Posts Tagged usability

Bring on the Gesture Based Operating Systems

I was moving iTunes onto my second monitor just now (placed to the right of my main screen), and the song playing just happened to fade 100% right as I did it. My initial response was, “Oh crap, what did I do?” Almost immediately, though, the sound went back to the left channel and my confusion waned. This wasn’t some newly unearthed OS X gesture, but merely a coincidental alignment of gesture and result. I think the fact that my brain created that causality speaks volumes about gesture-based operating systems in general, though.

Though there are lots of other reasons why I switched to a Mac (the ease of web development being chief among them), but the biggest difference in my mind between Windows and Macs is Cupertino’s love of gesture-based interfaces (which I share). My last Windows machine was a small 8″ tablet running tablet XP–the form factor was perfect for me, but the touch as an interface was way behind the mouse. I build quite a few little interface prototypes in Processing at the time, but there really wasn’t a way to take a small little self-contained java demo and push its conventions onto the OS as a whole (I’m certainly not an OS programmer).

Between the built-in gestures in OS X, the iPhone, multitouch trackpads, and the new multitouch mouse, Apple is kicking Microsoft’s ass on the gesture front. Surface and the Courier are promising, but neither of them are exactly nearing the consumer market at this point.  Why not build a touch controller for the XBox? Something small (maybe, uh, Zune sized?) which could act as a secondary display for inventory or controls. There’s nothing stopping them from doing this, and assuming it was available to XNA developers this would instantly get me interested in building more games for the platform (the Zune requirement would mean even less people would buy them, but heck–no one’s buying indie games anyway).

There are rumors swirling that the new Apple tablet will have somewhat of a learning curve, so I’m hoping it’s some kind of new gestural interface. Since it’s not being unveiled for another couple of days, I thought I might as well fantasize a little about my ultimate tablet device:

  • An 8″ convertible multi-touch screen with a physical keyboard (I know the Apple won’t have one, but I think an 8″ keyboard is about the smallest still-functional keyboard–and it blows away any virtual keyboard I’ve ever used)
  • In lieu of a physical keyboard, a way to dock the thing to a physical keyboard for extended typing.
  • An IR emitter with a rich interface for controlling the TV (and a cloud-based Tivo would be nice, too)
  • I’d love to be able to just “fling” content from a tablet PC onto a desktop when in blue tooth proximity. Just grab the file, do a little fling gesture, and the file magically lands on the other computer’s desktop. No cords needed.
  • iPhone tethering for internet access on the go–or just toss in 3G to the device itself
  • The same compass/accelerometer technology currently used in the iPhone.
  • A system for slaving the device to a full computer for use as a tablet-based input device. I can’t count how many times I wished I could plug my tablet XP machine into my full desktop running Photoshop to do a quick sketch. Actually, this is dreaming small–I want any piece of hardware to be able to take control of the thing and use it however it wants. Alarm clock dock? Sure. X-Ray machine? Sure. Car dashboard? Sure.

Fingers crossed for Wednesday.

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Note to Apple: People Don't Read

I’m hardly the best when it comes to designing forms with usability in mind, but I came across one today that frustrated me for awhile before I figured it out. While flipping through channels this morning, I saw that Highlander was on. It stuck in my head, so when I got to work I bought “Princes of the Universe” from iTunes. Since I’d recently updated to version 10, the little Genius thing was new. I clicked on the button to enable it, and was greeted by the following form:

(Image lost in the Great Update of 2009)

I put in my email address and clicked continue. Nothing happend–a message to “Please fill out the entire form.” After trying a few times (all unsuccessfully), I finally said “screw Genius” and went back to my normal playlist.

Fast forward 10 hours or so. Now I’m home, and again listening to some music. Thinking it may have just been some weird glitch on my iMac at work, I tried to activate Genius again. Same problem. I think, “Fine, I’ll try my AOL login.” I switch the toggle to the second option and fill in the second field with my AOL username. Another error. Only at this point do I look at it more closely… the second field is the password field!

There’s a good chance I’m just retarded, but I feel like I’m pretty tech-savvy. If I made this mistake, I’m sure others have as well. The issue is that the two radio buttons line up perfectly with the two text fields. If I could boil everything I’ve learned about usability into one single mantra (even if I don’t always follow it myself), it would be: “PEOPLE DON’T READ.” I’m no exception. Because there was a 1:1 correspondence between the two radio buttons (and more importantly, the two logos), my brain made the (incorrect) leap that the first field was for Apple ID and the second field was for your AOL username. I’m no stranger to multi-screen login/verification forms (especially for things with higher security, like bank accounts or apple accounts with purchase power built in), so it didn’t seem weird that it would ask for my username on one screen and the password on another.

Once I actually read the form and understood what it wanted me to do, it all worked great. What I’m wondering is, though, am I just dumb? Would others actually make this same mistake?



Cellphones are For Calling… Things

While I’ll give the iPhone a pass because it’s pretty cool and the battery actually holds up nicely, by and large I feel like cell phones are made for calling people.  I don’t need it to play music–I’ve got an MP3 player for that.  I don’t need it to get on the internet–I’ve got a laptop for that (and before anyone says “But it’s not as portable,” I carry my little 8″ Fujitsu Lifebook just about everywhere I go).  All I really need from a cell phone is the ability to make and receive calls, and the ability to send/receive text messages.  What’s the point of this micro-rant? Read the rest of this entry »


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Fun With Google Spreadsheets

A screenshot of Google Spreadsheets' date completion logic.I could relate a fun story from last summer about 30+ Electronic Arts interns editing a collaborative spreadsheet at the same time (with such important columns as  “Do you like things?”,”Are you wearing pants right now?”, and “Are you stuck at work right now?” popping up in real-time).  Instead, I’ll relate something I just noticed today–more in the category of Google quirks than anything else (like when Google Maps gives you directions for swimming from New York to Paris).  In the spreadsheets, any time you type a date in the form of mm/dd/yy, it automatically converts the 2-integer year into a 4-integer year.  Normally I could care less how many numbers are in a date, but it got me thining–is it smart enough to put 1999 if I type 1/22/99?  Indeed it is.  That got me curious enough that I figured out where the cut-off point is between the 19th century and the 20th century: ’30.  What’s most amusing to me is that there are probably bugs filed for this somewhere and people probably debated what the cutoff should be.  I’d probably go with ’50, personally.

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To Roth or not to Roth?

Even though there’s only two of us here at work (well, actually our first of two interns started yesterday… but they only work 20 hours a week), our acting CEO has asked if we want him to set up a 401k.  I’d already gotten the ball rolling on a Roth IRA over at Zecco (paperwork filed at least), so unless he implements some sort of match program I guess I’ll just stick with that.  In the meantime, I thought I’d give my first impressions of Zecco. Read the rest of this entry »

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BarCamp and Bike vs Car

My friend Annie and I went to a BarCamp over the weekend. I’d never heard of them before, but it wasn’t too hard to talk me into an all night programming event. A BarCamp is sort of like a grass-roots conference where the participants are also the ones who present little mini-modules. This one had an UX application design contest, some speakers from Facebook, and a guy from Amazon. The details on the wiki (and Facebook group, which is where Annie heard about it) were a little sparse,but we understood it to be an overnight programming contest–where you start an app at night and present your results the following afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »

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YUI Not-Tabs

Unfortunately, the Flex RTE has been back-burnered for a bit while I work on more pressing things at work. I’m currently using YUI’s tabs for something, but don’t really like them… So I’ve been tinkering around with an alternate tab-like interface. The concept is somewhere in between tabs and an accordion structure. Basically, we’ve got lots of text boxes. Rather than make our users choose which one they want to display, I want all of them to start out in a blog-like “preview” mode. Clicking “more” would expand that one box while shrinking the others. Clicking “back” (or an icon) would take you back to the multiple-pane view. I guess this is more of a tree-like data structure than true tabs or accordians. Read the rest of this entry »

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NY Times for the Win

I was reading an article over on the New York Times website and accidentally stumbled on one of the coolest features I’ve seen on a website. In the body of the article, you can double-click on any word and a definition will pop up–anything from “science” to “Web 2.0″ to “bubble.” This is the kind of feature that really isn’t necessary for all sites… or even most sites. But for something like the New York Times, which probably has a pretty decent foreign readership–or really any “information source,” I just think it’s a fantastic idea.

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