Flutterby™! : Apple, take note

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Apple, take note

2008-02-25 23:41:46.547486+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

I'm well down the Canon route, and unlikely to pursue too much more gear that direction in the foreseeable future, so I put this up not for its potential value to those choosing camera equipment, but because one of the things that annoys me most about Apple's design aesthetic, and one of the things that people seem to want to emulate and I really wish they wouldn't, is the idea of getting rid of buttons. Philip Greenspun's travelogue on flying from Boston to the Bahamas in a Cirrus R22 includes this observation:

Played with Ellis's Nikon D3. The interface seems more functional than on the Canon digital SLRs. There are more dedicated buttons and switches, e.g., to change autofocus mode you turn a switch on the Nikon whereas on the Canon you would press a button, look at the LCD display, and turn a multifunction dial.

Yeah, that's a lot of why extended playing with the iPhone turned me off, and a part of why I don't like the Apple laptops. Give me devices I can use with partial attention, or without engaging more of my sensory system than strictly necessary, and I'll be way happier.

[ related topics: Apple Computer Photography Aviation Graphic Design iPhone ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 07:17:20.280142+00 by: Medley

Heh. In early discussions about the iPhone I remember a friend of mine saying: "It must be that Steve Jobs just doesn't like to type or doesn't know how to very well -- so he doesn't think proper keyboards are important.."

But, I may be a bit slow (typing with insomnia), but what is it about the laptops in this vein that bugs you?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 14:00:15.028966+00 by: Dan Lyke

That they multiplex all sorts of crap on to the F# keys (and make that the unmodified functionality), and that they only have a single button on the track pad.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 14:09:41.555515+00 by: jeff

One thing that drives me nuts is the omission of a simple button to give me the ability to quickly underexpose or overexpose images in a selectable range (e.g. 1/3 stop, 1/2 stop, full stop) of increments.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 14:30:56.147124+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ya know, I've never looked for that on the digital body before. It's a button and the forefinger wheel on the film bodies, but...

Perhaps the rationale is that with the huge exposure range you get shooting RAW half stops matter less?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 15:09:20.55029+00 by: jeff

It could be, since a lot can be done with post-processing of RAW images, and one could also shoot in auto-bracket mode. I suppose that I want the camera to respond more quickly to one of the most frequent tasks that I want to do.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 16:19:39.987434+00 by: ebradway

I've been reading Heidegger to try to better understand Ontology. He really takes a step back and attempts to categorize the manner in which things exist. Interestingly, one of his major categories of being has to do with tools. The basic idea being that tools exist differently from rocks and birds when they are in the hand of a skilled user. This gets a little funky because the concept gets expanded to all things that have a specific sense of being within the context of "society". The Coke bottle in "The Gods Must Be Crazy" didn't actually "exist" in the same sense for the aborigines as it does for us. Without the context of Coca-cola (the actually liquid), advertising, coke machines, etc., the bottle is little more than a rock.

But to get back to Apple and design: Apple designs tools in a way to somewhat thwart their ability to really enter this other state of being. The iPhone requires more attention than a regular phone (but the same can be said of all phones made in the past 30 years - you used to be able to dial without looking - now you CAN'T dial without looking on most phones and definitely not on an iPhone). The GUI is another great example. As Dan famously said:

"The command line is a perfectly intuitive interface if you already know what you want to do."

The GUI never fades into the state of being of a tool in the hand of a skilled operator. It's always demanding your attention. Maybe something can be said about the combination of bandwidth and complexity of an interface. I recently got rid of the fancy wireless keyboard that came with my new HP desktop and replaced it with a 1989-vintage IBM Model M keyboard. It has no Windows keys. It has no "media center" controls. But it does have all the normal navigation keys exactly where my skilled fingers expect them. I don't have to ever look at this keyboard.

Maybe Steve Jobs has entered a state of being beyond Heidegger's Dasein. Maybe he knows something we don't. Or maybe he's just an illiterate idiot.

P.S. Heidegger also talks about the transition in state of being when things stop working. For instance, your car is just a tool to get from point A to point B - as long as it works. When it breaks down, it enters a new state of being. I wonder where the BSOD would take this line of thought...

#Comment Re: made: 2008-02-26 16:51:37.921906+00 by: Dan Lyke

Hmmm... interesting. A side note is that we have many circumstances where the manufacturer wants to restrict the use of the device, an example that several of you can probably puzzle out involves a device that can operate stand-alone, a computer interface was recently released for it, but now others want to create computer interfaces for that device and all of a sudden concerns about content revenue streams come to the fore.

Which, perhaps, is part of what the Jobs led Apple is trying to accomplish: Restrict the use of the tool to just the contexts which the designers envisioned. Make it so you can't use the screwdriver to open the paint can.

There was recently a side-thread on the Festool Owner's Group about "abusing tools", and buying tools with the expectation of abuse, and what that meant:

"Normal abuse" is a valuable design concept. It says "We all know that this tool shouldn't be used in this way. We also know it will be."

One of the examples given was "standing on your tool cases". I've got a few Craftsman and even Makita tools that have plastic boxes that I'd never even consider standing on. The Festool ones I might consider standing on, but I'd only do it in a real jam. Is the superior design one that I wouldn't even consider it because they're soft and flexy, or one where I might consider abusing them because they're nice and rigid and stack?

And I think that what's really interesting is when the goal of making the tool more useful for its design application causes it to become more useful for applications which are beyond its design scope, but also may damage it.