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Kevin Arthur does user experience research and design. This blog is a personal project and the opinions here are strictly my own.

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Usability Books
  • Cost-Justifying Usability, Second Edition: An Update for the Internet Age, Second Edition (Interactive Technologies)
    Cost-Justifying Usability, Second Edition: An Update for the Internet Age, Second Edition (Interactive Technologies)
    Morgan Kaufmann
  • Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services
    Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services
    by Kim Goodwin
  • Designing Gestural Interfaces
    Designing Gestural Interfaces
    by Dan Saffer
  • Designing Interactions
    Designing Interactions
    by Bill Moggridge
  • The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist
    The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist
    by Frederick P. Brooks
  • The Design of Everyday Things
    The Design of Everyday Things
    by Donald A. Norman
  • The Design of Future Things: Author of The Design of Everyday Things
    The Design of Future Things: Author of The Design of Everyday Things
    by Donald A. Norman
  • Designing the iPhone User Experience: A User-Centered Approach to Sketching and Prototyping iPhone Apps
    Designing the iPhone User Experience: A User-Centered Approach to Sketching and Prototyping iPhone Apps
    by Suzanne Ginsburg
  • Designing the Mobile User Experience
    Designing the Mobile User Experience
    by Barbara Ballard
  • Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules
    Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules
    by Jeff Johnson
  • Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things
    Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things
    by Donald A. Norman
  • Handbook of Usability Testing: Howto Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests
    Handbook of Usability Testing: Howto Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests
    by Jeffrey Rubin, Dana Chisnell
  • The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications, Second Edition (Human Factors and Ergonomics)
    The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications, Second Edition (Human Factors and Ergonomics)
    CRC Press
  • The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
    The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
    by Alan Cooper
  • Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics (Interactive Technologies)
    Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics (Interactive Technologies)
    by Thomas Tullis, William Albert
  • Moderating Usability Tests: Principles and Practices for Interacting (Interactive Technologies)
    Moderating Usability Tests: Principles and Practices for Interacting (Interactive Technologies)
    by Joseph S. Dumas, Beth A. Loring
  • Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems
    Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems
    by Steve Krug
  • Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design (Interactive Technologies)
    Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design (Interactive Technologies)
    by Bill Buxton
  • Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps
    Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps
    by Josh Clark
  • Text Entry Systems: Mobility, Accessibility, Universality (Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies)
    Text Entry Systems: Mobility, Accessibility, Universality (Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies)
    by I. Scott MacKenzie, Kumiko Tanaka-Ishii
  • The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity
    The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity
    by Thomas K. Landauer
  • Usability Engineering
    Usability Engineering
    by Jakob Nielsen
  • The Usability Engineering Lifecycle: A Practitioner's Handbook for User Interface Design (Interactive Technologies)
    The Usability Engineering Lifecycle: A Practitioner's Handbook for User Interface Design (Interactive Technologies)
    by Deborah J. Mayhew
  • User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies (Interactive Technologies)
    User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies (Interactive Technologies)
    by Carol Righi, Janice James
  • Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set...Test!
    Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set...Test!
    by Carol M. Barnum
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Sunday
Jul242011

Lion Trackpad Gestures

A while back I posted some observations about the (then) forthcoming OS X Lion release with lots of changes to the trackpad behavior and options. I've now been using Lion for a few days so here is a follow-up on those observations.

Reverse Scrolling Direction

One of the first things you see after installing Lion is a little tutorial screen alerting you to the fact that your scrolling world has been turned upside down. This is a change to the scrolling metaphor -- you're now manipulating the content rather than the scroll bars (which are now hidden much of the time in Lion, though you can still click and grab them if you try). This is now called the "Natural" scrolling direction by Apple.

I wondered whether users would get used to this. So far, judging by reviews and Twitter comments, it looks like most people are okay with it, but some find it irritating, especially if they have to switch between computers.

One factor that forced this change, I suspect, is the new and more fluid navigation left and right between screens (with either 2, 3, or 4 fingers, depending on how you configure it). This feels right when the screen moves with your finger direction (the "natural" direction). If you go back to the unnatural scrolling direction then sliding left and right feels odd. (But this depends on the particular scroll or swipe navigation gesture -- more on this below.)

More fluid gestures

In addition to the more fluid swiping/scrolling between screens, scrolling now has the edge bounce physics as in iOS. This depends on the application, though; so far it's only supported in Apple applications like Safari and iWork. I don't know if Apple will be opening up this feature to other developers.

Two-finger double-tap to zoom ("Smart zoom")

This works well, but again only in Apple programs for now. I had questioned how this would coexist with the existing two-finger tap option (for secondary click). It looks like my prediction for how they would handle this was right -- there is now a noticeable delay after two-finger tap responds, if you have Smart zoom enabled. This allows the system to unambiguously recognize the two gestures. (If you didn't have this delay then you would get secondary clicks happening before smart zoom happens.)

Different navigation gestures

In the previous post I noted that Apple was introducing two-finger swipes in addition to three-finger swipes for navigation, and that this might confuse users. The reality is even more complicated than that. For several of the navigation gestures on the "More Gestures" tab (pictured above), the user can select between

  • scroll with two fingers,
  • swipe with three fingers,
  • swipe with two or three fingers, and
  • swipe with four fingers.

And changing the setting for any one gesture may change the settings for the others so that they don't conflict.

They've dealt with "Three finger drag" conflicting with three finger navigation by linking that setting to the navigation settings; if you enable Three finger drag then you have to use two or four finger gestures for navigation.

There's some inconsistency in the terms that Apple is using for these gestures: there is both "scroll" and "swipe" for the options for Swipe between pages. In Safari, "scroll" left or right seems to mean you get the continuous sliding back and forth for navigation. If you choose "swipe" it's a discrete action and you don't get a preview as with "scroll." For the next setting, however, (Swipe between full-screen apps) the options are called "swipe" yet they give you the smooth version, so I would have thought they'd be called "scroll."

I wondered how two-finger scrolling and two-finger navigation would get along. For example, if you are zoomed in on a page in Safari, will two-finger scroll pan around the page or navigate forward and back? Apple's solution seems to work well: it pans/scrolls until you get to the edge of the page, then stops. If you start another gesture, it then does navigation.

More on "Scroll Direction: Natural" and navigation gestures

The scrolling direction applies not only to two-finger scrolling/panning, but also to the continuous swiping (or scrolling) for navigation between pages or full-screen apps. It does not, however, change the direction of the discrete swiping gestures for navigation. This can lead to some odd configurations, such as with the Swipe between pages settings (pictured above). Scroll direction applies to two-finger scrolling/swiping but not the three-finger swiping. So if you select "Swipe with two or three fingers," then

  • if Scroll direction: natural is checked, swiping two fingers right will go back, but swiping three fingers right will go forward,
  • if scroll direction: natural is unchecked, swiping two fingers right will go back, and swiping three fingers right will also go back.

That this mismatch between the direction of continuous vs. discrete navigation gestures is allowed seems odd, but I don't know if it will bother users, or just those who go digging, like me. Users may never master all these gesture combinations and instead just stick with one or two that they're familiar with.

I suspect that the reason there is an option for both two and three fingers (and thus the mismatch) is because the two finger scroll/swipe is only supported in Apple programs for now, so if you use Firefox, for example, you need that option to continue using three-finger swipes.

So many choices

If the above has confused you, then I suspect it's not just my confusing writing -- Apple has given users a surprising number of choices for configuring their trackpad in Lion. The settings page itself is much bigger, with three tabs instead of the previous single-page layout. And because of the dependencies I noted above, changing one setting might change other settings automatically, even settings on another tab.

What's missing?

Despite the more complicated settings panel, there are a few controls missing that were present in Snow Leopard (pictured below).

At first I thought that double-click speed, scrolling speed, tap-to-drag, drag lock, and the option to turn off scrolling inertia were all gone, but it turns out they're now hidden away in the Universal Access settings. You have to select the "Mouse & Trackpad" tab and then select Trackpad Options (pictured below). That's a fairly non-obvious place for them to be, but I suppose it's good to have them somewhere. The one that I'm most surprised is hidden is the tap-to-drag option, and it appears that it defaults to off when you install Lion.

The only feature that really appears to be gone for good is the old-style screen zoom, which worked by holding the Control key and scrolling. That's now replaced with Smart zoom using two-finger double taps.

Other observations

I've written mostly about the changes to features, but there are of course a couple of new ones: Launchpad is done with a pinch with thumb and three fingers, Show desktop is done with a spread with thumb and three fingers. These are a bit awkward to perform but seem to work well enough.

As far as I can tell there are no other changes to the recognition or responsiveness of other gestures like pinch and rotate. Likewise, "resting finger" support on the trackpad appears to work the same as before. (You can rest your thumb at the bottom of the pad, for example, and point or scroll with your fingers -- the system ignores your thumb in this case. Resting finger support is one of the most technically challenging aspects of clickpads.)

If you have a Magic Mouse, you'll notice that Apple has increased the choices there as well, but that's a different post.

References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (3)

Old-style screen zoom is thankfully still present. Still part of Universal Access (though I use it when designing, to see the pixels).

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Dunham

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December 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterekwbvv ekwbvv

cool

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMobile Phone

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