Tuesday, September 01, 2009

User Interfaces

Whatever happened to buttons? My first experience with the iPod was less than wowing. Same with the iPhone. This isn't a rant against Apple products per se, but it is a rant about what I see as the fetishization of technology; I'm tempted to include the iDrive here, but since I've never used it I would have to rely on hearsay.

The novelty of these things wears off quickly when you realize you need to walk around distracted by the ol' hand-eye coordination needed to navigate menu-driven interfaces. I suppose it's a necessity for large volumes of data (e.g. mp3 collections), but it doesn't seem efficient. I see it all the time on campus: someone walking with their head down as they examine some small screen and carefully touch some smooth surface.

I like buttons whose texture, shape, position, size, and sound (underrated but important) intuitively convey some functional meaning. Cars epitomize this. Think about it: how many times have you had the seatbelt halfway on as you also clicked over the vents to defrost and hit the radio scan button? You're already swiveling around to clear your mirrors and back out of the parking spot. Or another: when you were in high school and reached in to your backpack to fast-forward through your Walkman/CD player?

This isn't meant to be anachronistic. The iPod holds an epic amount of music. Your iPhone is impressive capable. But queuing a bunch of music in the car or dialing a new number at a party is a mess. The trend towards these interfaces is irritating; I suspect it stems more from technological flash than utilitarian substance. But hey, if that's what people buy...