OK, this is not earth shaking, but it does bug me, and it's my blog so I can waste my time any way I want.
The mute switch is one of the single greatest ideas in phone design. Before the mute switch you had to navigate through menus to change your phone from "Silent" to "Normal" mode, which was annoying and also impossible to do in a hurry. The Treo was this first phone I owned with a mute switch and once I had a mute switch I knew I didn't ever want a phone that didn't have one.
iPhones have a mute switch, and I am very HAPPY that they have mute switches. They also have volume controls on the side, and that has more to do with them being media players than from any real necessity.
iPads have three buttons on the side, just like an iPhone. Apparently, if you believe the internet, the third button was originally meant to be a mute switch, making the iPad like a giant phone. However before the iPad shipped, they changed their mind. In the original iPad software, holding the "down volume" button muted the iPad, so it was just as easy to mute the device. The switch-formerly-known-as-the-mute-switch was re-purposed to be a "Rotation Lock", which would stop the iPad from auto rotating the UI, which gets annoying and needs to be turned off depending on how you are using your iPad.
This was brilliant. This was why Apple wins. It made the device better.
However the iPad with its cool rotation lock button was a problem for iPhone users. As iPhone apps began to implement rotateable apps, they needed a way to do rotation locking. So iPhoneOS 4.0 added the ability for iPhone users to lock the rotation. The gesture in iPhone OS 4.0 was to double click the big button on the face of the phone, flick left, and then click the lock. This is nasty and awkward, but you don't need to rotation lock a phone very often, so it was a fine place for that function to be on a phone. You certainly DO NOT want to have to retrain millions of phone owners that the former mute switch on their iPhone is now a rotation lock. So Apple wins again, good UI design.
Enter iOS 4.2, which runs on BOTH iPads and iPhones. What should happen now? When faced with this problem, Apple made two decisions. First they decided not to make all iPhones work like iPads ( by making the switch on the side of both devices be a rotation lock switch). Good choice, as I said before, you don't need rotation lock that often on an iPhone, it doesn't make sense to take away the mute switch which you use all the time.
What they decided to was to make the iPad work exactly like a phone. To make the switch on the side into a mute switch and move the rotation lock to the same weird place it is on the iPhone. This was the wrong decision. The correct decision would have been to leave the switch on the side of the iPad as a rotation lock, with the "hold down volume key to mute" gesture, and then, for iPhone users who insist on doing the gesture, you could provide, in the hidden place where the software rotation lock screen exists, helpful pointers to finding the rotation lock.
Why am I sure this is wrong? Well for one thing, it is wrong because it bothers me. But it is also easy to demonstrate that it is wrong. Lets us imagine three different users. Each of these users owns an iPhone, knows how to use it, and now has an iPad.
- Expert -- I'll be the expert.
- Normal -- Someone who knows how to use an iPhone, but has the ability to learn a new thing if given a chance.
- Idiot -- Someone who somehow learned how to use an iPhone, but can never ever learn a new thing.
Now let us see how these three users feel about their devices, both on "Day 1", the first day they start using an iPad, and on "Day N", after they have been using their iPad for a while and have learned how to take best advantage of it. Let us compare the happiness of these people with Apple's Decision vs. the happiness of these people if Apple had done the right thing, and left the rotation lock switch alone on the iPad. Each person will will be found in one of these three states:
- HAPPY -- the UI is working really well for them
- CONTENT -- the UI is working for them, but not in the best way
- ANGRY -- they can get stuff done, but it pisses them off
|User||Apple's Decision||The Right Thing|
|Day 1||Day N||Day 1||Day N|
This table clearly shows that the only people happier with Apple's decision are idiots. I totally support designing user interfaces for Normal people. However designing user interfaces for Idiots is a really bad idea, and in this case, in a classic example of "foolish consistency", that is exactly what Apple has done. ( "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines --Emerson )