~ ui ~


Safari 4 First Thoughts

Just checked out the Safari 4 beta. Overall, it looks promising.

The good

JavaScript performance. I’m curious to know how they accomplished this (JIT compiler?) but I’m happy it’s here. More and more, client-side JavaScript is becoming something that can do heavy lifting.

Tabbed browsing. The weird tab/title bar doesn’t appeal to me, but I can see its value. To me, the window needs to feel like it’s a container, and the tabs just screw that up for me. But the space savings is nice.

Better keyboard navigation. Greatly appreciated by those of us who fill out forms on the web. Which is to say everyone. turns out they had this in Safari 3.

Better hints for location bar. Much better! The hints now work kind of like spotlight. Type stuff into the URL bar, and Safari will do its best to find a matching URL from any source it can think of (history, bookmarks, etc). The best guess is shown first (like Spotlight) and the rest are categorized. Problems: The location bar doesn’t seem to handle page titles, which is a shame. Also, if you mistype a URL and get a 404 or other error, it still shows up in history and can end up as the “top hit”. Uh… whoops!

Embedded web fonts. It’s great that Safari is doing this. However, to be realistic (a) more browsers need to support this, and (b) someone needs to sort through all the legal issues having to do with font embedding.

The meh

CSS animations. Back in 97, I was one of the folks working on the first version of Dreamweaver. At that point in time, the Netscape folks were coming up with new tags all the time.

When we told the Netscape folks that we were going to add a timeline to Dreamweaver to take advantage of the <layer> tag, they were surprised and happy. You see, the inspiration for the <layer> tag was this question: “how can we have the browser do the things that the Shockwave plugin does?” Fast forward to 2009 and replace “layer” with “CSS animations” or “canvas” and replace “Shockwave” with “Flash”.

My opinion on all this? Meh. If you want to do everything that Flash does, use Flash. Or invent something radically new that blows HTML out of the water. Don’t bother bolting that stuff onto HTML/CSS.

In fact, if you’re going to bolt stuff onto CSS, focus on getting the basics of static presentation right. CSS layout is still incredibly difficult (way harder than tables were). You have to do hours of Google research just to get a usable two column layout.

Top Sites. The top sites UI feels overly glitzy to me, and for no good reason. The slightly curved appearance implies (to my eye) that I should be able to rotate my view to the left and the right to see more sites. Which you can’t do, as far as I can tell.

Bookmark Sidebar / Cover Flow. I like Cover Flow, but it’s getting to the point where I can’t tell the Apple apps apart. iTunes has a sidebar on the left, a list of stuff on the right, which can include a Cover Flow view and a list below. Same with the Finder. Same with the browser. Same with…

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too abstractly, but it bothers me that so many of the Apple apps are starting to feel the same as each other. Not so long ago, iTunes was different than the Finder, which was different than iPhoto. Now, you have cover flow in the Finder and with Quick Look, you can play the song right from there.

So I don’t know. I’m kind of torn. Consistency is nice, but too much consistency leads to every single thing looking exactly the same. It feels a little bit like MS Windows UI right around when XP came out. Tree views were pretty general, and a lot of applications fit into the pattern of “tree view on left, detail view on right”, so that’s what everyone did.

Maybe it will grow on me. Or maybe they’ll iron out the kinks. (single clicking on a bookmark in the sidebar doesn’t navigate you to the page. It shows you a “category” with a single bookmark in it. Double clicking on the bookmark in the sidebar lets you rename the bookmark. The only way to navigate to that bookmark, as far as I can tell, is to click on the bookmark, and then click on the image of the website in cover flow, or else double click on the bookmark in the bottom pane below cover flow. I mean… cover flow is pretty, but isn’t single clicking a bookmark more important?)

The WTF?

Color profile support. They claim to be the first only one to support this, but doesn’t Firefox already do this? Is the issue that it is turned off by default? Or does Safari handle colors in a significantly better way than Firefox?


iTunes store usability FAIL!

Earlier today, we submitted v1.1 of Notespark to the iTunes store, using iTunes Connect, which is the web UI that application authors use to access the App Store.

Apple is the design expert, right? So this UI has got to be, like, awesome, right?

Now take a look at this screen.

iTunes store UI

What do you think happens when you follow these steps:

* click on “edit information” underneath the 1.1 version of Notespark
* set the “availability date” to 1/29/2009

Possible answers:
A) It sets the availability date of version 1.1 to 1/29/2009
B) It sets the availability date of BOTH version 1.0 and 1.1 to 1/29/2009

If you guessed (B), you are way smarter than I am. And because 1/29/2009 is in the future, it immediately removed version 1.0 from the iTunes App Store. ARRGGHHHH!!!! Setting the date back didn’t seem to help any.

Let’s just hope the app comes back tomorrow.

[Late update] Yes, the app is back. Whew!


Quick thoughts on iPhone UI changes

Webclips? Meh.

UI for editing homepage — the jiggling icons on represent.. what, exactly? Does this really feel natural to anyone? Is the idea that they needed to have some way to represent “edit mode” without occupying screen real estate?

Moving the “+” button on Safari down to the bottom toolbar is a nice touch — it lets you add bookmarks without scrolling to the top of the page. It would have been even nicer if they allowed you to access the URL bar without scrolling. (I sometimes find myself on webpages with hundreds of comments on them. Scrolling up to the top to access the URL bar is AWWWFFFUUUULLLL!)

The new location feature for maps is awesome.


Even Apple sometimes screws up UI

Based on yesterday’s episode, I decided to try Buzzword. In order to do that, I needed to install the latest Flash Player.

The installation failed with the cryptic message “The file flashplayer.xpt could not be written.” This message could have been more helpful, but that’s really Adobe’s fault, not Apple’s.

I tracked down the problem to the fact that Firefox was installed using the “skuwamoto” account. Meanwhile, I was trying to install Flash Player using the “household” account.

So I decided to change the owner of Firefox to “household”. Easy, right? Guess again. Changing the owner of an application turns out to be kind of difficult.


I started by changing the owner of the file using the info dialog like so:

Info dialog for Firefox

The install still failed. Take 30 seconds and try to guess why.

Ok. Being a software developer, I knew that applications were really “packages” which are a special kind of Unix folder. If you do a “show package contents”, you find that the Firefox package only contains one folder:

Firefox package contents

And after doing a “get info” on the folder, I found that the package contents still had “skuwamoto” as the owner. ARRGGGHHH!!!

Permissions for package contents

Why on earth would you want to set the owner of an application without setting the owner of the enclosed folders?? Also note that the original info dialog had no option to “Apply to enclosed items”, so even if you knew that this was something to watch out for, there is no way to fix this without manually opening the package and inspecting the contents.

I mean… I had trouble figuring out what was going on, and I write software for a living.


One of the nicests Flex apps so far

I’ve been poking around at a new photo application called picnik and I have to say that it is really, really, cool. It’s beautiful, fast, and useful. It feels intuitive. It doesn’t clutter your interface or use gratuitous animation. And using it gives you a feeling of joy.

What I love about this application is that it opens your mind to what a Flex application can look like. It looks deceptively simple, but there are some interesting UI thoughts behind this app. One innovation is that the navigation area serves double duty as an editing bar, saving screen real estate. Another is that they have really paid attention to how you can get your work done without losing data. If you leave the app and come back, you will end up in the same state, editing the same document. If you go into “creative tools” mode, you get multiple steps of undo.

I love seeing this kind of experimentation with Flex UI. Remember that HTML became what it is today after fifteen years of innovation. Flex 2 has been out for less than a year. These are still the early days. Those of us in the Flex community don’t yet know what this technology is capable of.