I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like Flash…

A couple of months ago, I posted a provocatively titled article: “The Death Of UI Consistency”. In it, I argued that the web had made obsolete the original Mac goal of having 100% consistency of UI across all applications:

But I don’t blame Apple or Adobe for the death of the goal. What really killed that goal once and for all was the web. Where once there were only a few popular Mac applications that broke with convention, on the web look and feel consistency isn’t even on the list of things to worry about. YouTube and flickr look and work completely differently. Users today have been trained to expect a different set of UI conventions from every web application they use, and they aren’t complaining about it.

The trend towards Rich Internet Applications using Apollo and its ilk will further cement this trend, as web applications come down to the desktop with their web UI conventions intact. To me, this is a good thing.

Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion on related lines. Many people have been writing about the UI changes in Leopard and the iPhone, and what impact they will have on the traditional Mac UI.

First up was John Siracusa, arguing that the iPhone is a new frontier for UI development (my emphasis added):

The iPhone is not just a new platform, it’s an entirely new set of rules for interface design. That is what struck me the most once the actual iPhone demos started. There are no windows, no close/minimize/zoom widgets, no checkboxes, no radio buttons, no scroll bars, no nothing.

Yes, there are features that look and act sort of like the traditional GUI widgets from desktop OSes. For example, there’s this vestigial little scrolling thing on the side of some screens (see, I was going to say “windows”), but it appears to simply be a visual indicator of scroll position. The actual scrolling is done by flicking your finger as if the entire screen is a big plank of wood floating on the water. Flick anywhere and whoosh, watch it glide. This is no scroll bar.


Anyway, back on topic, the iPhone will definitely be a new frontier for developers. This is the most exciting part of the iPhone for me: a whole new set of rules for a new kind of UI. Who knows where it could lead—maybe even back to the Mac, some day. But as in the real frontier days, expect some hard river crossings, cholera, dysentery, and maybe, if we’re lucky, a bounty of wild fruit.

I’m not going to argue with John: he’s much smarter than me, and I agree with him (which makes him that much smarter, right?). But I can’t help but point out that its a little bit ironic that John, who has long been a stickler for UI consistency, is now looking forward to the day when these new UI paradigms come to the Mac, cavalierly tossing aside the existing HIG. Of course, you can make the argument that new UI paradigms are appropriate when new HI input and output devices come on the scene. But I also believe that this argument applies equally well to the paradigm shift brought on by the Web and from Flash in particular.

Next up is Wil Shipley of Delicious Library fame, interviewed in Wired talking about all the crunchy goodness to be had from using CoreAnimation, Apple’s SDK for creating Flash-like animations:

“The revolution coming with Core Animation is akin to the one that came from the original Mac in 1984,” says Wil Shipley, developer of the personal media-cataloging application Delicious Library. “We’re going to see a whole new world of user-interface metaphors with Core Animation.”

Shipley predicts that Core Animation will kick-start a new era of interface experimentation, and may lead to an entirely new visual language for designing desktop interfaces. The traditional desktop may become a multilayered three-dimensional environment where windows flip around or zoom in and out. Double-clicks and keystrokes could give way to mouse gestures and other forms of complex user input.

Doesn’t sound much like the current HIG, does it? Of course, Wil isn’t the kind of developer who keeps a copy of the HIG in his bedside drawer. Delicious Library definitely takes liberties with those guidelines, but it does so to bring a better experience. Not coincidentally, that better experience definitely took some of its cues from the Web.

The article also points out that at least one of the whizzy new features in Leopard has abandoned the HIG entirely (I don’t agree that Time Machine is banal, though):

Functionality-wise, Time Machine is a banal program — a content-version-control system that makes periodic, automated backups of a computer’s hard drive.

But Apple’s take on the age-old task of incremental backups features a 3-D visual browser that allows users to move forward and backward through time using a virtual “time tunnel” reminiscent of a Doctor Who title sequence. It’s completely unlike any interface currently used in Mac OS X.

Finally, see this article on Blackfriar’s Marketing where they predict a core animation overhaul of the entire Mac OS UI.

I bring up all these examples not to decry Apple’s efforts, but to point out how much such efforts are needed to bring the Mac UI paradigm in line with the needs of today’s applications and today’s hardware. Nor am I trying to give Flash credit for all the UI innovations in the iPhone or Leopard: Apple is doing fantastic work these days and the iPhone in particularly looks truly ground-breaking. But I also want to make sure that when people look at these new products, that they realize what its influences truly were.

In any event, I’m greatly anticipating Monday’s keynote to see what Apple’s cooked up and how it might impact third party developers big and small.

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 08Jun07.

3 Responses to “I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like Flash…”

  1. “John, who has long been a stickler for UI consistency”

    I’m a stickler for good UI. Often, consistency is part of that, but I’ve never been among those who call for “just one kind of window in Mac OS X” or other forms of consistency for the sake of consistency. (Nor am I for inconsistency for the sake of novelty, of course.)

  2. […] I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like Flash… A couple of months ago, I posted a provocatively titled article: “The Death Of UI Consistency”. In it, I […] […]

  3. […] and I think that follows along very nicely with the stuff I’ve written about earlier: I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like Flash… and The Death of UI Consistency. I’m curious to see where the conversation goes from here, and […]

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