The Triumph of Looks over Function

Back when the Macintosh first came out, in the 1980s, it was presented as a more user-friendly alternatives to PCs running MS-DOS: it had a mouse that you could point with, and a graphical interface. Instead of memorizing commands and reading cryptic error messages, you could click on icons, or explore menus to see what was available.

Secondarily, Apple products have always been sleek. The iPod may have just been a microprocessor glued to a hard drive, it certainly looked attractive. Especially lately, any Apple product, be it server, desktop, wearable, or software, is sleek and uncluttered.

But lately, Apple seems to have gone all in on sleek design at the expense of usability. They used to be a leader in usability and now, a lot of their design choices are just… bad.

The latest example I ran across is in the Activity Monitor. The top of the window looks like:
OSX Activity Monitor window

The “x” in an octagon is a button to stop the currently-selected process. That’s pretty useful. Now, what if you don’t see the process you want to kill, but you know what it’s called? There’s a handy search tool. Let’s click on that:
OSX Activity Monitor window with search button selected

Now I can search for a process, but where did the buttons and tabs go? It’s not as though there isn’t space for any of them: when you open the search tool, there’s now a huge blank space next to the search field, that the buttons, at least, can easily fit into.

But okay, you search for, and find, the process you want to kill, and highlight it:
Activity Monitor with selected process and menu

Aha. It turns out that that chevron was actually a menu button. And there’s our “Stop”. Except that originally, we saw an octagonal icon, and now we see a word. There’s nothing on the screen to indicate that the icon and the menu entry are the same thing, and that’s just poor design.

I keep noticing this sort of thing more and more with Apple products, and it annoys me. This just happened to be a particularly egregious example.

I’m still annoyed at the time I thought my annotations to an MP3 file had been deleted by iTunes. It turned out that the information was there, but beneath the bottom of the window, and iTunes couldn’t be bothered to show me a scroll bar or give any indication that there was more than one windowful of information.

iOS 4 Degrades Photos

Like millions of other sheeple, today I upgraded to , graciously provided by our benevolent overlords at Apple.

One problem I noticed is that after the upgrade, when I tried setting the wallpaper, all of the pictures I had had turned into their thumbnails, i.e., they were small grainy pictures. I could blow them up to full-screen size, but of course they lost a lot of resolution and generally looked like crap.

The fix turned out to be pretty easy: in iTunes→your iPod→Photos, uncheck the box that says “Sync Photos from”, and apply to delete all photos. Then check the box again and reapply. Evidently the pictures are still stored on the desktop, in glorious full resolution and everything. This reuploads them to the iPod.

iPhone Keyboard Trick

I’d noticed a while back that if you hold down a key on the iPhone keyboard, such as the ‘E’, for a second or two, you get a pop-up menu with variations on the ‘E’ theme, like ‘é’, ‘è’, ‘ê’, and so on.

But what I hadn’t noticed until just now is that the “.com” key, which appears when you’re expected to type in a URL, exhibits the same behavior: if you hold it down, you get a popup menu with “.net”, “.edu”, “.org”, and “.com”.

In addition, since I have the French keyboard installed, the popup contains “.fr”.

In the email application, when you’re entering an address, there’s no “.com” button, just a “.” (period) button. However, it also has the domain popup, with the same TLDs as the “.com” button.

I’ve gotta say: it’s little touches like this that help the interface get the hell out of the way of whatever it is you’re trying to do.

No, It Doesn’t Play Pong

Steve Jobs says
that he wants to keep third-party applications off of the
Apple iPhone:

Mr. Jobs also appears to be restricting the potential for third-party software developers to write applications for the new handset — from ringtones to word processors.

“We define everything that is on the phone,” he said. “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”

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