Here is what the OnLive(TM) system looks like on the iPad. The design was done by Emily Adams at OnLive. It is gorgeous. I did a lot of the work to bring this beast to life, including the decision to stick the controls on the top of the screen.
Absolutely, 100% of the time, everyone who sees either a picture of this, or sees the actual application running on the iPad, the first question is "Why are the controls on the top of the screen, that is a horrible idea."
And, 100% of the time, once they hold the iPad in their hands, they instantly get it, and agree that the controls work better on the top of the screen. With the controls on the bottom, the weight of the iPad makes it hard to hold on to, and the fear that having the controls on the top would cause you to block the screen with your fingers turns out not to be much of a problem. It turns out, on a touch based device, you are waving your hands over the screen all the time.
I am not a reknowned expert on UI design, but I have been doing this for a few years and so I have some wisdom gained from battle scars. And I have learned two important lessons. The first lesson is this. Users have no clue what they want. People will tell you all kinds of weird stuff that they want, but they don't really want it, all they really know is that they are unhappy with what they have. If you give them what they ask for, they will roast you for giving them crappy UI ... you job is to listen through the requests for the real problems hiding inside the user response. The second thing I have learned is, "Don't be an arrogant asshole, just give the users what they ask for".
So the trick, when the users are telling you something that you think is wrong, is to figure out which story are you living in? Are you living in the story where you serve the user best by thinking you are smarter than they are, or do you serve the user best by assuming that they are smarter than you? I have no magic way to tell the difference between those two moments, but I do know this.
I chose wrong for the iPad client.
If this were a shipping product (it isn't, this is just a technology demonstration), the right thing to do would be to let the user drag the UI to the top or the bottom. It isn't shipping and while I loved the idea of dragging the UI bar, I didn't have time to make it draggable, I had to make a call.
Based on my experience with everyone who had ever held the thing in their hands, I decided that I was smarter than the users, and I should put the bar on the top of the screen. That was a bad decision.
Because this isn't a product, it is just a demo. There have been a number of videos posted on the internet because we are using the iPad in our announcements and people are interested in seeing high end games running on a thin platform. I see, in the comment streams for these videos, "What idiot put the controls on the top?"
Here's all kinds of arrogance. The commenter shows typical internet arrogance. If you see something you don't agree with, it is stupid. The idea that maybe you might learn something unexpected by listening never even occurs to the typical commenter.
And then there is me, because the commenter is right. Maybe a few hundred people in the world will ever hold this demonstration client in their hands and be able to understand why the buttons belong on top. On meanwhile, 83,000 (so far), of people on the internet are looking at it and wondering what idiot put the buttons on top.
Everyone I ever tested the iPad client with told me the same thing, and I was unable to hear them, because I had forgotten that this was a demo. I was all focused on making it as usable as possible in the very short time I had to work on it.
So this is my apology and my confession, I should have listened and put the buttons on the bottom.
Here's the YouTube video if you are interested.
where's the "ocd" mentioned in the title? well, i thought it would be obvious. i am sitting here obsessing about "buttons on bottom vs. buttons on top" the thing is in the can and done, it is still bugging me that i didn't get it exactly right.