09 October 2009

Mac/PC apps = trouble; iPhone apps = fun

Bruce Tognazzini—Apple employee #66—developed the first version of the Apple User Interface Guidelines. In “Restoring Spring to iPhone Springboard” he writes:

Unlike the Finder or Desktop, rather than giving access to as many apps as you could possibly want, the current Springboard limits you to 180 apps. Paradoxically, this would not be a bad upper limit on a Mac or PC, as apps tend to equal trouble and the more you have, the more trouble you’ll encounter. On the iPhone/iPod Touch, however, 180 apps is terribly limiting as iPhone/iPod Touch apps translate to fun, not trouble, and the more apps you have, the more fun you can have.

It’s funny because it’s true!

Ever since I bought a Pilot (the first name of the Palm PDAs), I have thought that it presented a pretty good model for how the “next Mac” should work. Besides a lot of legacy stuff that the Mac has naturally accumulated, even it has always forced the user to deal with some concepts users shouldn’t even have to know about. For me, while the iPhone has made some advances, it has also made some steps backwards from the Palm OS.

That’s another post, however, that is sitting around amongst my blog drafts.

You can argue that the user-interface for a PDA or phone is too simplistic for a general-purpose computer, but I’m not convinced. Both my Palm devices and my iPhone come awfully close to being general-purpose computers, and I think that for a great many people, their user-interfaces would be more than adequate on a desktop or laptop machine. (We already have plenty of options for geeks like me.)

Back to Tog’s article: He proposes some changes to the iPhone “home screen” app—internally called Springboard. While I like Tog’s proposal, I think he’s too quick to dismiss search. While I’m not a fan of ditching “browsing” interfaces, I’m seeing search becoming more and more primary.

With maybe a dozen exceptions, I’m more likely to google for a web page rather than go looking for it in my bookmarks. Even back c. 1995, I was more likely to use the Finder’s search to locate files than by browsing. Now, it’s Spotlight. Amongst all the brouhaha around Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) no longer supporting creator codes, I’m thinking more than ever that something like Quicksilver is the future.

Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the average user, but I think Google’s success shows that average users—when given a really good search capability—will use it.

Time spent improving the app search on the iPhone would give more bang-for-the-buck than Tog’s proposal. So, that’s what I’d do first if I were Apple.

And one mistake Tog made: Using dots to indicate vertical scroll position. This should use the standard iPhone scroll “thumb”.

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