Steve Jobs was Right about AppleTV UI April 22, 2012Posted by Andre Vellino in Information, User Interface.
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AppleInsider reported a few weeks ago that Steve Jobs rejected – as long as 5 years ago – the newly introduced Apple TV user interface. Predictably, Steve was right: the new UI for AppleTV has some major flaws in not just one but several dimensions: usability, cognitive modeling and information organization.
Consider this snapshot of the old UI:
The top third of the screen is reserved for image thumbnails that correspond to offerings in the highlighted service. The remote’s navigation buttons change only the horizontal and vertical menu choices and the menus correspond to the categories of services available. [The top-level thumbnails are also accessible to get to the item directly.]
Admittedly there are some problems with this way of organizing the user’s entertainment options. One is that the top level categories are not all the same kind of thing. ”Internet” is a mode of delivery (which, of course, is also the mode of delivery for the rest of AppleTV content), whereas the others are descriptive of the kind of objects that are below the main menu item. What “Internet” means, clearly, is “other, non-apple applications”. In addition, more recent AppleTV top-level menus also has the “Computer” category, meaning “Content streamed for your local computer running iTunes”, adding a second source-centered category.
However, at least the old interface makes some attempt at grouping content. Furthermore, the interface for the top-level navigation resembles in structure the navigation system implemented for each of the applications. The interface has the consistency hallmark of Apple interfaces generally: learn the interface for one application and you know (more or less) how all the others behave.
Contrast this with the new interface. In some respects, it is similar to the old one – thumbnails of content-images appear at the top of the screen, as expected and the content sources are more or less the same.
However, the artificial segregation by source or kind is eliminated altogether: all the applications on the same footing, iPad-App style.
The first serious problem starts manifesting when you scroll just one line down: the 1/2-page sized thumbnails disappear altogether. Yet the selected applications (I bet) are still generating those thumbnails – you just can’t see them any more.
Right away, this gives screen real estate dominance to the first row of applications – Apple iTunes applications, naturally. Furthermore, you can’t go straight to the items in the thumbnails because you can’t see them any more.
The second major flaw comes from the mixed-mode cognitive models. The first-level application-selection mode is (vaguely) iPad-like (without the ability to group apps, rearrange them or create screen-pages). However, once you’ve selected an application you’re back to the (more familiar and sensible) menu-navigation system.
What’s worse, though, is that the menu system for each application is now no longer consistent. ”Movies” (short for “iTunes Movie Store”) has a Mac-style top-level menu-bar rather than a right-side menu navigation bar like all the other applications. Gone is the consistent Apple look-and-feel.
If at least the user had the ability to group applications as they see fit and to delete the unwanted ones (why not, the iPod/iPad allows that?).
Theres just no doubt about it. Steve was right.
iPad Patents Considered Harmful April 12, 2010Posted by Andre Vellino in Open Source, User Interface.
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This recent review of the iPad in the Globe and Mail hits the nail on the head:
The iPad isn’t so much a computer as a delivery device, and there’s only one supplier.
Which makes perfect business sense. But I don’t think that having a monopoly over content-delivery stimulates technological innovation.
The fundamental problem is that patented, proprietary technology can’t “evolve” (in the Darwinian sense). Because of patents, there can be no process of “variation” on the initial idea and no process of natural selection on the outcome. Instead, progress needs to be made with discontinuities.
E-Books Revisited April 4, 2010Posted by Andre Vellino in Information, User Interface.
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As Canadians await their iPads for the end of April this funny SpeedBump cartoon makes two serious points worth noting: e-book readers have poor screen resolution and digitization degrades the quality of information.
There are obvious advantages to digital information, the top three being indexing (hence search and discovery) and ease of storage and distribution. But, just as the artifacts of MP3 encoding has changed the production of music (e.g. music produced intentionally with less dynamic range, more pronounced basses and trebles), so the advent of (relatively) low-resolution (~150DPI) monochrome (e-ink) or (~132 DPI for the iPad) color LED display devices threatens to constrain the consumption of content – scholarly journal articles especially.
At least in the short term. It isn’t until we can do “Seadragon“-like things – things that augment the dimensionality of textually and graphically represented knowledge that electronically published and displayed information has any chance of surpassing paper. Imagine looking at a photograph and being able to find out much, much more about it than the human eye can possibly detect, e.g. via NRC’s 3-D digital imaging of the Mona Lisa.
So it is possible to imagine a great future for the scholarly use of iPad-like devices. But as an instrument for the mere reading of text, e-book readers still have a long way to go.
Visualizing Netflix Rental Patterns January 10, 2010Posted by Andre Vellino in Recommender service, User Interface, Visualization.
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The recent NY Times mashup of Netflix rental data with geographical data based on postal-codes illustrates just how informative such visualizations can be.
Take for instance the distribution of rentals in Washington DC of the movie Milk – based on the true story of Harvey Milk, the American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official…
… and compare that with the distribution of rentals for The Proposal – a (straight) romantic comedy.
I think you could be forgiven for concluding that residents in the downtown core of Washington DC are more socially liberal than in its residential suburbs (or, of course, that downtown residents prefer serious historical dramas to fictional comedies – or both).
Imagine if you could do the same thing with labeled Bayesian or LSA models that characterize classes or intersections of classes of Netflix users (e.g. class types that might be labeled something like “highly-educated-and-well-paid-government-employee” vs. “unemployed-manufacturing-blue-collar-worker”). That could form the basis of a nice explanation interface to a movie recommender system.
Nexus One January 5, 2010Posted by Andre Vellino in Information retrieval, User Interface.
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What I am impressed by, though, is the marketing department’s (yes, them again) ”virtual tour” of this new device.
They succeed at giving you a really good impression of what it looks like, how it would feel in your hand, how you would use it and to induce in the potential customer an almost tangible desire to own one.
This new gadget must be the only device to support all of AAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis and WAV. Why didn’t they throw in WMA while they were at it, I wonder?
Visualizing Movie Revenues March 4, 2008Posted by Andre Vellino in CISTI Visualization, User Interface, Visualization.
This New York Times Flash visualization of how movies have fared at the box office over time has received a lot of attention in the blogosphere, but it’s deserves the attention it’s getting. Simply put – it’s beautiful.
The icing on the cake for the authors of this piece must be Ben Shneiderman’s 6-line comment on the Portfolio.com blog post about how this thing came to be. Nothing like praise from the father of it all.