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Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010, 02:35 am
Quietly, Apple get rid of computer UI cruft

Would you notice it if was gone? And would you care?

The important thing about the new Apple iPad is not that you suddenly have a large, glorified iPod Touch. No, the important thing is that, quietly, Apple is getting rid of user interface cruft that we don’t need any more.

Margaret’s didn’t care; why should you?

My late mother came to computers reluctantly, when she was in her 60s, and a number of things that seemed natural to me, a computer professional, or her nephews’ and nieces’ children, because they were young, she never really got. She had to write them down so she’d remember when she next needed to know. She never really got used to what a computer geek would consider fundamental - window management. She just muddled on.

If you use Windows you get used to having windows maximised full-screen, because Fitt’s law and the paucity of drag and drop make it most efficient to your window maximised, so the menu bar is at the top of the screen. If you use Mac OS, there’s less pressure to maximise everything, because the menu bar is where you want it (at the top of the screen), so you can have overlapping windows aplenty. Still, this is very much a power-user thing.

Or, should I say, a geek thing. There are enough word processors specifically designed to run in full-screen mode, without anything else distracting you, that arguably it’s not just the IT-poor who don’t need all of this extraneous cruft distracting them.

Margaret didn’t have many problems with saving and loading files, but then she never really did anything other than save a few files in her Documents folder. Thankfully, the File->Open and File->Save dialogue boxes in the programs she used remembered where she last went, so that was fine. I think she made the occasional sub-folder, but that’s as far as things went. And really, why would you want to consider whether your word processor could load your system-wide-installed printer driver for a printer you don’t even have?

How much of this stuff do we need?

Matthew Thomas wrote an influential article about UI cruft way back in 2003. I expected at least one of the bullet points on his list to jibe with the new iPad interface. I didn’t expect all of them.

His first point: don’t make me save regularly, just bloody well do it. I haven’t seen the iPad version of iWork, but given that there’s no multi-tasking, an application needs to be ready to quit at any moment’s notice, and that in turn means saving every time anything happens. (Which, it turns out, is really easy and fast if you’re saving to Flash RAM.) So I’m guessing iWork on iPad Just Does It.

His second point: don’t have a Quit menu option. The iPad doesn’t have it; or rather, it has it for every application; it’s called the Home button. And you don’t care, because the application saved anything you cared about before it quit, to be replaced by whatever came next.

His third point: don’t have a lobotomised file manager; use the proper file manager for everything. Here Apple have chosen a third way, which is to assume that the application you used to create the file will be used to edit it in the future, so therefore any application only needs to know about files in the file system that match its creation criteria. And while you may be able to create sub-folders and the likes, they’re all in the context of the application that created the files in question.

And his fourth point is obviated by the file system not being exposed to users in any way.

So what would you use an iPad for?

I’m guessing that the immediate target market is people with a 30 minute or more commute per day, or regular airline travellers. If you’ve ever tried to read more than about 10 minutes of websites in bed, for instance, you’ll appreciate the various docks or stands that let you read something without arm-strain, not to mention the eye-strain in holding a small device at a varying distance from your eyes (because you can’t hold your arm straight for a decent length of time).

That’s before we get into ebook territory.

I can also totally see an iPad used as an “OK, work done, I need a beer” way of relaxing with the Internet. Sitting in a chair with an iPad, typing occasionally but otherwise navigating a number of web sites with touch gestures pretty much fits what I do with the Internet.

Oh, and I saw someone on twitter suggest that the iPad has graphics as good as the Wii. And the iPad is going to be viewed far closer than any TV-based console, so its resolution actually looks better, even if you compare screen sizes resolution-by-resolution.

It’s going to be interesting.

Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
ralphmelton

iWork does in fact save all the time. And it even saves the undo stack, so if you have to switch apps and come back, you haven't lost the ability to undo.

Thu, Jan. 28th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
autopope

According to a source of mine at Apple, the filesystem is partially exposed to users.

Rather: there's a shared folder to which the iApps have access, and this is synced with the desktop machine (I don't know how -- whether via iTunes or via AFP or whatever).

I think that saving will probably, as you say, be implicit -- but the folder is necessary to allow users to keep multiple documents organized. The application context still applies to file management, though.