Apple’s design problems aren’t skeuomorphic

From Tim Cook’s letter announcing the latest reorganization at Apple last week:

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his longtime role as the leader of Industrial Design. Jony has an incredible design aesthetic and has been the driving force behind the look and feel of our products for more than a decade. The face of many of our products is our software and the extension of Jony’s skills into this area will widen the gap between Apple and our competition.

Sir Jony

Sir Jony Ive needs no introduction

Ive’s industrial design work has been one of the key drivers of Apple’s rebirth. His relentless, iterative focus on simplification of form and function under an aesthetic budget is legend. From Bondi blue iMac to iconic iPods to flatscreen iMacs to iPhones to iPads, his signature is unmistakable.

What’s not publicly known is Ive’s role, if any, on Apple software. The current meme of Ive coming on a white horse to rescue geeks in distress from Scott Forstallian skeuomorphism is wishfully hilarious. Like industrial design of physical devices, software is part form and part function: aesthetics and experience. Apple’s software problems aren’t dark linen, Corinthian leather or torn paper. In fact, Apple’s software problems aren’t much about aesthetics at all…they are mostly about experience. To paraphrase Ive’s former boss, Apple’s software problems aren’t about how they look, but how they work. Sometimes — sadly more often than we expect — they don’t:

  • Notifications, dark linen background or not, is woefully under-designed.
  • Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping.
  • iCloud-desktop integration and direct file sharing among Apple devices are circuitous and short of “It Just Works.”
  • Many Apple apps, like the iWork suite, are begging to be updated. Others, like Preview, TextEdit, Contacts, desperately need UI and UX overhauls.
  • Core functionalities like the Dictionary or the iOS keyboard layout and auto-correction are not the best of breed.
  • iOS app organization in tiny “folders” containing microscopic icons on pages without names borders on illegible and unscalable.
  • Navigating among running iOS apps (inelegant and opaque for users) and data interchange among apps in general (vastly underpowered for developers) remain a serious problem.

Obviously, it’s not much use piling up on this list, as everyone else’s list of “things to be improved” is likely ten times longer. Neither is it really useful arguing at this point whose fault it is. Apple software — especially its self-declared future, iOS — needs some serious overhaul both in aesthetics and experience, and far more in the latter department.

One Man. One Company. One Aesthetics?

The question is, can one person, even the world’s most eminent industrial designer, pull it off? Is it possible for one person to have enough time in a day to pay sufficient attention to hardware and software — aesthetics and experience — at a level of detail that has become necessary?

After all, Apple’s Human Interaction Guidelines (HIG) has never been just about the aesthetics of icon shadows or button alignment, but also about the behavioral aspects of application design in general. A generation ago, especially prior to the ascendency of web design, HIG was far more respected and adhered to both by Apple itself and its developers. Loyal users also noticed deviations and complained. HIG debates on public forums were not uncommon.

Today, not so much. A radio button or a checkbox can initiate a webpage navigation. Navigational menus now come in circular and triangular popups. There are now purely gestural UIs otherwise betraying none of their functionality to the user. Layers of sliding panels cascade on each other. List items slide left and right to initiate drill-down actions, up and down to reveal interactive media. Some UIs are beveled in 3D, some flat with no shadows, most a loose melange of many styles. And with each such “innovation” they bury the notion of a once powerful HIG a foot deeper.

Is it possible then to have a Human Interface czar for a 500-million user ecosystem today at all? If it were possible, would it be desirable? And if it were possible and desirable, can one person be in charge of both the visual aesthetics and the functional experience of such a huge ecosystem?

  • Can one person truly understand how Siri’s problems surfaced at the display layer actually go deeper into its semantic underpinnings, phoneme parsing, lexical contextuality, data-provider contracts, network latencies, etc., and therefore how the overall solution depends on this interplay of form and function?
  • Is it fair and reasonable to expect one person to understand how user-facing issues that surface within Maps or Passbook apps also suffer from similar technical and operational constraints?
  • Or how a lack of a social layer in Game Center or a content discovery layer in iTunes or App Store impede their functions in so many ways?
  • How about the cognitive mess that is document management and sharing in iClouds, as Apple moves away from user-level file management?
  • Or that monumental experiment also known as the Grand iTunes Redesign that’s been threatening to arrive any year now?
  • Or the Apple TV that needs an injection of a barrel of aesthetics and experience redesign?

In just how many UI corners and UX paths can a HI czar discover the depth of lingering problems and craft solutions as Apple designers play chicken with OS X menubar and iOS status bar translucency and color with every update? These are not just, or even mostly, aesthetic problems.

Apple, quo vadis?

It’s not known if Ive’s is a transitionary appointment necessitated by Scott Forstall’s departure or a harbinger of a longer term realignment of Apple design under a single umbrella. Unification of hardware and software design under a czar may certainly bring aesthetic efficiencies but it can also be pregnant with dangers. Much as the “lickable” Aqua UI ended up doing a decade ago, a serious mistake would be to hide many of these behavioral, functional and experiential software problems under a more attractive, aesthetically unifying display layer, such as:

  • A more modern, less cheesy Game Center redesign that still doesn’t have a social layer.
  • An aesthetically unified iTunes without appreciably better content discoverability.
  • A Siri app without the background linen but still lacking much deeper semantic integration with the rest of the iOS.
  • A Maps app without the ungainly surreal visual artifacts but still missing a robust search layer underneath.
  • An iBooks app without the wooden shelves or inner spine shadow, but still with subpar typography and anemic hyphenation and justification.
  • A Podcast app without the tape deck skeuomorphism, but with all the same navigational opaqueness.

In the end, what’s wrong with iOS isn’t the dark linen behind the app icons at the bottom of the screen, but the fact that iOS ought to have much better inter-application management and navigation than users fiddling with tiny icons. I’m fairly sure most Apple users would gladly continue to use what are supposed to be skeuomorphically challenged Calendar or Notebook apps for another thousand years if Apple could only solve the far more vexing software problems of AppleID unification when using iTunes and App Store, or the performance and reliability of the same. And yet these are the twin sides of the same systems design problem: the display layer surfacing or hiding the power within or, increasingly, lack thereof.

Yes, unlike any other company, we hold Apple to a different standard. We have for three decades. And we have been amply rewarded. If Apple’s winning streak is to continue, I hope Jony Ive never misplaces his Superman cape behind his Corinthian leather sofa…for he will need it.

90 thoughts on “Apple’s design problems aren’t skeuomorphic

  1. Do you mind if I repost a few of your articles if I provide credit and sources back to counternotions.
    com? My blog is in the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would certainly gain from some of the knowledge you offer here.
    Feel free to let me know if this would be fine.

    Regards

  2. I rarely leave a response, but i did a few searching
    and wound up here Apples design problems
    arent skeuomorphic | counternotions. And I actually do
    have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Is it only me or does it appear like some of these responses appear like they are coming from brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting at additional social sites, I’d like to
    follow everything new you have to post. Would you list of all of your shared sites like your
    linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  3. Industrial design is leading the UX and UI, in fact that’s wha t ID do: it Makes interfaces. Then those so-called “ux designers” or “ui designers” that only begin with this fancy new era pushed by ios, html5 and other cases, go here and say “jony ive cant do that” pffffffffffffffffffff please, STFU.

  4. Good article. You are correct. The problem with the UI is the functionality, not the hit or miss aesthetic. Twice I have pestered Apple to provide the basic calendar function of being able to schedule a meeting that occurs on a set schedule but the exact day varies – such as the third Thursday of each month. The apple calendar can’t do that and they have not addressed my complaint. These are the kind of details that cause people to reconsider allegiance to the brand – when the software lacks capability to accomplish basic task then who cares what it looks like – it’s crap.

    • iOS’s calendar lacks what you’re asking for, but iCal can set up a repeating meeting for the third Thursday of each month on your Mac (making this a place where iOS still lags behind MacOS X). To set up your example of the third Sunday, look for the “repeat” pop-up while editing an event on your calendar…pick “Custom…” at the bottom of that popup. When the “Custom” picker comes up, there are two radio buttons…pick the lower one (labeled, “On the”). Below “On the” are two popup menus. The first lets you select, “First”, “Second”, “Third”, “Fourth”, or “Last” while the second (right hand) lets you select any day of the week (Sunday thru Saturday) as well as “day”, “week day”, or “weekend day”. For your example, you’d set the left hand popup to “Third” and the right hand popup to “Sunday”. There are plenty of UI/UE/UX problems which annoy me to no end…this one is just a minor irritant.

  5. Good article. Anybody getting tired of the ‘iTunes’ name? And the ‘Music’ button in iOS? And App-store in iTunes? I’m getting old, I never bought my tools in the record-store.

  6. I think it’s really important to also distinguish between iOS and OSX – there is no way the two can function similarly because of the constraints inherent on a mobile device – screen size, time, file size, no mouse, etc. Why force a touch OS to be a desktop OS and vice versa? I’ve seen both MS & Samesung try, and it is misguided – not the decision of an epic visionary. You can’t say ‘here’s a tablet – it’s a PC’ because it isn’t. If I want big icons, a filesystem, drag and drop, etc. then I will use my damn desktop! Won’t you?

    • “I think it’s really important to also distinguish between iOS and OSX – there is no way the two can function similarly because of the constraints inherent on a mobile device – screen size, time, file size, no mouse, etc. Why force a touch OS to be a desktop OS and vice versa?”

      This was a high consideration when Apple created iOS (then iPhone OS). Essentially, the hardware device layers (screen size, filesystem, user interface, etc.) are abstracted from the core components (audio, video, power management, memory management, security, etc.) that originated with OS X. I do not feel that a touch interface is forced upon me when using OS X, but I do admit that I find Trackpad gestures in Mountain Lion to be very handy, indeed.

  7. I’m wondering whether it is *possible* to achieve the sort of ideal interfaces the article seems to yearn for. Are there examples of actual interfaces in the iOS universe that work, striking the right balance between “how it looks” and “what it needs to do”? I’m concerned that the practical need to compromise and the academic desire for platonic ideals are incompatible in the real world.

  8. Skeuomorphism IS a problem; I’d recharacterize the article to say the problems aren’t exclusively skeuomorphic.

    I think one of the single biggest thigns Apple could do to advance the platform would be to publish the Siri API and let that wonderful 3rd party developer community take a crack at it. Subject, of course, to the constraints they establish for using it in the iTunes App Store acceptance guidelines.

  9. Example being trying to “like” this post on my iPhone. To do so I must login to WordPress. I have to find 1Password and unlock it find my WordPress login. Copy the password. Navigate back to safari. Paste

    You get it.

    Pretty UI’s aren’t the problem on iOS. the high expectations we’ve been set for UX starting to be unmet are what are.

  10. Actually Tim. The problem is all of those things. Stop aiming for mediocrity and making excuses..

    Frankly, i’m a bit taken aback to hear Apple’s CEO making light of aesthetic design choices. Let’s face it, Aesthetics have always been placed before functionality at Apple. Placing function first is admirable, but aesthetics shouldn’t be ignored.

    The majority of the issues that Tim brings up here are things Google’s UX/UI team has already solved in their latest build of the OS. And they did it by using utilitarian and beautiful non-distracting look and feel aesthetics.

    I think what Tim might really be doing here is trying to sidestep the fact that if they want to work like android, they don’t also want to look like android. They’re content to have gaudy and tacky UI just to “think different.” Even if it means making the calendar app look like a leather bound book with pages that turn, when the pages don’t actually turn when you try to swipe across them.

  11. What’s positive about the software situation of Apple is that they have a really strong fundation: the processor, kernel, drivers and set of APIs. The UI is really smooth and fast. What’s need some attention is more high level elements like multi-users handling, task switching, settings, file sharing betweens apps, easier file sharing with desktop computer. Can one big update of iOS address all this thing?

  12. Not to mention horrifying iTunes/iPhone experience… listening to music has never been awkwarder…

  13. I think that the term trolling is diluted to the point of meaningless. You can’t just call “troll” when someone posts something you don’t like, or indeed something against Apple.

  14. Truly speaking those missing items were missing from the day one of iOS devices. In the name of user experience (the less technical user) all settings were hold in one place (which grew so big that it became scary), app switching, app interoperability – those items were sacrificed in the name of battery life. Keyboard was made as simple as it could be, without any gestures – which could be too complicated for end-users (and almost unknown to those non-technical one).

    It hit me, that all those items: keyboard, switching, communication, social based and easy to browse shop, social based game center (connected to branded communicator) are the strong points of incoming BlackBerry 10 – it looks like somebody have made their homework well and can see what is missing.

  15. Truly speaking those missing items were missing from the day one of iOS devices. In the name of user experience (the less technical user) all settings were hold in one place (which grew so big that it became scary), app switching, app interoperability – those items were sacrificed in the name of battery life. Keyboard was made as simple as it could be, without any gestures – which could be too complicated for end-users (and almost unknown to those non-technical one).

    It hit me, that all those items: keyboard, switching, communication, social based and easy to browse shop, social based game center (connected to branded communicator) are the strong points of incoming BlackBerry 10 – it looks like somebody have made their homework well and can see what is missing.

    • WAHAHAHA!!! LOLOLOLOLOL!!!

      Ahh, that was a good one… A real bellyacher and floor-roller at the same time!

      Seriously though, RIM is doomed, and BB10 is awful compared to even Android. Trust me, a friend of mine works at a Dev shop where RIM kept calling and trying to push their junk. As a result he had a developer device we could play around with and shake out heads at…

  16. Re: “Is it possible then to have a Human Interface czar for a 500-million user ecosystem today at all?”

    Yes, if that person has taste, understands end-users, can issue clear directives, and can manage a team of Human Interface designers and engineers.

    • I agree. as much as android fans hate Apple reinvented the tablet in their own image, Steve Jobs handled those duties to deliver what he felt was best for the start of what has become a wealth building industry(He was no software programmer). The marketing success of the i-products and ecosystem speaks for itself. Point is it is far easier to sit back and “hen peck” the innovativeness of the first to the market, than it is to put a stake in the ground as in ‘this is where we will begin.’ Point here is someone had to demonstrate a viable market existed for this form factor, stepping up risking their reputation. As they say “,,,the highest form of flattery…”

      So no I don’t doubt there can be improvement at both layers. Perhaps others companies working with Apple made it clear to Tim Cook those needed improvements were being blocked by Scott Forstall. It has been stated in other press that Jony Ive was no fan of Scott Forstall ‘s interface and perhaps evn the underpinnings including not being apart of the meetings he lead… As being named the person to oversee that development Tim might have just said “look I’m tired of this shit between you two, since you’re so damn pissed about the interface Jony it’s your baby now. Put up or shut up!’ Having not been the fly on the wall I can’t say… But it’s his to do right or do wrong now. Time will tell. I do have sense that he’ll have a group of people at Apple who will deliver on his directives. In this large an undertaking it is all a “cape’ wearing, industrial designer can do. Let’s all hope he get’s it right for the majority of us.

  17. I’m a Chinese user, the worse things in iOS for me:

    - The only default Chinese font makes reading Chinese text a pain. It’s okay for menu but it’s a ‘san-serif font’ and we need serif Chinese fonts for news or books. Can you imagin if Verdana is the only font you have reading iBooks?

    - The Chinese PingYing input method is improved on iOS6 but it still lacks the ‘double-pingying’ function. Millions of Chinese people like me use the more efficient double-pingying (on OS X, Apple’s Chinese input method came with a double-pingying function, but it’s lookup table is very strange and fixed so it’s still pretty much useless)

    Of course, Jailbreaking is the solution for these and many of the listed problems in main post.

    With jailbreak I can install my font of choice. I can install Chinese input method from Baidu or Sougou or QQ which are all better than the Apple’s implenmetaion.

    Apple stated on stage that ‘China’ is a feature in iOS. I can sense the efforts. But it’s far from enough.
    one example: Weibo (China’s twitter+facebook) is added in iOS6 as a system wide sharing feature. But in the notification center, there is ‘post to twitter’ and ‘post to facebook’, but no ‘post to weibo’. and there is no way to config this.
    And I find it strange that I have all 3 official apps (twitter/facebook/weibo) installed, but in the Settings->Privacy->Weibo , it’s EMPTY.

    Another one: The maps is much worse than Goolge maps, ok… it has no 3D option in China.. ok… and when you switch to the satellity view, the whole world except China is riduculaously blackened.

    It will take more than one Sir Jony to right all the wrongs in Apple’s software, iOS, OS X, Pro apps, etc.

    I can only wish he has enough qualified person in charge of the features related to China users.
    and maybe they should try ‘designed in China’ for a change.

    • Apple is severely lacking engineering talents. Not Designing Talents. Compared to Real Engineering house like Microsoft and Google.

      I wish they could just allow Input method to be part of “Apps” and allow us to choose the input method. The ones Input Method Apple comes with default are useless. And such thing would be hard to explain for someone who do write anything with 26 letters keyboard.

  18. Funny as I am reading this I am googling for “how do I add friends to GameCenter”. I didn’t search for address book contacts initially, and now, I want to – however, it’s apparently impossible. I have no friends in my list, and no way to add any. It’s puzzling.

    The other huge issue is sharing data amongst apps – though that’s more of an issue on the iPad as it’s supposed to be a computer replacement. Yet in order to get a document from one app to another one needs to jump through various hoops. It makes no sense.

    No one cares about “battery draining items” – sorry but Apple’s got that one right. They’d much rather add a bigger battery.

    As Apple has expanded and its apps have expanded so much, they sorely need some consolidation. They need to hire a bunch of really good people, obviously. Ive can be the judge of all designs before they leave the house, but he clearly can’t personally craft them all, or even oversee them all. Ive basically needs to be Steve Jobs and hire a Jony Ive for software.

    I think one thing that everyone at Apple knows is that “design is how it works. So I have high hopes.

  19. I agree with the overall point of this article, but some of your examples are severely lacking in details or explanation. For instance:

    “Notifications, dark linen background or not, is woefully under-designed.”

    What does “under-designed” even mean in this context? Sure, Notification Center isn’t particularly powerful, but it’s pretty straightforward and serves its purpose well: to collect notifications so you can act on them at your convenience.

    “Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places”

    This is demonstrably untrue. Four of the six items you cite (WiFi, Bluetooth, notifications, and brightness) are top-level items in the menu, while GPS and cellular are both only one level down. That seems perfectly acceptable to me since I can’t imagine most users are regularly toggling their cellular connections on and off, for example.

    Furthermore, the very first item in the main Settings menu is a switch for Airplane Mode, which toggles off WiFi, cellular, and Bluetooth – and therefore effectively GPS and notifications, since they rely on a network connection – in one shot. So five of the six items that you complain about requiring “laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places” can be disabled at once with literally two taps: tap Settings, tap the Airplane Mode toggle.

    “Core functionalities like the Dictionary or the iOS keyboard layout and auto-correction are not the best of breed.”

    Again, what does “best of breed” mean? Without further explanation I can’t see what the problem is with the built-in dictionary or keyboard auto-correction.

    I’m not saying that these examples have no room for improvement, but unless you explain some of these points further, they read to me like you’re grasping at straws trying to find “serious” design problems with iOS.

    • As someone who does alter WiFi on an almost daily basis I disagree that Settings.app is good enough, Kontra has it right.

      It’s slow to exit the current app, swipe left, left, left to find Settings.app & dig through to the relevant section, it’s even more painful if you are disabling or enabling cellular data too. Airplane mode is only OK if you don’t want any calls or SMS.

      Jailbreaking iOS was the best thing I did with my iPhone, now I can add buttons to the notification panel to disable/ enable all the relevant radio’s, screen brightness etc. It is only one swipe & a single tap away in any application.
      It saves about a minute on a 3GS waiting for iOS to render the settings screens & switch to springboard & back to the original app.

      The level of customisation that Apple allows is very poor on IOS. Why can’t I add a ‘lock in portrait mode’ button, or set the default apps across the device. Goodreader can read PDF’s but Chrome doesn’t know it is sitting waiting to open them, instead I have to copy & paste URLS & hope that characters didn’t get chopped of in the process of selecting text.

      What practical reason is there for the 12 app limit in folders? Let me make bad choices if that is what I want to do with my device.

      If you want to know what best of breed means take a look at other OS’s. They are allowing customisation that is surpassing what Apple is offering.

    • Really!? You find it acceptable to have to exit an app, swipe a few app pages (potentially close a folder first) to find Settings.app (which may or may not be on the same page of the app you just exited), launch Settings.app and drill down a few levels (Bluetooth is not in the main level, at least not in iOS 5) to turn something on or off?

      You’ve never been in that situation when you wander a bit too far away from your WiFi source that the iPhone doesn’t disengage from it but it performs like crap, and be forced to turn WiFi off to force a switch to 3G?

      I only use Bluetooth when I’m in my car, I don’t want it using any batter at all (the iPhone is not know for having the most durable battery in the market) when I don’t need it. So I turn it on and off all the time.

      I turn brightness down every night as to not be blinded if I wake up in the middle of the night and need to look something up on my phone.

      I lock the orientation of my phone whenever I’m laying in bed. And double-clicking the home button, swiping left and tapping is not accessible enough.

      You can argue that the average user doesn’t do this all the time. But I would argue that they don’t do it because it’s a pain in the ass. If it was there, accessible from a single swipe (in the Notification Center, like tweaks like NCSettings do), a lot more people would do this.

  20. Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping.

    It’s hard for me to get past this to give your other points consideration.

    You seem to be under the mistaken impression that most iOS users worry about these things, ever. Perhaps the UX for dealing with them could be better, but the way Apple has addressed these issues for most users to to make sure they don’t have to worry about them. iOS devices, out of the box, and without burdening the user have decent battery life.

    GPS? Yes, it imposes a serious power drain, but it is also automatically turned off, unless you are running an app that requires the GPS, then it turns on automatically.

    WiFi: Only turned off because I’m on an airplane, or because I’m cycling it to debug a glitchy WiFi connection.

    Bluetooth: I almost never use it, but I don’t bother turning it on and off because its impact on battery life when idle isn’t worth much attention.

    Notifications: Again, not something worth twiddling with to eek out a little more battery life.

    Screen Brightness: The automatic brightness control generally works pretty well. I do still end up tweaking it on my ipad, but it is easily accessible.

    The lack of a geofenced grouping? That’s a feature, not an omission.

    • I’ve messed with necessary customization for ages with various devices like palms, windows ce PDAs, Windows PCs only to lose everything on a new device.
      I understand that someone might want or need to do that but for myself I decided to go with products that require as little tweaking and micro managing as possible.
      iOS works for me to the point that I didn’t even notice the flaws the author mentioned.

    • I don’t mean to open with an hominem, but your post is the definition of fanboyism. You dismiss every criticism by appealing to the “average user”. Since when is lowest common denominator an appropriate target for Apple’s UX? Since when is it OK to cripple functionality because the proverbial non-techie user wouldn’t use it anyway?

      I don’t care what “most” iOS users care about. I care what I care about. I highly doubt Apple wants to become the USA Today of post-PC device makers.

    • @Sam Muldia
      And your post is the very definition of a straw man argument.
      No functionally is crippled, most functions mentioned are
      right at the top of settings, gps is turned on whenever needed, applications ask for permission.

    • i dont think the average user would do these things. my dad simply doesnt care about disabling wifi. ever.

    • To turn off WiFi because reception went to crap in the part of the building I’m in – leave app, possibly navigate to page with Settings app, open Settings, tap WiFi, hit WiFi off. Compare to jailbreak fix or Android – pull down notifications, tap WiFi toggle.

      To change brightness because it’s hurting my eyes in a dark room – leave app, navigate to page Settings app, open Settings, scroll down because Brightness is not even visible at this point, hit Brightness and Wallpaper, adjust slider. Compare to jailbreak/Android – pull down notifications, tap brightness, move slider.

      The Settings app is not the appropriate place to put frequently adjusted settings. Fine, if a great deal of users never need to adjust those settings, then don’t put the controls in Notifications by default, but allow me to do so.

      What I meant by “don’t design for the lowest common denominator” is exactly that. While John Q. Public might not know their WiFi from their bluetooth, they are equally annnoyed when the WiFi signal is poor and their data doesn’t load. The difference is that they don’t understand why and just wave their phones around until the Magic fixes it. I understand why, and how to fix it, but Apple won’t let me without an excessive amount of disruption to my workflow.

      Also, Mar, I wasn’t responding to you, and even if I were, you’re using the term “strawman” inappropriately. It’s great that iOS works for you without issue. It doesn’t for me. iOS should be well designed for both of us, not just you. At any rate, my 4S contract runs out next year, and unless post-Forstall Apple modernizes the OS significantly, I’m going to buy a stock Jelly Bean phone to replace my 4S. I love Apple’s hardware, but I am increasingly disappointed in Apple’s software.

  21. An electronic device like the iPod, iPhone, iPad and the Macintosh should be easy to use. That is one of the reasons for Apples success. Easy and intuitive. It should work like the human brain works. The way we think should be the way computers should work.

    Apple has left this focus a little bit. On my three and a half years old iPhone 3GS runns iOS 6 now. But I can’t find my music as easy as before. I do not care if music is a Podcast or Music. They are all tunes. So I have to search an audio file in “Music” and if I did not find it there it may be in iTunes U or in Podcasts, because it is all seperated now.

    The human brain does not think: What kind of audio file is this? I have to find it during a few seconds, especially when I drive with the car and want to hear something I only have at the iPhone. That tendence reminds me on Windows 3.1 in the early 1990s.

    Human Interface design means: Electronic helpers should work like the brain and the mind of men, women and even children (iPad) in all cultures on our planet. If Apple can contunue his success with this (which the company had, but now the focus is not clear and not consequent in that), it will continue to brighen up its great future.

    Electronic devices are there to make life easyer, better and enriche it with fun and experience in all possible directions.

    Apple always focused on not only change lifes. Make lifes more lifeable, make them better. Besides innovation this is one of the core values of the Apple brand and there corporate DNA.

    (My professional Background: Leadership in Strategic Marketing and Branding as well as designing cases for portalble devices (such as iPhone and iPad). Right now I devolop my first eyewear (spectacles). I love it; my Job is my hobby and my passion.)

    • I wish Sir Jonathan Ive and his Team all the best to realize this. I can imagine it is not easy and there may came a strong wind inside Apple and from users in the first time against it. But when they realize the benefit that even complex software can be used like the human brain, intuitive and easy, simple and in the same moment great, it will be so much more than just “one more thing.” It will be an ultimative thing. And when it is beautiful, aestetic and has a “great visual haptic” – it really will revolutionize the way we use software. And it comes from Apple. Again.

  22. There is probably a mathematical formula that proves dysfunctionality increases X as an OS progresses.

    Surely there must be people inside Apple who have seen the very things you — and everyone else — have seen. Perhaps Forstall was too focused on getting the next iteration done to pause for “editing.”

    Windows has suffered from this. Hell, the first Mac OS suffered from this — remember having to use Font/DA Mover? Look how long it took to get rid of that! Even something as “simple” as PalmOS wound up with weirdities as it matured. It seems to be inevitable.

    There should be two teams with software: The creators and then the editors. The Creators push out the new stuff, then the editors take over to push out the refinements that make it all better.

    Maybe that is what Ive will bring to the process: the editing.

    • Perhaps calling the Editors “Testers” would solve this. There should be creators and testers, the latter having the option of blocking certain features and demanding a redesign. I think the late Steve Jobs fulfilled this role.

  23. It’s hard to say whether skeumorphic is a problem. It doesn’t matter whether the symbols are archaic. What matters is that they provide an immediate visual clue. I recall Alan Cooper mentioning (perhaps jokingly) that he proposed using a pickle as a picker for (I think) Visual Basic. The point was that it didn’t matter that pickles had nothing to do with picking, it still functioned as a useful mnemonic. Changing skeuomorphic clues would leave existing users lost without their familiar landmarks. Lost in a more beautiful place, perhaps. But, still lost.

    This tradeoff, between familiar versus innovative, reminds me of the differences between the Python and Ruby community. Most Python code is readable *between* programmers. So, Guido van Rossum has been very conservative about changes. Ruby is very flexible and is ideal for creating domain specific languages (DSLs). As I was writing a DSL, I tried to convince Guido to allow for some changes to Python. He didn’t, but I understand and fundamentally respect his design decision towards consistency.

    As for flow, I recall the simplicity of the first iPhone. Then multitasking was added on. Then notifications, iCloud, and a whole bunch of features. All useful, but the result is that flow has suffered.

    As for me, I am designing an interface for a blind user. Have you ever tried using an iPhone with accessibility turned on? Each gesture requires three transactions: explore-by-touch, hear-the-label, double-tap-to-confirm. So, any discontinuous flow is amplified significantly. In this scenario, skeumorphic is moot. But, flow is paramount.

    So, here is what I suggest: open up Springboard. There were some great experiments in the Jailbreak days (of iOS 1.1.1). I was one of those experimenters. Allow developers, like myself, to develop news ways to flow between apps. Some will be awful. Some, will succeed and, like coverflow, make their way into a better iOS/OSX user exeperience.

    • Skeumorphic is a problem for example in the Podcasts app. The app lacks controls and features but offers animation that distracts more than another button for an additional feature would.
      For some reason, Apple, the music company has removed chapter support for (music) podcasts. Instead of button to access chapters we get moving things that do nothing but distract.

  24. I think when you have used something as flexible as android jellybean beside an iOS based device, iOS just looks out of date and inflexible especially with core things such as the fixed keyboard, the grid of icons etc.

    iOS desperately needs to be dragged into a modern UI design that is flexible enough to overcome the restrictions enforced because of the current design.

    iOS / Apple are a victim of its own success, they produced something that was simple to use, but 3 things have happened

    1 users have become much more savvy and demanding they are now more intelligent than iOS would have you believe

    2 the mobile landscape has changed dramatically and Apple haven’t either foreseen this or adapted quickly enough

    3 android is now a better experience with jellybean, it has a small market share but if android overall has a massive market share, then just wait until users get a load of jellybean – I have had 3 OS updates in 4 months, great innovation from Google

    • If the android UI is so great why does android have a user satisfaction of 50% and iOS’ is 90%?(JD Power user satisfaction survey) In fact the user satisfaction of android has been decreasing every year. It started out as 75% when android was first released. Each new version of android has been less liked than the previous version. In fact, it’s user satisfaction is now less than a dumb phone from 2006.

      The strength of iOS has been its consistency and lack of change. No one wants to have to relearn how to use their phone when they upgrade. It’s like buying a new car and they’ve moved the steering wheel, you need to read the instructions to open a door and it only does 1 mpg.

      Android tries to be the latest and greatest for the geeks that design and buy it, but for the rest it’s a moving target that confuses with its options and nothing stays the same from one phone to the next. You buy a new android phone and you have to relearn it. The old version you had is probably now 2 years out of date and the new version looks very little like the new version. confusion reigns.
      You buy a iPhone and you get steady iterative change that is reassuring. Some of it looks like its real world counterpart like a notebook or leather bound journal. People like reassuring and familiar, it’s just human nature. That’s reflected in the user satisfaction ratings.

      The last thing apple needs to do is toss out that familiarity and consistency. Then they’ll be as disliked as android outside of geeks and google engineers.

  25. Nice blog. Jonathon Ive is a extraordinary designer in Macintosh. He is a king of designer of second generation Newton, MessagePad110. Recently his leadership activity as a hr is very much incredible. Congrats John.

  26. Jonathan Ive is a king of designer for the second generation of Newton, MessagePad 110. His leadership in Apple as a human resource ie much incredible. Congrats John.

  27. In brief, the problem with Apple’s interfaces is not aesthetic but substantial.
    When for years they have kept selling products based mostly on marketing them as fashionable must-have objects for the hipster… not backed up by actual superiority. That can happen. No fad lasts forever.

  28. Fantastic item, good job!

    Using an iPad. Bizaaaarrrre! You didn’t even mention browsing on an iPad. It is beyond my comprehension how the act of browsing can become so perfectly awful because Apple decided the operating system should be… this •thing•. The impossibility to leave this page to see how to spell a word or look for an event’s date or details on another site because upon return this page will automatically reload and erase everything I wrote up to now. The impossibility of listening to a video while reading or do something else. The virtual impossibility of using a simple “find” and “find again” for text analysis and word count. The separately-bought hardware keyboard that doesn’t have control over any commands… The childishly simplified -as in “maimed”- web sites made exclusively for iPad/iPhones…

    It goes on and on. It’s unbelievable how an iPad can destroy every good interaction you ever had with a computer!

    • The page reload you experience is a function of memory constraints, not by design. I have a third-generation iPad; in casual, text-only browsing, my opened tabs don’t reload. If I stream a video in a tab, though, it might use up all available RAM and force another tab to reload when I return to it.

      I’ve been bitten by entered text loss even on my desktop due to all sorts of JavaScript finery on today’s websites. As a result, for non-trivial comments I prepare my remarks in a text editor and then copy and paste to the web form when I’m ready to post.

      Hmm. It WOULD be nice to be able to background a video and have just the audio stream keep playing… sometimes. That might require some work to the media player subsystems, so that the system volume and play controls will work with whichever application is the current audio source in that situation.

  29. Excelent article.
    Everyone knows Jony Ive and his contribuition to making Apple what it is now. However, if he is going to be responsible for iOS in the coming years, this may present both a blessing and a problem. Iteration is, in fact very important when designing, be it UI, UX or hardware. However designing user interaction in terms of software isn’t the same as designing mechanical and ergonomical interaction. It will depend on Ive’s team and managing skills. If he can, in fact, keep the iOS team working his vision but with a UX perspective, this is going really far. If on the otherhand tries to aplly the industrial route, its going to be a bumppy road…

  30. I think that the greatest problem is that there are points where the design has too much details and textures and adornments while there are other points where the layout is too poor – no details or directions, poor typography, etc. There are many points where they manage to do the two things in the same screen!

    To me that´s lack of care, not a poor choice of design.

  31. I just wanted to say that I thought this was a very thoughtful and well structured piece. I have been an Apple user for 5-6 years now and generally enjoy using their products and feel comfortable in the ecosystem.

    A lot of the points that you have illustrated however, have been issues for me over the years as well and I find myself hoping that there is a high-level working group inside the company that specifically deals with some of the issues you have put your finger on.

    Nice job.

  32. And one more aspect that I’ve realized over lunch. It will be interesting to see whether Ive’s background in product design and industrial engineering will also be enriching the software engineering processes within Apple.

    Me, I’d be curious to watch whether his approach to things is something that gets into the developers minds.

    Ah, corporate culture and managing innovation. Two very, very fascinating management topics.

  33. I think the key thing Ive will bring to the UX/UI role is his obsessive quest to make something the best it can be and the people he will attract who would quite like to be a part of that quest.

    A number if brilliant UI/UX designers have come & unfortunately gone at Apple in past years, I can imagine a lot of them might quite like to come back to work under Ive.

    The problem with skeuomorphic UI isn’t what it looks like, its the lazy UX decisions it promotes. There is little thought into how can we do this better now we have infinite possibilities unchained from the physical world.

    I think Ive will approach the UI more along those lines and more importantly look to talented people who also think along those lines. I’m excited to see what might come out of those labs.

  34. VERY good article. I’m an admirer of technology, don’t really like all Apple’s business decisions, but their users deserve better than what they have now.
    The intent-system for instance, that Android has for a long time, makes it incredibly useful, and is something that iOS users don’t know they’re missing and that’s too bad. Couple that with very good notifications and you get a pretty perfect integrated way of handling stuff, pushing, pulling and sharing data to other apps or functions of the device.

    Aesthetics is one thing, and while there might be a lot of personal preference towards skeuomorphistic interfaces or not, these are imho “minor” issues to solve (but the ones mentioned need solving).
    Better working core apps and better integration, and then a modern, sophisticated and consequent UI,.. with or without dark linen.

  35. Bravo! I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more deeply resonant Apple-related post. I hope it’s taken to heart by the right people in Cupertino.

  36. great post.

    it’s unbelievable how bad iTunes is. for years.

    and in iOS 6, they made the AppStore worse in many ways.

    that’s probably the 2 most important software in the Apple ecosystem and they’re junk, full of amateurish usability issues.
    How could they let this happen?

  37. Constructive criticism is good and this definitely comes in that category. I agree with your later bullet points on the challenges “one man” needs to appreciate and address (though he will of course be supported by a team so can of course be successful). However I’m slightly surprised at your initial list, not because a comparative point can’t be made with other OS’s but because almost all the points listed can easily be argued to benefit from the simplicity they currently hold. Bearing in mind the really hard thing to do with software is resist featurism and avoiding doing something just because “I have a new idea” when it still may not be the best idea but might end up being foundational nevertheless (the surest way to OS UX decay):

    “Notifications, dark linen background or not, is woefully under-designed.”

    Simple, work.

    “Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off.”

    Simple, located as expected in settings, semantically and cognitively fitting, not changed by the average user, screen brightness auto adjusts, can’t be simpler than that.

    “iCloud-desktop integration and direct file sharing among Apple devices are circuitous and short of ‘It Just Works.’”

    Semi agree but this is a very big topic. Ignores the simple big win – all iCloud apps have shared state between devices. Like with blue-ray Apple have adopted a risky strategy and are ignoring an entire class of use-case because they are looking further down the road, expecting the market will get there before the clamour for the including of additional complexity overwhelms the vision. It seems they will/have achieved this for a the far simpler case, Blue Ray. I think they may still do it for iCloud, though admittedly it hangs in the balance. A whole thesis can be written on this point alone. Their bet is, in the cloud connected world, direct app to app data exchange is all that is required. In the age of Core Data, what is a file to a user other than a temporarily restricted container of data for data exchange, if not binary, then these days XML ? The point is, in the cloud connected world the seeing the file as an entity requiring file transfer is always, logically, entirely superfluous. You never need to see the file to put it on something like a USB stick. However given, to me at least it is clear they have this vision, I fully agree with your point about inter app file exchange being inadequate. It isn’t at the technical level, but they need to provide far more guidance and far better examples of how it should be done than they currently do.

    “Many Apple apps, like the iWork suite, are begging to be updated.”

    Fully agree

    “Others, like Preview, TextEdit, Contacts, desperately need UI and UX overhauls.”

    Agree if you remove the “desperately”

    “Core functionalities like the Dictionary or the iOS keyboard layout and auto-correction are not the best of breed.”

    Agree, though see my original point that they are confident in what to leave out, and conservatism with sure steps have greater value than clutter.

    “iOS app organization in tiny ‘folders’ containing microscopic icons on pages without names borders on illegible and unscalable.”

    Disagree; it’s genius. The simplest use case. Live tiles are a UX designer version 2, “this is cool” fabrication, with scant evidence users really value them. Live tiles take space without benefit that is anything other than specious (hit and miss). There is a very good argument for tending towards being shown only the information you want to view. That is the simple much overlooked genius of the icon approach.

    “Navigating among running iOS apps (inelegant and opaque for users)”

    App list in order of use can hardly be described as inelegant. It’s the perfect simple, easy to understand mechanism and compares very well for ease of access and hit rate. Definitely one that comes in the category of “less is more” for the average user. Agree access is opaque, but the only alternative that isn’t opaque is a wholly different model and IMHO a far worse slip into overwrought design – common system functions occupying screen real estate, ugh.

    “and data interchange among apps in general (vastly underpowered for developers) remain a serious problem.”

    Agree 100% this needs to have more focus and an area i personally am frustrated with Apple for not adressing better (especially given their iCloud “invisible” files play discussed above). Here I do feel the word “desperately” is applicable. Not actually vastly underpowered for developers, but not well illustrated or with sufficient best practice sample code.

    Sorry for the long post, you’ve thoughtfully raised many good points and this is a particular interest of mine so I’ve ended up doing a point by point on that first bullet list of yours, not because I think it is ill thought out but because I have an opinion on the value of constraint and slower thoughtful feature implementation which perhaps gives a different perspective.

    • “iOS app organization in tiny ‘folders’ containing microscopic icons on pages without names borders on illegible and unscalable.”

      Disagree; it’s genius. The simplest use case. Live tiles are a UX designer version 2, “this is cool” fabrication, with scant evidence users really value them.

      Disagree totally.

      Folders are fine, but the iOS implementation is awful. Android allows you to do the same thing, but uses the first three icons in the folder giving a good indication of what’s in there, along with allowing a name for the folder. Much nicer.

      As for “live tiles” or widgets, Apple is trying to offer these inside of the notification area. And what a strange notion, that posting to Facebook is a notification. Widgets let you go straight to the post, view calender information, or see you las test emails without having to load an app. I’ve tried iOS launchers a few times (just to see) and the lack of a calendar widget brings me back to my senses every time.

      The thing with widgets is you need true multitasking or they won’t work, and iOS needs major under the hood work for that to happen.

  38. I think we can assume that Ive spends as much time using Apple’s products as the next guy and therefore knows of the interface shortcomings. If, like Jobs before him, he can recognize what works and what does not, then his main challenge lies in finding lieutenants capable of putting UI issues on the right track. Years are likely to pass before he puts the right team in place, but no one can claim that Apple is jumping from a burning platform.

    Much will likely hinge on the interaction between the OS and UI groups–will one be the tail and the other the dog? In my experience, any us-and-them situation leads to recriminations and finger pointing.

    • If Jobs could recognize what works and what didn’t and did steer the ship in the generally right direction, how then could iTunes become what it is?

    • Konrad, I imagine that 1) Jobs simply had bigger fish to fry, and 2) at a lower level Apple was simply losing its focus on excellency and consistency in software. Ive cannot possibly have the bandwidth to obsess over every detail, so much will depend on his ability to find kindred spirits and to delegate. Perhaps even more depends on just how keen Ive is on UI issues in general. Did he accept these new responsibilities for the power and glory or because he is passionate about the complete user experience? We will slowly find out.

    • @Konrad:

      Because solving the problem that is iTunes is not an easy one.

      iTunes is: a Music library; a Video library; a Podcast library (audio and video); a Device manager; a Device Synchronization manager (though iCloud is assuming more and more of that burden); a Music store; a Video (sales and rental) store; a Mobile Applications store; an electronic Books store; an available Podcast directory; a Music player; a (sometimes) Video player; a Music recommendation assistant…; etc.

      How do you break it apart? Which conceptual axis do you cut along? Do we separate by content category, with each resulting application tackling library management, store/directory and synchronization to device; or do we separate by user interaction, with a Library manager and a Storefront and an “iSync”? When you have a proliferation of applications where there was once one, how do you make them all discoverable, and make it clear which does which? Do you want to have to work with three or more applications just to configure what content should be on your phone for the day?

      Of course, I’m exaggerating slightly. There are applications which managed siloed content, but have that content synchronized via iTunes – iPhoto, Address Book, Calendar may provide a blueprint for offloading content/activities that only some users may engage in. Add iBooks to iLife and embed the iBookstore in it, but let iTunes sync iBooks to your iOS devices.

      And it’s important to realize that iTunes doesn’t get enough credit for what it does well. iTunes really drives the point home that automatic organization with search and sort is a much, much better way to manage and find media than manually choosing folders and applying classifications. In my recently pruned music library of around 15,000 items, iTunes searches help me drill down to find whatever I’m looking for incredibly fast – something I’m reminded of any time I encounter a UI that requires me to scroll alphabetically through, say, all the artists in my collection in my bid to play that one Color Me Badd song…

      ;-)

  39. Of course you’re correct that no single person can dive into all the problems you list (and I do presume that there are a number of other challenges in those developments that we are yet to see or maybe not even ever get to see). But I also think that this is not the role of a veepee responsible for those agendas. I firmly believe that in championing new standards internally, in giving clear guidelines and quality metrics, the expectations and culture can be changed.

    If it is expected and required that software be as usable, as clear to understand, as self-explanatory as the hardware, then it’s up to the individual developer and product owner to make sure that everything works that way – and that doesn’t require Ive to be dealing with all nooks and crannies, or even understand them. But it requires clear leadership and a good eye as to what themes have to be watched carefully and nurtured.

    So I’m hopeful we’ll actually see a change for the better. I just believe it might take 18 to 24 months until it really hits the users.

  40. Good article and I agree with you. The iPhone was / is a phenomenal device for it’s time but I’ve been so tired by how iOS “looks” for more than 2 years now. There are different ways of doing things like WebOS and Windows Phone – not necessarily better of course, but at least different. I absolutely cannot stand the bandaid which are icon folders and have not used them on any of my iPhones since they created them. I too wish for a fresher updated look to iOS and also better solutions to things like notifications, file sharing, folders and multi-tasking.

    Here’s hoping…

  41. was in the tokyo apple store a couple of days ago, talking ios6 maps with a bright customer. he pulled out his new iphone, searched for apple store tokyo, no result found .. i used my iphone4 with ios5 google mapas, boink, there it was … :-)

    • Final Cut Pro X is a design victory, actually. The main problem with it is how Apple mismanaged the launch, taking FCP 7 off the market and insisting FCP X was a drop-in replacement when it wasn’t, yet.

      More importantly, FCP X is Apple recognizing and optimizing for its core audience – consumers and “prosumers.” It may prove inappropriate for high-end professionals in the end, which I think Apple is fine with; the Xserve is dead, OS X Server is an add-on and the Mac Pro languishes in neglect. It may also prove that television and even moderately large-budget film needs are met by a prosumer-grade solution, though I can see what an affront that would be to the egos of editors insistent on their being a class apart. ;-)

  42. It is amazing that decades after the invention of the Unix Pipe, people are still struggling with inter-app communication. Sometimes it is good to re-read the classics ;-)

    • The Unix pipe requires that the processes on either side be able to process each other’s input/output, which often requires the use of, say, xargs or sed or cut (or other filter programs) to massage them to compatibility. It also only supports raw text; the Windows PowerShell pipe supports objects, but pays a price in complexity as a consequence. Further, arbitrary scenarios require the shell be invoked to pipe STDOUT from program A into STDIN from program B. A program can explicitly spawn another and pipe to it, of course, but for GUI applications that requires serializing objects to text stream on the emitting side and deserializing them on the receiving side – at which point you might as well save everyone duplicated effort and offer a robust, object-oriented system API.

      Which, you know, is what is being asked for.

  43. If you could explain some of your points in more detail that would help me make more sense of your article:
    • Notifications, dark linen background or not, is woefully under-designed.
    ~ It’s “woefully under-designed” – what does this even mean? Are you across how much effort went into the design, how big the team was, how many concept models, etc were produced and how they were tested? Are you talking about the user experience? Well then, what is it about the notifications that, as a user, doesn’t take your fancy?

    • Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping.
    Ok, fair point, but do you know anyone who does a better job? Would you know how to make these features simpler to access on mobile devices without revamping the hardware and increasing the physical dimensions of the device? (Keep in mind that most of the market wants a light-weight, comfortable device to use and transport).

    • iCloud-desktop integration and direct file sharing among Apple devices are circuitous and short of “It Just Works.”
    I didn’t have trouble. I ticked off checkboxes for the services I wanted and it all just synced up. What are you doing / trying to do which is leading you on a circuitous goose chase to get what you want to appear on all of your devices?

    • Many Apple apps, like the iWork suite, are begging to be updated. Others, like Preview, TextEdit, Contacts, desperately need UI and UX overhauls.
    What features would you have liked to see added?

    • Core functionalities like the Dictionary or the iOS keyboard layout and auto-correction are not the best of breed.
    Who’s core functionalities are the “best of breed”? Which core functionalities are “best of breed”? Why are they “best of breed”?

    • iOS app organization in tiny “folders” containing microscopic icons on pages without names borders on illegible and unscalable.
    The larger the icons, the less room on the page for icons, the more you have to visit other pages to access your desired applications. Is that what you want and why?

    • Navigating among running iOS apps (inelegant and opaque for users) and data interchange among apps in general (vastly underpowered for developers) remain a serious problem.
    I agree. However, this tends to be a problem on all mobile devices.

    For the purpose of making it easier for you to reply, I’ll cut off my questions here.

    • This wasn’t meant as an enumeration and analysis of what’s wrong with Apple software in detail. One thing is clear though (to answer your questions), I don’t judge Apple software by how it’s not worse than some others. As I said above, we expect much better.

    • “Ok, fair point, but do you know anyone who does a better job?”

      Yes. Every time I try out someone’s Android phone, I am seriously jealous about how easy it is to switch these features on and off in their notification pulldown. I still don’t understand why Apple didn’t just copy that along with the rest of the concept and solved that issue once and for all.

    • If I may?

      Notifications
      Notifications are both too easy to dismiss and too difficult to dismiss. If you have several email notifications and slide one to read it, all of your email notifications are dismissed. On the other hand, if you want to dismiss several email notifications at once, the little “x” you have to hit to turn it into an almost equally little “close” is a very finicky target. That’s just the first example of under-design that leaps to mind.

      iCloud
      File-sharing with iOS devices is problematic because iOS labors to completely abstract away the notion of files. Unfortunately, we still work with files on our computers, and we may wish to transfer those files to and then from applications on iOS. We may also wish to transfer the same file to multiple applications on iOS, which is where iCloud’s document model becomes a problem as it implements a rigid per-application storage container, which other applications are not able to access. To work with the same file with two different iOS applications via iCloud would require owning their complementary OS X applications, editing it in the first iOS app, opening it in the first OS X app and copying it to a non-iCloud location, opening and re-saving it in the second OS X app (into the application’s iCloud container), then finally opening it in the second iOS app.

      Or, you know, you could just use Dropbox. And when a third-party synchronization solution is more flexible, you have a design problem.

      Core functionalities
      Swype is probably the best of breed touchscreen keyboard, though the fact that Apple’s solution isn’t best of breed doesn’t mean someone else’s necessarily is. The expectation is not that Apple equal anyone else, but rather equal our expectations to simplify the complex, to devise novel solutions to vexing problems. There are many areas crying for improvement, and we expect Apple to focus on them.

      Folders
      It wasn’t a critique of icon size, it was a critique of the entire solution. iOS folders are very limited – they may only contain 12 items, they show up on the Springboard (your home screens) with often inscrutable titles, etc. Perhaps the solution is not folders, but a whole new way of finding apps on your device? Perhaps the “grid of icons” home screen strategy approaches the limits of its usefulness once a certain number of applications/screens are installed, and it’s time to explore something else entirely. Windows Phone’s hubs are pretty interesting as a way to organize functionalities, for example.

      That’s what I take from it, at least. In designing or evaluating a system intended for use by everyone, it’s important not to limit one’s evaluations to one’s personal experience.

    • “Ok, fair point, but do you know anyone who does a better job?”

      Look at the SBsettings addition available when a phone is jailbroken. Some people jailbreak just to get that specific function. The services mentioned are accessed by swiping across the top status bar. Easy, simple and fast. In fact considering some of the other jailbreak software that was “acquired” in iOS 4, this should have been added too.

    • You need to use Android to really know what this guy is talking about. Turning off required devices? One click with a widget. Notifications – I use an iPad and a JellyBean S2 (started with GB, then ICS, then rooted JB) – and I can’t imagine using my S2 without notifications. Android has the best notification system available anywhere. On my iPad? I hate it. All I ever do on notifications is click the ‘x’ button to make it go away.

      Folders? Again, much better in Android like someone above said – they only show 2-3 items to make it better.

      Dictionary and iOS Keyboard? It is – in one word – AWFUL. Although I do agree that stock Android keyboard is not that great too (much better than iOS, though), but I use Swiftkey keyboard which is kickass. I hate the autocomplete feature in iOS (too often, I have to manually click ‘x’ button) and I hate clicking the ’123′ and ‘symbols’ button all the time while typing, whereas in Android I just long-press the symbols/numbers button and I’m done. Much more convenient, since numbers/symbols are rarely used, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep doing those extra clicks.

  44. Skeuomorphism was magnificent in its time – since 2007 it helped (and is still helping) close to a hundred million non-techies subconsciously relate tactile swipes on their newfangled “fondle-slabs” and touch-pads to the real-world tasks they grapple with – appointments, reminders and dates, contacts and relationships, places and directions to them, etc.

    Now it all appears so obvious, some of us look down our noses at it, and some of us still love it. That’s the mark of a successful technology: it all seems so obvious after the fact, where previously nothing, void, existed. Replace at your peril…

    We await Jony Ive’s musings with rapt attention: I guess as long as he sticks to his guiding tenets – Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design – he can’t go wrong…

  45. Just look at iTunes, at version 9 Apple changed
    the mini window trigger from green + icon to
    hot key. I emailed Steve Jobs complaining that
    I had used that button since 2001, how can Apple
    change this simple mechanism to match Windows
    maximize window. Fortunately it was reverted in a week.
    If I send the same email for iTunes 11,
    no one will care. Sure iTunes 11 looks like they added fancy
    tabs with animation but those that don’t want to upgrade are shit out of luck. I dread updating as every update has bugs that never get fixed. Everytime a new device comes, iTunes has to be updated to you can’t even sync.
    Same thing happen to Safari
    with RSS and Activity Windows taken away because not enough people use it.
    GameCenter came down over one silly game.
    iCloud has uptime to 90% when it needs to be 99.99%
    and this is suppose to be architect paradigm for next 10 years.
    Jony Ive is not going to fix that.

  46. A simple answer to the design problem, same as Apple’s solution to all the others: iteration, iteration, iteration…

    One pleasant surprise days after updating to iOS 6.01 is that Maps in my locality are now crystal-clear and FlyOver-detailed!

    The guys in our local Apple Store must have been working overtime, as previously satellite pictures of the town centre and my particular area were lacking building detail, restricted to a green blur of vegetation and unlabelled brown-yellow roads.

    But now my apartment block, the railway station, bus station, town centre car parks and shopping malls are all available in sharp photographic detail – I can even see a multi-coloured train along the track pulling in to the station; all streets labelled in a sharp white font, and my map pin zeroed in on my exact location.

    Come back, Scott, all is forgiven…

  47. Designing in physical three-space over promises for what planar geometry can potentially deliver in virtual space-time. Depth of field sways rationales from cut-rate allusions to symbiotic poetry.

    Hand Ive a virtual third dimension. And if he would deign master the clock as a Socrates’ variable instead as a sculptor’s constant, what exquisite form your senses now apprehend in ive’s object dominion would then substrate for the most faithful of allegorical alluvions.

    • @Slap Yourselg (sic)

      Berult can seem a bit esoteric at times, but he usually offers very good insights into things if you take a bit of time to ponder what he’s written. That being said, I think he may have a type-o on “alluvions”. Or, maybe not?

    • Not. But he prefers convoluted (poetic?) expressions to succinct talk. eg: “deign master the clock as a Soc… blah blah” = animation.

Comments are closed.