Monday, June 4, 2012

Scrolling in the Apple TV UI

I’ve written before (here, here, and here) on the differences between scrolling on an Apple Macintosh and scrolling on an iOS device like an iPhone, and how those differences are going away.

It turns out that there remains at least one remote corner of the Apple universe where the reconciliation of gestural meaning is still a little awkward.

The Apple TV is a content delivery device that provides an elegant user experience for delivering content from a variety of sources to a television screen. It includes a wonderfully simple remote control that is generally a delight to use. One less than delightful aspect of the remote control, though, is the cumbersome method for entering text, such as when searching content. Happily, Apple provides an iOS app called Remote, which can be used to control the Apple TV and which enables easier text input using a keyboard.

Of course, the Remote app can control all aspects of the Apple TV, using a gestural UI that one would expect from iOS. It’s here that things get a little awkward.

Note the following models:
  • On a Mac (in OS X Lion), dragging two fingers on on the track pad moves the contents of a window (e.g., scrolling through a list) 
  • On iOS, a swipe gesture moves the screen (e.g., scrolling through a list). 
  • On Apple TV, clicking the arrows on the remote control moves the on-TV-screen selection indicator (e.g., selecting an item in a list).
Using a swipe gesture in the Apple TV Remote app, which in effect turns the iOS device into a trackpad when used this way, also repositions the on-TV-screen selection indicator. This is quite similar to the behaviour of the gesture on a Mac trackpad prior to Lion, where the gesture controlled a UI widget (scrollbar) rather than the content itself; it is the selection indicator that is being controlled by the gesture not the screen content. This makes sense for a point-and-click remote control, but not for a gestural one.

For me the awkwardness arises when scrolling through a long list, such as many rows of movies.

That is, when scrolling vertically the selection indicator stops moving in the middle of the list view port, and the list moves through the selection indicator. The experience for me feels strongly like the swipe gesture is moving the list in the opposite direction to the swipe. As a result, I use the regular remote control for navigating screens on Apple TV, one click at a time, and I use an iOS device for entering text when needed. This isn’t really optimal and I’m curious to see how the Apple evolves and improves the experience.

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