Thursday, July 21, 2011

OS X 10.7 Lion and User Conditioning

Over on his blogFaruk AteĊŸ discusses user conditioning from the perspectives of Apple and Google. I encourage you to read his column as it has some very keen insights, but I feel the need to comment on his statement about the direction of scrolling content being muscle memory since time immemorial (i.e. the 80's):
People are used to their scrolling behaviors; after all, they’ve used them in one and only one way since the 80’s—or whenever they started using computers. It’s understandable that this complete reversal of (mental and physical) muscle memory doesn’t appeal to everyone. 
I don't particularly agree with that powerful statement, for a couple of reasons. First, to talk about switching scrolling behaviors, one needs to look at when scrolling became touch-based rather than click-on-scroll-arrow-based. The idea of using the trackpad to scroll I think originated in the PC laptops where the right side (and bottom for horizontal scrollbars) of the trackpad was used as a scroll area. And that was certainly not done in the 80s.
There's also the mouse wheel scrolling, but I contend that a wheel is a physical impersonation of a scrollbar, so I'd be surprised if Apple expected mouse wheels to behave in an inverted fashion.
Anyway, my point here is that Apple didn't necessarily make such a massive change: it only fixed a mistake it introduced when it allowed for two-finger scrolling on the whole trackpad: Apple thought it was emulating the scroll bar movement, when in fact it should have realized that it was emulating the hand moving the content around.

I have for a long while been of the opinion that Apple is systematically fixing its interface behavior to move towards a unified model of virtual touch where anything physical will be made obsolete in favor of touch screens. Over a year ago, I was hoping to see soonish a MacBookPro with dual screens and running iOS.
Lion is slowly but surely moving towards this unified model where touching the virtual content is the cornerstone of the UI. Apple made a direction mistake a few years ago when it introduced "two finger scrolling". Had it known it was making "two finger virtual touch" at the time, I am certain it would have gotten the direction right. That's the extent of Apple's change.

The real user conditioning change is from using physical intermediaries to act on pixels vs. using your hands. And in 5 years' time, no adolescent will ever understand why we were sliding our fingers down to go down.