Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perils of a gestural UI, part 2

Back in March I wrote a post about how I had discovered the source my discomfort with two-fingered scrolling on my MacBook. Basically, two-fingered scrolling goes in the opposite direction to what I experience when scrolling on my iPhone. In the end, I figured I could get used to it and make it work for me. I finished that post, though, by asking “how many more of these collisions will appear as Apple continues to build on its gestural UI?”

A new collision appeared this week, as Apple released a software update that adds three-finger dragging to the trackpad. That is, moving three fingers across the track pad will drag whatever is under the cursor (assuming that it’s draggable). The behaviour feels great when moving windows around, though moving icons around on the desktop feels slightly odd to me still. The collision, though, relates to my previous post.

With two-fingered scrolling, moving my fingers towards me on the trackpad moves the scrolling page upwards within the screen — my fingers are, in effect, interacting with the scrolling control rather than the page content itself.

With three-fingered scrolling, moving my fingers towards me on the trackpad moves the window (if it’s a window I’m dragging) downwards within the screen — the opposite direction to what happens with two-fingered scrolling. My fingers are interacting directly with the object that I’m moving.

I haven’t yet spent enough time with the change to know how this behaviour will feel for me in the longer term. My guess though is that I’ll find it more disconcerting than the contrast between trackpad and iPhone that I previously wrote about. And I do suspect that there are more collisions to come.


  1. Mark that is very interesting.
    I actually never thought of it that way.
    I think it was easy for me to adapt with the control because I went to the confusing school of Hard Knox when learning to fly.

    The control stick acted similar to what you are writing about here so I learned through repetition that my interaction with the control stick was indeed interacting with the mechanics of engineering, rather then interacting with the actual space I was flying in like a driver interacts with the road.

    Good write up.

  2. I'm sure I'll adapt too, Brett. I do think that Apple is negotiating an interesting transition from the previously dominant UI paradigm to a gestural one. With gestures, is there as much of a need for controls like scrollbars? Possibly not, which is what makes the transition an interesting one for me.

  3. Mark, if Apple does that, that would be insane. Place the power in the hands of the people. This is true value.
    Oh and Apple, when I say place the power in the hands of the people, I don't mean take away reception based on the way they hold the device :P