by shift-clicking. Command-option-escape would force-quit an app. Numerous corruption & crashing issues would be fixed by holding down Command-option-P-R on startup. MacOS 8 gave us Ctrl-clicking to pop open popup menus. Option-click would often do a number of strange app-specific things.

I suspect it's more that you're becoming a power user. Power users have always had a lot more functionality available at their fingertips, in exchange for investing time learning a platform really well. It's just market segmentation: you don't have room to put all the functionality that everyone might need on screen, so you put the stuff that most people need all the time on screen, get them hooked, and hide other stuff in an obscure reference manual so it can spread through tips & tricks blogs.

I don't think so. The functionality is hidden on purpose to keep from distracting novice users. Every program's basic functionality is accessible without any modifier keys. If you're "finding" new features, it simply means that you're past the stage of a novice user. Most of these hidden commands are variations too, so they even make sense logically. I'm curious if there's a specific "hidden" function that you're referring to that doesn't logically make sense as a modification of an existing function.

I think something has happened at Apple. I would consider a playlist or dynamic filter (eg. Rock songs or Beatles songs) would be a beginner's desire. It's one step beyond "play". Yet, the new Apple Music app is highly cryptic. It's been engineered to steer you toward the new subscription service. Usability for novices and pros has been crippled. I could say similar about Apple maps. It just doesn't work properly. Google has really taken the crown here. It's sad to see Apple lose focus when they've held the benchmark so high for so long.

I've been using Mac OS since it was System 6, and I feel like power user features have been commonly hidden behind things like "hold option" for about that long. The difference now seems to be that it's not always power user features.

Example of a good feature to hide behind "hold option": removing the "..." from "Sleep...", "Shut Down...", etc. in the apple menu, meaning that selecting them won't prompt you before executing the command.

Example of a bad feature to hide behind "hold option": clicking the green window button to maximize instead of going to full screen.

Why is that a bad feature? It seems pretty logical to me that clicking "Option" would give you a variation (another Option) of the chosen operation. In that case, clicking the green "full screen" button gives you a "full screen" on the current desktop instead of creating a new one.

Because requiring the use of two hands on two different input devices to access a feature that is not advertised to the user in any fashion is completely and utterly unintuitive.

Two hands? The alt-button is 3cm from my trackpad.

The first is a power user function that few people will want, and those who do will know to go looking for it. The second is a function with common utility, arguably more utility than the default use of that button,* and most people who would want to use it will never know it exists.

*Especially on recent versions of MacOS, where fullscreening an app moves it to a different desktop.

> I speculate that these hidden functions are a way for Apple to hold consumers hostage to their platform.

Whether on purpose or not, it's definitely a form of switching costs. It's the same reason I stay on windows. Though windows 8 changed so many things I basically had to learn all over again. I can't do basic tasks at times and have to Google instructions for how to do them. Simply because they changed the interface.

The company that didn't want the second mouse button because they didn't want to hide functionality in context menus always hid the functionality behind a keypress-mouseclick. How this was ever better for the end user is beyond me.

My theory has always been that Apple liked the design aesthetic of a single mouse button and and aesthetic won out over actually good design. From my experience this is the Apple way.

I came to this conclusion after buying my first Mac about 10 years ago. It had a corded mouse which plugged into the keyboard. A nice aesthetic, though I questioned a corded mouse on a $1500 desktop in 2006. Upon my first navigation across the screen, it was apparent that the cord on the mouse was too small to cover the area of the screen. Very poor design, but the shorter cable didn't leave a mess of cable on the desk. Good aesthetic, bad design.

Control-click didn't exist until System 8. There was a good decade of zero contextual menus on Macintoshes before that.

As someone who's spent some time doing pixel-perfect graphics work, I would have never considered a cordless mouse ten years ago. I'm not even sure they were bad ten years ago, but the ten years leading up to 2006 taught me to avoid them.

>The company that didn't want the second mouse button because they didn't want to hide functionality in context menus always hid the functionality behind a keypress-mouseclick. How this was ever better for the end user is beyond me.

It was done to force developers to expose actions through the menu bar and thus be consistently discoverable to the user.

I would have thought graphic artists were using tablets by then? But it is a perfect example of Apple knowing their customer, and me not being it ;).

I disagree a bit with this assessment of Apple's intentions. It wasn't that they didn't want a second mouse button because they didn't want to hide functionality because you could always hold down the Control key and click to access those functions, even on a single button mouse. The issue (and where I think the design is really thoughtful) is that it's never required to use that second mouse button (or Control) but that it's there for people who are comfortable using it.

Apple is and has always been about a tiered learning curve for their devices and I think your point about the mouse is a great example. If you put 2 buttons on a mouse, it complicates every interface element by two-fold. Every item that can be clicked can now also be clicked with a 2nd button. For a brand new user, keeping 1 button basically forces them to look at what's on the screen and assess what they're doing rather than needlessly right click everywhere searching for a context menu. People who tend to right click on things (when they understand what a right click does and intentionally perform the action know what they expect to be behind that right click.

I feel like iOS is the same way, and intentionally so. A novice user can get by doing all of the basic commands with swipes, pinches, and taps. A more advanced user can do rotations, shakes, and multi-touch swipes. An expert user can access every feature of every application.

Problem is the novice-expert transition in Apple devices is nonexistant. To become an expert you basically have to read a manual, or do things that a) have no affordance, b) have no clear feedforward, c) have an unknown effect and may be destructive, with no clear undo.

It's very poor design.

>It's very poor design.

No, it's Windows/Linux-bias on your part. In the old time, every (and I mean every) medium-level Mac user knew that you can unlock a lot of additional functionality with the option-key. People today just seem to assume the Mac UI is built on the absolute same principles as the Windows UI, which is not true.

> read a manual

Quelle horror!

Heh, I should qualify that to become an expert some manual-reading is required. But the interface should at least help you with the transition.

> you could always hold down the Control key and click

maybe this is showing my age, but that came relatively late in the history of Mac OS

But I otherwise agree and do like the approach of basic/necessary UI as simple as possible, optional/advanced UI gracefully hidden

You forgot about the alt button. You have Left Click, Right/Ctrl Click, and Alt Click. Without Alt Click, you end up missing out on features you need.

I remember discovering the iOS calculator has a lot more features when you rotate the device into landscape orientation: http://osxdaily.com/2011/12/29/iphone-scientific-calculator/ I haven't tried recent iOS versions so I don't know if it's changed. According to the comments there, everyone and their dog knew this from birth, but I think it should count as "hidden" functionality, and rotating to landscape is kind of like right-clicking.

Well I didn't know this until now so I would agree its somewhat hidden.

Funnily enough, it resulted in the functionality being even more hidden, because the context menus were harder to summon: requiring both the keyboard and the mouse to be depressed in a dance.

There has always been a degree of promotional fiction to the ‘nothing hidden’ story. The Macintosh brought us the now-ubiquitous Cut/Copy/Paste paradigm using an fragile invisible clipboard. (Fragile because Undo has never restored clipboard data lost to an accidental Cut or Copy.) The Xerox Star didn't do it that way; it had Move and Copy to an explicit destination, with no hidden state.

Much of this may be a reaction to the technology market maturing, with many more people being intimately familiar with how to use technology and new features spreading faster by word of mouth.

When the Mac came out, you had to teach people how to use a computer through the interface. Few people had prior experience with them, and it was unlikely that they'd be able to sit down with you and explain it.

Now, it is a fairly good bet that somebody you know has the product you're about to buy, and will happily tell you what you can do with it. Apple has sold more Apple Watches in the past 6 months than they did Apple IIs in its entire production run from 1977-1993. If you don't have a friend who will show off the latest features, you can easily Google for them, or read about them on any one of a number of online blogs dedicated to surfacing cool features.

It's a different social environment, not just a different technical one. Design is as much about understanding the environment you operate in than it is about the product itself, and the principles change as the environment does.

No, no, emphatically no.

It’s not just about being familiar with computers. These fashionable user interfaces are just objectively, measurably worse. They did scientific studies, with video recordings and stopwatches and stuff.

I don’t know why Norman and Tog focus so much on back and undo. Undo is inherently challenging in a world with mutable state. A knife has no undo.

For me, the emblem of bad design is: Buttons without borders. We had that back in the early 1980s. Because we had only like 320×240 pixel monochrome screens. Even Palm had visual indicators on their 160×160 screens. I have 720p on my cheap phone. There’s no excuse for getting rid of hints about where you can click and where you cannot click. This is much worse on Google’s Material Design than Apple’s flat design.

There’s also predictability. How many people have not sent a text message mangled by auto-correct? And there’s readability. These days, Apple’s advertising images have spindly white text on a busy background, sometimes going all the way to white. I feel similarly about spindly bright red text on a white background. A decent amount of contrast should be the default, not a special “accessibility” setting that inevitably gets left out by developers.

We now have decades of research and common sense about what makes user interfaces work, and the influential companies are simultaneously throwing it all away. I don’t understand this madness.

Button borders have been replaced by coloured text in iOS, and for the most part I find it pretty easy to use and pretty easy to identify clickable things. The problem is worse on websites which have no such rule regarding whether something is actionable or not (well, they did use to - blue and purple links - but apparently that doesn't look cool enough any more).

Much worse for me is the invention of a bunch of new UI elements which seem to have no known rules about how they work (Apple Music app - the word "songs" is actually a drop down list to change how the list below it is grouped into artist or album? What?!). Or huge numbers of functionality hidden behind a random choice of long press, force touch, context menu, swipe left or right, or double tap. E.g.: Safari on iOS: long press the reload key to load the desktop site, or type a word in the address bar and scroll down to "find in page". How on earth am I supposed to find these things without having read about them online in some frustrated help thread?


I don't know about you, but no post-it placement is as strong as the first post-it placement. It's reversible a couple of times only.

I've been helping my 64 year old mom use her smartphone. She has never used any computing device before and it's eye opening watching her work. Things we take for granted are a confusing mess for her.

And the author is absolutely spot on: thin fonts and low contrast are a terrible choice as far as user experience goes. My mom can't read her screen without her glasses and holding her phone close.

In accessibility, you can set the size of the font thruout the entire OS. On iOS that is. But then, if your mom was using iOS I don't thin you would have a problem with contrast (I can't think of a single situation Apple's presented me with that was low contrast in the past 20 years.)

Yesterday, Facebook announced (via an in-app notification) that their native finally respects font size changes.

This was yesterday. It took this many years for a large app developer to take accessibility seriously. The developers of the other apps on my phone either don't bother respecting my font settings (and thus setting everything in that standard terrible 9pt(?) type), or forgetting to take extra measures so the larger text gets ellipsized when shown on screen.

Windows has supported users changing the font size since 3.1 with the default API having full support for right-sizing your UI, and software has NEVER properly supported it

OS X Finder favourites used to be coloured. Now the are grey on a blue background. Low contrast for me and an very dubious design choice. Before I didn't have to look at the shape of the icon, the colour was enough clue as to which icon was what. Now they removed that and made it low contrast.

Good old red text on aero glass, the pinnacle of legibility.

Positioning of buttons on iOS is a big problem.

For instance, when on a phone call and you show the numeric keypad, there is no sane reason to make the "Hide" function a microscopic text label that is a finger-width away from the HANG-UP action. Functionally, these actions should be on opposite sides of the display from each other. I don't even think they placed it there for aesthetic reasons, since the Hide "button" just looks like an ugly hack.

Then there's positioning of keyboard keys. If I had a nickel for every time I deleted a character while trying to finish a word with "m", or every time I accidentally committed an action with incomplete text because of that stupid blue key! Instead of moving dangerous actions to the opposite end of the screen where they belong, too much effort was spent trying to emulate the precise layout of a real keyboard. I don't think users would complain at all if the "action" key was instead in the top-right corner, and if "backspace" was in the top-left corner.

The scrolling calendar widget is also a nasty example of poor positioning. Long after it was "improved" in iOS 7, I still can't create a single calendar event without doing the accidental-screw-up-date-instead-of-scroll action, usually with "helpful" automatic "corrections" for my change such as synchronizing the From and To times to both reflect my accidental date-change. Or if I'm really lucky, I don't even notice that I changed the time.

They need to step back and realize that design is how it works. Their interfaces are incredibly error-prone right now.

(Re-posted at the suggestion of dang.)

As someone who develops on both iOS and Android, and uses an Android phone, there was a lot in this article that I agreed with. Particularly Apple's prioritisation of beauty over design.

One weakness was the discussion of undo and Android's supposed strength due to its dedicated back button. This didn't convince me: the back button on Android sometimes undoes operations, but often it doesn't [1].

[1] http://www.androiduipatterns.com/2011/12/back-button-android...

Speaking of Undo, one of google's common features across several of it's products is the use of undo instead of confirmation, I absolutely LOVE this. If I archive an email in gmail (app or browser) it doesnt't ask me if I am sure I want to do that, but it does give me the option to immediately undo that action. This little feature is so wonderful when you think about it. It allows you to complete an intended action in one step, but abort an unintended action in two steps. That is great functional design.

Apple does this too. Except they hide the undo command behind a completely insane "shake the device" gesture, and half the time it fails to retrieve the email.

This is the biggest failure of Apple's design on iOS and the article nails it perfectly. It's not just that you have to shake the device, it's that you have to shake it and answer a modal and that all apps don't treat it the same way. You could be sitting there shaking your phone for 5 minutes wondering if you're just shaking it wrong or if the app doesn't offer an undo feature and there's not really any way of knowing which is the right answer.

And what's worse, it's easy to accidentally do and it pops up a modal dialog.

Yeah, the back button can definitely be inconsistent and has annoyed me countless times, but at least it's there.

I recently got stuck in a Youtube video on an iPad because I couldn't figure out how to get back to the video list. Turns out I had to swipe down on the video page with 3 fingers or something to go back.

Agree with much of the article. I personally find Apple iOS devices completely unusable because I have to constantly try to guess what kind of action or gesture will achieve what I want to do rather than being obvious. The same for several apps which appear to have become successful first on iOS before being ported to Android. I find remembering these gestures and actions an unnecessary cognitive load.

"Completely unusable"? Don't you think that's a bit over the top?

I don't know any advanced features but I can use all apps just fine. Pinch-to-zoom and a few swipe types are sufficient for most use cases.

Edit: why the downvotes? I didn't say anything controversial. If you disagree, write a reply.

I'm right with you, the grandparent is insane. Flat out.

I love reading quotes like that that are backed with, you guessed it, absolutely nothing.

Pinch to zoom is a great example. It may not be your first guess but it's the type of thing that you do a couple times then look back thinking, Wow! that's a great way of representing zoom on a device capable of listening to multiple inputs at a time. And subsequently will never forget how to do it, and it becomes your first tool when you want to zoom.

HN is so anti-Apple it's not funny. I've noticed if an argument makes Apple better, no matter how reasonable you are, you tend to get downvotes.

Anyway, I agree with you. (There are two of us!) Apple's stuff is built to be easy enough for a know-nothing user to get the basics done, and depending on your skill, you gain access to more and more over time.

If you put an iPhone in any 5-year olds hand they seem to have no trouble figuring it out.

Five-year-olds have no trouble figuring out how to do the stuff a five-year-old wants to do with an iPad. More advanced stuff, not so much.

Incorrect. I have a 5-year old here, and they do have trouble figuring things out. What they learn are simple patterns the bring success. There are some things that are simple. Press the home button to go back to the screen with the boxes. Press a box to open the thing that plays kids singing! Yay.

But then none of what they are dealing with, for the most part, is made by Apple. They are using apps built by others, and some apps are just incredibly confusing.

Apple is rife with UX problems. Just look at the newest device they came out with, the Watch. Two buttons that are positioned in a way that constantly have them activating when I lift my hand up. Why do I have screenshots of my watch every day littering my computer? I mean, I cannot fathom someone used this and didn't have this issue.

The Watch is a beta device, and everyone I've met with one has agreed with that sentiment (both techies and non-techies alike).

This doesn't even begin to touch their software, or the OSs themselves. Here is a company that still can't get windowing right.

The only reason I still use their products is because OS X is built on UNIX and is supported by major companies, but even that is going away, so there is less incentive.

Can you elaborate on the windowing issue? I don't have a mac anymore, and always disliked the menu at the top of the screen UX (which is the same as my Ubuntu). I'm not sure what the windowing issue you're referring to is.

Also, how is OS X moving away from UNIX? Or is it that major companies are moving away from UNIX? I'm not sure I've seen evidence of either of these.

First, apologies on the confusion on Unix. That was my fault.

> is supported by major companies, but even that is going away, so there is less incentive.

I meant that companies supporting OS X, not Unix. The two reasons were:

1) Unix 2) OS X support

The second point is what I meant was going away. I see companies that matter to me supporting OS X less and less. The latest company to do so is Blizzard. Again, apologies for the confusion.

As for the windowing issue, I have to download a third party app to handle most of the stuff I get for free on every other major and many non-major windowing systems from a decade ago. This includes snapping and auto sizing and moving windows among monitors.

Couple this with OS X's horrible support for external monitors on it's laptops. Several times a week I have issues when I disconnect my mac. Either my sees a phantom monitor that is not there and so windows still exist there that I can't reach or bring over. I have to close the lid and open it up again.

The full screen support is still an absolute insult. And the when they changed what the stop light did and made it maximize is annoying.

The only reason people started using their computers again was because of Unix.

This is a common refrain, but is it possible that adults have learned valid paradigms that make using the iPhone as it is today, more difficult? If you want to design for 5-year-olds and have them retain that forever, I guess it can work, but maybe it's a design failure if the people who actually buy your product have a harder time using it.

To use another analogy, it's somewhat like saying "Well, people literate in a left-to-right language have no problem using it." Great, but presumably Apple was aiming for a global audience, so pointing out success stories in some subsections of that audience does not mean they succeeded overall.

I've certainly noticed that my decades of touch-typing experience make it much more difficult for me to enter text on a buttonless touch keyboard. I'm constantly growling and swearing at the machine and deleting words and typing them over, because I can't shake the habit of watching the text as I type instead of the buttons I'm trying to push. Someone who had never learned to type properly would be unlikely to have this problem.

Maybe embracing the system and its physical constraints instead of fighting it would help, in that case using something like swype that is both fast and completely different from typing (makes it easier to transition).

At least that worked for me and I am typing without looking at the keys too.

I think a 5 year old with no preconceived notions of a user interface is probably the best validation of whether a device is "usable." Also my 93 year old grandmother took to her iPhone almost instantaneously. As did my technically challenged parents, all of their friends and pretty much any of the hundreds of people who I have ever seen pick up an iPhone. I have actually never even heard of a single person picking up and iPhone and saying "I can't figure this out - it's unusable!" until your post. And on a tech forum no less - what are you even doing here?

Perhaps you feel Apple should have designed a beautiful rotary phone?

> I think a 5 year old with no preconceived notions of a user interface is probably the best validation of whether a device is "usable."

But Western 5-year-olds have already had 5 years to watch their parents use contemporary technology. I'm not sure there's such thing as a "blank slate" here. And I doubt the average 5-year-old from a rural town in a third-world country is going to pick up an iPhone as easily as an American one. You're picking like 1% of the world population and making them the benchmark for universal design. I suppose the ultimate end to this line of reasoning is that there is no such thing as perfectly universal design, and I'm OK with that.

> I have actually never even heard of a single person picking up and iPhone and saying "I can't figure this out - it's unusable!" until your post.

When did I say that? You might have me confused with the GP poster.

> Perhaps you feel Apple should have designed a beautiful rotary phone?

Why not? Many 5-year-olds probably could use rotary phones just fine back in the day. Maybe Apple doesn't actually have a monopoly on making it possible for 5-year-olds to use technology.

+8 here

I have to wonder which iPhone era you're thinking of. Back in the early days, maybe. Nowadays? The iPhone is a puzzle box. I imagine a 5 year old would have a great time playing with it and seeing all the surprising things that happen in response to various actions, but if you want to actually use it for anything it's not nearly as pleasant an experience.

I've put an iPad in front of a 5 year old and she's continually activating weird gestures and swipe-in features by mistake and getting confused

The article describes the issues I had with discoverability very well: As a European I always refused to pay the insane prices for apple products there. When I finally needed a mp3-player to survive daily commutes in public transport, I got an ipod touch. Without any printed documentation, I had to ask experienced apple users how to perform certain actions.

This is why, for me, the iPod ('classic') remains one of the greatest products Apple created. They managed to get so much of it right, almost uniquely. Hardware and software working very well together. Of course, it had a very specific function, which makes the task much easier, but I just wish they could follow it up with something remotely approaching as nice an experience.

I've been wanting to replace my iPod Nanos for a few years now (they're 10 years old already, and the batteries are starting to go), but everything nowadays is touch-screen, and so completely unusable for me. Why? With that tactile single click-wheel, it was very easy for me to put the iPod in my pocket and not look at it for the entire flight, even when I wanted to skip the next song or replay or pause.

I know! Similarly, what I've been pining for are smart watches with several tactile buttons that can be used as input for apps. I've been waiting on programmable generic buttons for AGES. Having a display would be icing on the cake.

FYI there is a big market for non-touch music players if you know where to look. Over at HeadFi [1] you can find a large amount of reviews and discussion of players from iRiver, Sandisk, Sony, together with more niche brands like Fiio and HiFiMAN.

[1] http://www.head-fi.org/products/category/digital-audio-flac-...

Imo all they have to do to get the new music app to work is to copy-paste the old iPod user interface into the Music app and add a decent search field. I don't know why that's such a hard challenge for them.

As a new Macbook user this year one of my favorite examples of this is screenshots. On Windows I've always had a prt scrn keyboard button, Macbooks forego that. As of windows 7 I think, there was a program to screenshot a portion of the screen or a specific window, Apple don't have one of those. All the screenshot commands (screen, window, portion) are behind a 3 key keyboard shortcut that I have to look up all the time.

Edit: Csydas, I got a HN notify with a reply from you, it's a shame you deleted it - you brought up good points and I agree with you. If you were down voted before deleting it wasn't me.

Wow. Context is everything. It's been the same 3-key shortcut since 1984, so I never have to think about it. The command-shift-number pattern was used for a good handful of common system-wide functions on the classic Mac OS, so it was just a matter of remembering which digit corresponded to which action. They were basically function keys, since the original keyboards didn't have physical function keys.

I'm in the same boat. I've used both Macs and PCs for years and I find the Mac's shortcuts to be easier to remember and, overall, more useful than the PC's. PrintScreen to capture the whole desktop is nice and easy, but anything outside of that is a pain in the ass. I love that Cmd+Shift+4 lets me select an area of the screen with 1 hand. I'd be hard-pressed to remember, much less find, if Windows has suddenly added that capability and, even if it did, you'd have to use 1 hand for modifiers and one hand for PrintScreen. Macs have always had it so it's muscle memory now. If Windows added it, it was recent and requires 2 hands.

Most of the time on Windows you want full screen (PrtScrn) or a single window (Alt+PrtScrn). Windows definitely wins here vs Apple's Cmd+Shift+3 and Cmd+Shift+4, with the additional modifier to copy to clipboard instead of save to desktop.

On the other hand, Apple's accent input (old style, not the new style that stops key repetition grrr) is vastly superior than alt codes. Yeish.

Windows has had the Snipping Tool since Windows Vista. Print screen is obsolete though it still does work. Snipping Tool is really great, you can even make a free form snip.

Any combination of modifier keys excluding the 'menu' key will combine with PrtScn with one hand under Windows - all the modifier keys are available on the same side of the keyboard as PrtScn on a standard keyboard.

Mac OS X has always shipped with a screenshot utility called "Grab".


Ha you're right, thankyou! In my defence, the first Google hit for OSX screenshot is this Apple page [0] that doesn't even mention that utility - and "screenshot" in Spotlight doesn't suggest Grab. It's in the "Other" folder of Launchpad which I don't think I've ever opened.

But really, thanks - this is really helpful :)

It really depends on the person and their setup I think. I personally love OS X key combos because they’re commonly tied to phonetics (Command-Q for quit vs. Alt-F4 for instance).

Low reliance on Fkeys is also great for two reasons: 1) It makes it easier to use keyboards with Fkey rows (like my beloved HHKB) 2) It frees up an entire row of keys for me to use without worry of overriding system shortcuts — for instance, I have F1 assigned to Spotlight, F2 assigned to a drop-down terminal, F3 assigned to quick open in Xcode, F4 assigned to search documentation in Dash, etc etc.

> Apple simultaneously made a radical move toward visual simplicity and elegance at the expense of learnability, usability, and productivity.

Case in point: calendar.

I simply cannot tell where one month ends and another begins in the flat UI. Sure, the skeuomorphic version looked corny, but it was a lot easier to use.

and iTunes went from a fully featured media library that focused on managing the media on your hard drive. iTunes STILL manages the media on your hard drive, but it's nearly impossible to manage the files through the stripped-down iTunes interface.

iTunes used to be a power-app, now I can hardly use it.

> iTunes used to be a power-app, now I can hardly use it.

This happens to a lot of software. There used to be lists of "last good version of ..."

The Usenet group alt.comp.freeware sometimes used to recommend the last good version rather than the latest version. There's probably a Reddit subreddit for it.

ACDSee and Nero burning rom are well known examples. I guess Imgur is at risk of this, but they seem to be keeping stuff in check.

Did they strip it down? I haven't opened it for the past several OS releases. It always annoyed me that they added so many conceptually different applications to an audio player.

JM2C, “The plural of anecdote is not data," &c.

Most of these things annoy me, but nevertheless iOS devices continue to be “good enough,” and with the exception of Surface, I have been given no incentive to go through the agony of switching.

I would hazard that Apple is giving competition an opening, but it won’t be easy to overcome the kind of inertia they have. Most people fear switching costs. The easiest way to beat them is in an entirely new category, just like Surface vs. iPad Pro. Or wearables. I have the Apple Watch, and it’s a fine extension for my iPhone. And I don’t regret the purchase. But it fees like there is lots of uncertainty in how the wearables game will play out.

When do I get a ring that starts my car, opens my front door, unlocks my laptop and phone, and pays for my coffee? For that matter, why the hell do I need to log into my MacBook when I’m wearing my unlocked watch?

> The plural of anecdote


> When do I get a ring…


As a side effect, result from all the tiny 'improvements' since Snow Leopard, I have moved everything from stock apps and services. Ecosystem is simply not something I would rely on. Mutt/offlineimap for mail. Baïkal (on my own server) for contacts and calendar. My photos are outside of Photos. My music is outside of iTunes. As a final result of the process, my iCloud account has all the checkboxes unchecked. I would not strive to be OS agnostic if Apple didn't bend over backwards to tie me in into their services. So yeah I agree with other comments, half of the hidden gestures are there to tie us in. Bad move.

>One of us, Tognazzini, worked at Apple with Steve Jobs in the early days. Norman joined Apple shortly after Jobs departed and then left shortly after Jobs returned in 1996. We were not present during the shift from the days of easy-to-use, easy-to-understand products (where Apple could honestly brag that no manual was necessary), to today’s products where no manual is included, but is often necessary. We do know that before Jobs returned, Apple had a three-pronged approach to product design: user experience, engineering, and marketing, with all three taking part in the design cycle from day one to when the product shipped.

>Today’s Apple has eliminated the emphasis on making products understandable and usable, and instead has imposed a Bauhaus minimalist design ethic on its products.

I actually love this article because when people look back with rose tinted glasses about how things were great when Forstall was around, I can send them this article about how Apple's usability suffered when Jobs came back, an era where they claim that Apple's products was the best they ever were from a usability stand point.

I have tried to use a Mac on several occasions but I see so much to adapt to. The apps still crash, some applications still feel slow, gestures/click pattern using 1-2-3-4 fingers, window system is not really obvious. It can obviously be learned but I find linux to be more much obvious and user friendly than Mac specially GNOME which is my current favorite. In any case windows has come a long way from windows xp to windows 10 to complicate things and hide features in crappy manner and still busy fixing things that are not broken.

I can't speak for Windows, but Linux is miles behind OS X in terms of usability in my opinion. The trackpad gestures are fantastic and very intuitive for me to the point where I hate using a crippled trackpad on linux. I can see the appeal of Gnome, which is very simple and intuitive to use. But modern gnome is adopting more and more features of the OS X window management system, like ctrl-tab switching applications rather than windows, the addition of indicator applets, the windows-and-dock overview screen (whatever they call it). From all the complaints I hear I don't think there's anything particularly difficult about OS X file management and window management other than "its different from what I'm used to."

Hmm I guess you are right on when you say "its different from what I'm used to" . Also I am more of a keyboard guy so I have limited trackpad usage, keeping it limited to just scroll and click works for me. Anyways the default way to switch applications is Super + Tab, in mac super key is command key whereas in windows laptops its the windows key.

It's odd that these titans of design gloss over one UI tenet - direct manipulation. This seems to somehow make up for a great deal inconsistency and violations of the design principles they pioneered. Nobody said 'my four year old and/or my mother-in-law just took to the Mac' as often as they say it about an iPad.

All interaction is learned nothing is purely intuitive and so their critique seems awfully nit-picky but ultimately trivial and based on an older paradigm than the one I think apple is trying to achieve. I am frankly surprised that people I normally admire would launch such a critique.

The touch display did more good for usability than any interface design or metaphor did the previous 20 by simply removing the layer of abstraction between the object on the screen and the user wanting to manipulate it. No more mentally translating hand-mouse coordination with eye-screen coordination.

I am not defending apple but I understand what they are trying to do which is to remove the need for metaphors by allowing you to manipulate the objects directly. I.e. the content is the metaphor for itself. Just like i don't need a metaphor for picking up a pencil i just do. Maybe they are not there yet but thats I price I think is worth paying.

Apple have far bigger problems than their interaction design IMO.

The strangest thing for me is that my 17 month old seem to pick the interaction with an iPad or Apple TV way more naturally than I could. She's not afraid of experimenting, and she's not overthinking what's happening or not — and since other children (same age or older) seem to "get it" as fast, I would say they're on something. I'm more weary of the ergonomics of their products : what's good for a toddler (the Apple TV remote for example) may not be the perfect solution for a grown up hand. Likewise, their pen for the iPad Pro seem to be designed for look over function, or their mouse, or... But we'll see.

Right. Kids are not worried about the consequences of screwing everything up. The stakes are too high to mess around with work email or calendaring. You just can't click and see what happens, unfortunately. The brilliance of dropdown menus is the ability to rummage without triggering events.

No only that it's also your parent's who know don't have to work through layers of abstraction to understand how to manipulate something.

Meet my mom:


My mom once called me up with a computer problem.

"My fox fire[sic] isn't working."

Turns out her problem was Windows wasn't booting. All she knew was she wanted to get to a website and she couldn't.

This is what Tog and Don Norman have been saying for more than two decades now, so I’m not sure how you can be surprised by what they said. They have always advocated for an extremely “literal” and explicit design of user interfaces.

It’d be interesting to see HN’s reactions to Tog’s articles explaining how the mouse is more efficient than the CLI.

Gestures are the epitome of interface metaphors. Not only that, but their hidden nature can make them exceptionally difficult to learn or master.

Not sure what gestures and what metaphors you are talking about.

Touch something on the screen is not a metaphor it's the closest to what you would do in real life.

This is why kids and people less experienced with computers have such an easy time picking them up and start using them.

Sure, touching is the easy part, but there are now quite a few gestures available:

* Four finger swipes on the iPad to go to the task manager or switch between apps.

* Swipe from the left to go back in a navigation controller.

* Swipe from the top to activate the notification center.

* Swipe from the bottom to activate the control center.

* Swipe list elements right or left (but not from the edge) to delete or perform other actions.

* Swipe notifications from the left to perform the default action for that notification.

And then there's 3D touch.

I think you picked poor examples. All the ones you listed are power user accelerators for actions you can do in other ways that are slower but more straightforward.

Except this one:

> Swipe notifications from the left to perform the default action for that notification.

But this one has a “slide to open” text explainig what to do right below it.

All interaction is learned. There is literally nothing that is obvious to the unexperienced thats not the discussion here.

The question is whether the metaphor model that Don & co are advocating is a better one and to which I would argue it's not because that too rely en metaphors to be learned.

The touch metaphor is litterally the way into the interface (ahh i can touch things, ahh i can also swipe things etc.)

In the classical universe you had several layers of abstraction between the user and the content. Apple is trying to make it as close to a one to one relationship they can. Your examples are about something completely different.

All interaction is learned. There is literally nothing that is obvious to the unexperienced thats not the discussion here.

But there is a scale of how easily something is learned, and a UI with more or better affordances will be easier to learn than one with worse or fewer affordances.

As someone who designs a lot of UI, I was nodding through much of this article. The most obvious part I disagreed with was the idea that they are at least making things more attractive as they damage usability. If those comments referred to the current trend for bland, homogenous, flat UIs, then I find most of these much less attractive than those we had just a few years ago. Almost everything looks the same now, and that look is so dumbed down that to me it feels like the digital version of painting a big canvas solid blue and then selling it for $100,000 as "modern art".

Thats not really how to look at this though.

There are of course completely useless UI but for most of the UI we are talking about here it really just is a matter of learning it and most of the times making something easy to learn might mean that it's not as powerful to use. I.e. there are no right solution just a bunch of solutions each with their various drawbacks and advantages.

In the context of this discussion though the things they complain about are missing what apple is trying to do (remove the layers of abstraction so that the very elements themselves are the interface rather than by proxy of some other controllers.

There are of course completely useless UI but for most of the UI we are talking about here it really just is a matter of learning it and most of the times making something easy to learn might mean that it's not as powerful to use. I.e. there are no right solution just a bunch of solutions each with their various drawbacks and advantages.

That may be true to an extent, but UIs could offer a lot more support to beginners trying to find their way around than many of the current generation of mobile UIs do. I agree there is always a balancing act, but at the moment we seem to be getting the worse end on all of the scales at once, with limited functionality, limited discoverability, and limited aesthetics. And the really sad part is that this has been a step backwards from the state of the art just a few years ago, when the typical mobile UI was both more attractive and easier to use than the flat junk that Apple, Google and Microsoft seem to be obsessed with today.

> It was a champion of the graphical user interface, where it is always possible to discover what actions are possible, clearly see how to select that action, receive unambiguous feedback as to the results of that action, and have the power to reverse that action—to undo it—if the result is not what was intended.

I think this is the best summation I've seen of the value of a well-designed GUI interface as opposed to the most common implementations of the command line. Obviously not everything can be plausibly translated to CLI, but I wish there was more effort to combine the power of CLIs with, especially, the discoverability and feedback of GUIs.

I'm surprised at how many people are agreeing with this article.

I need a new phone soon, and all of my family members have iPhones, which is nice for group chat (maybe photo sharing too). I worry about getting an iPhone because I feel like Apple is going nowhere these days. If your biggest innovation is "make it bigger", "make it smaller" (macbook air, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch), we've got some things to work on. I felt like everyone struggled with Yosemite, too.

"Unfortunately, visually simple appearance does not result in ease of use, as the vast literature in academic journals on human-computer interaction and human factors demonstrates."

This lines up with my own anecdotal experience, but isn't something I've read about. Can anyone suggest further reading on this research?

So, on discoverability in gestural interfaces: what are some good sources? I'm working on a touch interface right now and I'd love to learn how to make it better.

This reminds me of the article about Apple's internal iPhone UI, and how I thought it actually looked better than the release version:


A heavy, very readable font, along with buttons that actually look like buttons.

Are features less discoverable? Or has how you discover features changed from discovering through menus to discovering through swiping and tapping?

I'm going to be using a feature in much the same way I discover it. Menus are harder to read and use on a small device. This is not a desktop.

I thought Firefox was facing a similar problem for a while now, with the merging of the back and forward buttons for example. I wonder who is responsible.

Good. I always felt weird for not knowing any of the advanced gestures. I also didn't know that shaking == undo.

I've been using iPhones since 2009.

An ironic piece where I had to wade through a preview ad and three poorly placed overlay ads to even this article.

What Apple has been focusing on in later releases is not design, but fashion - form without function.

I'm guessing design is now random pictures with splashes of color added on top? Is this aiding the article, because right now it's "giving design a bad name".

Some GIFs would be much more convincing.


You're projecting your own agenda onto the article. The article's starting point is comparing the Apple products to previous incarnations of Apple products.

> Further, they made a new font that is readable at all sizes AND an OS that lets you dynamically change the size of the fonts in your settings and have it work across applications.

Here's a clear example - in your haste to throw your agenda on top of the article, you've missed that the article talks about this exact feature, and that it doesn't work well: on many app screens, this option made normal fonts so large that the text wouldn’t fit on the screen.

It's a long article, sure, but that comment is only about 10% of the way in.

Maybe it's just that I never got on the iphone bandwagon, but I've never found anything about the Android UI confusing or frustrating, other than the inherent frustration that comes with the limitations of a tiny touchscreen-based interface. What exactly do you have in mind?

I agree, I find that overall the android user experience is enjoyable and polished, not that you can't find anything important to criticize, but way above average for sure.

On the other hand, I also know a lot of people having a mediocre feeling with it.

This is an interesting perception gap to investigate.

And I would suggest that a big reason of that is that there much more Samsung customers than Nexus owners.

Interesting. I used to have a Galaxy Nexus, which was made by Samsung but configured by Google (it was the Christmas phone the year I worked there), and currently have a Moto X, and those are the only Android devices I've used. Perhaps not a typical experience, then, since I haven't had to deal with manufacturer-locked crapware and the like.

Oh god. The back button?

What's weird about it?

Is that you, Gruber?


> on iOS, and less so Android, but still, there are NO POWER USERS. everyone gets the same treatment.

This is not true. Those of us that can write programs are power users in that we can write programs using our general purpose computers that run on our devices.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact