Thoughts on Flipboard, why Quake is better than vi, mouse/keyboard vs. iPad...

I was just marveling at the UI in flipboard's iPad app and thinking a bit about why it is so relaxing, and so fast at the same time.

Flipboard has simply amazing visual design, but the navigation is equally compelling.

One reason is that the "flipping" gesture and the "touch/click" gesture are both incredibly fast.

Technically all the touch devices have had these gestures, but there's an important improvement in flipboard. The links aren't tiny. 

Flipboard made me realize how slow it is to click on a tiny link on a normal website on a touchscreen (it almost works, but it is 10 times harder than it should be). And actually, it is similarly slow to click on a link using a mouse, even though I'm pretty experienced with a mouse. All those tiny "next" buttons on the web should just be made bigger.

And flipping? Flipping isn't necessarily faster than hitting an arrow key on your keyboard, but it is fast, very fast.

But all this made me stop and think a bit.

On the old desktop PC, we still have keyboard interfaces that make you choose: mouse or keyboard?

Mouse, or keyboard?

I have two hands, but amazingly, the desktop got it really wrong.

Using the arrow keys makes you move away from the mouse and to the keyboard, and back again. The iPad makes you do no such thing. Click, scroll, flip, all without changing the device you're using.

So I thought for a minute about who might have solved this in the old model, and I came up with two examples.

Photoshop and Quake

Photoshop has shortcuts to its tools, all accessible with the LEFT hand, and the mouse can stay in the right hand, handling painting, selection, zooming, etc.

Quake players use the "inverted triangle" W-S-A-D to drive motion in a game, and the mouse at the same time to shoot.

Two hands, two devices. Right.

Kudos to sites like, who are in the rare set that provide a left-hand keyboard navigation for browsing articles in their Forums, while the right hand is free to scroll, click things or select text.

But mostly on the desktop we have messed up. We've kept scrolling and navigation as the right hand's duty, page up, arrow down, mousewheel, click. The left hand gets to do nothing, and it could do a lot.

Outlook fails: arrow keys, or mouse?

Gmail (vi-style "j, k, u, y...", etc.) totally fails. These UIs are all keyboard-only, or mouse-only. Most novice Web users use the mouse and can't gradually learn the keyboard, because the jump is too big.

Certainly the touchscreen interface makes a ton of impact, but if Flipboard says one thing on a UI level (and it says tons in other ways too), it's that the touchscreen UI's we're using today are not baked yet. They are going to get even better.

We shouldn't somehow stop at HTML5 with tiny links and scrollbars and incompatible gesture systems. The UI has to change as the input devices do.

We should make new UIs that take advantage of the new medium. That might mean bigger buttons in some places, and it might mean more gestural input, but one thing I know is: it means not having to change input devices constantly, like the keyboard/mouse combination gives us today.

A lot of websites and apps should focus more on how fast people can actually navigate a UI in real-life. In most cases, this is more important than how fast a webpage loads from a server. Interaction speed is harder to measure, and so it gets mostly ignored.

But of course, both kinds of speed matter, and thinking about interaction time makes for more enjoyable software. Every time you have to click on a tiny link, it eats a tiny bit of your patience, and makes your computer a less enjoyable place.

Flipboard makes you relax, and it feels fluid. Listen to that.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    We should get a game of qwdm or qwtf going some time :D