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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Anti-Mac

Nielsen — In an anniversary review of the Mac ("usability is the only reason Mac survived") comes back to:

The basic Anti-Mac principles [that] focus on:

  • The central role of language
  • A richer internal representation of objects
  • A more expressive interface
  • Expert users
  • Shared control
Certainly, with today's heavily search-dominant users, the central role of language has started to happen. Indeed, the mobile usability studies we're running right now seem to indicate even more search dominance when users access websites through their phones.
As he points out, we're not at the "richer internal representations [which] might be a dream of the semantic Web movement" yet, "in fact, the Web has strengthened the importance of the initial user experience, since most people visit any given Web page only once."

The Anti-Mac ideas "will have their day".

History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it's popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.

The mouse let users own the cursor and thus gave them direct influence over the UI by acting as their personal on-screen representative. Similarly, the touch screen lets users directly manipulate UI elements on the mobile. Our current testing of how mobile users access websites shows how unpleasant it is for people to repeatedly press buttons to move around the screen. Featurephones — and even otherwise nice smartphones that are operated through buttons — offer an indirect user experience that feels less empowering than touchphones.

I just hope we won't repeat all of history: Let's not wait 11 years to embrace better usability for mobile the way we did for PCs. And you shouldn't just copy the Apple design's surface manifestation (the touch screen now, the mouse then). You should also offer:
  • a smooth GUI,
  • an integrated user experience (including a clipboard or other cut/copy/paste mechanism, which Apple paradoxically doesn't offer on the iPhone even though it was one of the Mac's most important features),
  • a platform that uses direct manipulation to give users ubiquitous control, and
  • compliance with usability guidelines.

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