Evolution not Revolution

TJ Ward, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

"It's just a big iPod Touch."

"Exactly," I say. "Isn't it great?"

There's been a lot of criticism of the new iPad around here at Viget.  With most of the office working on MacBooks and living out of their iPhones, you'd think the Mac FanBoyism would be strong, but on the whole the lab rats don't seem to be impressed. But I think i think it's a fascinating product offering.  Why?

As a user experience designer, I love the way Apple evolves their user interfaces. Apple warms its users up to new ways of interacting with their products by introducing simplified versions of an interface and gradually add more features and apply it in more contexts as users become comfortable.  Let me give you a few examples.

Case Study: Cover Flow to Quicklook

Apple first introduced the Cover Flow carousel in iTunes.  It was a clever idea that made your mp3s a little more "physical."  An OS update or two later, the Cover Flow appeared in the Finder as a way of looking previewing files.  Apple continued to iterate on the idea of giving you larger previews of your files by introducing Quicklook, where you can actually scroll through PDFs, documents and spreadsheets.

Case Study: Keyboards to Touch-screens

I'm always hearing people say that they'll never transition to a touchscreen keyboard, but I think those who use Apple laptops have been doing just that without knowing it.  Over the last several generations of its notebooks, Apple has reduced the travel on its keyboards considerably.  While at first it looked like Apple was compromising tactile feedback for form-factor, I think they've been training their users to happily use touchscreen keyboards by gradually reducing the tactile feedback they expect.  Now, the iPad introduces a nearly laptop-sized touch-screen keyboard. It's like the parable of the frog in the pot.

Case Study: Two-finger Scroll to Multi-touch and Gestural Control

Two-fingerscroll wasn't necessarily the most innovative feature Apple ever introduced, but I've seen it change the way people navigate on their lappies. Whether we knew it or not, it also changed the way we thought about our trackpads, showing the concept of gestural commands to users who don't spend their days geeking out on how people interact with their computers.  With the introduction of the iPhone, Apple was able to give users a more direct way to use multi-touch and gestures to interact with their information.

On to the iPad

Yes, the iPad is a big, and I dare say, horsey-looking (thanks for the adjective, @graphicsgirl), iPod Touch. And yes, I'm a little disappointed that my next laptop purchase won't be an Apple Tablet with a 2.4GHz+ Intel Core 2 Duo processor. But when we step back from our unrealistic consumer expectations for a minute and look at the iPad next to the iPod Touch, there are two important things to note.  First, size does matter. With a 9" screen, not only can we really read on the thing, but I can get most of my 10 fingers on there at once. The possibilities for multi-touch interfaces are much more compelling when you have room to use two hands and see what you're pointing at (see the Jazz Mutant Lemur for an example). Second, the iPad is aimed at entertainment and netbook consumers. The iPad is the not-so-missing link between the iPhone and a true Apple Tablet.  As users become familiar with multi-touch as their primary input method the UI designers at Apple have time to identify and overcome the limitations of multi-touch for more complex and critical tasks (as @crnixon says: "It's not a computer if I can't program on it").

As for me, I'm pretty happy with this evolutionary step.   As an electronic music nerd who got on the waiting list for one of the first-iteration monome and has more music-making or midi apps than info or organization apps, I'm downright giddy at the idea of having a 9" multi-touch screen I can use to control Ableton Live and Max/MSP.

Related Articles