Impressions of Lion

So just to be clear, even though I work for Apple I have no special access to the plans of the hardware and OS guys. If I did have access, I wouldn’t be able to post speculations like these. All this is the same guesswork you can do if you stop and look at your operating system as it evolves.

Last night I installed the latest Mac operating system (‘Lion’) on my work machine. We’ll see how that goes before I put it on anything more important. A couple of things struck me immediately, however, that I think may be indicators of where Apple is heading.

1) No scroll bars. Well, barely. There’s something scrollbar-like that appears when you move stuff around, but there’s a fundamental shift in the UI going on here. In the past you worked the thumb on the scrollbar to move the content in its window. When you worked the scroll wheel on your mouse, you were in your mind moving the scrollbar thumb. Now, in your head you grab the content of the window and move it around – which goes in the opposite direction as the scroller thumb. So the wheel on your mouse works ‘backwards’ in Lion; before you were moving the scroll thumb down, now you’re moving the content down, which moves the thumb up.

Opinion: I’m ok with this overall, but there are times when there is no indication that you can scroll. There are also cases where there’s no indication that the corner of a window can be dragged to resize the window. I’m not comfortable with designs that presuppose you know stuff.

2) Bold prediction: the magic mouse is Apple’s last major mouse. It’s a mouse/touchpad hybrid, bringing people closer to the touchpad replacement. The company that brought the mouse to the consumer will also be the first to take it away. Interestingly, the company that only put one button on its mouse will be hanging its hat on a very complicated set of finger gestures and combinations. They can do a hell of a lot, and they’re intuitive, if you already know them. (I just accidentally discovered the gesture for switching tabs in my browser — only, shit! It’s not switching tabs, it’s like using the back arrow. And there’s a bug! I almost lost this entire episode!)

Opinion: with the iPad and whatnot, multiple-finger user interfaces are here. I should have applied for a patent fifteen-plus years ago when I thought about making touch screen interfaces with actual knobs to turn and stuff like that. If I’d had this blog back then it would have shown up in the Get-Poor-Quick pages. But I didn’t, and now that invention belongs to other people. Because they built it, and I only talked about it.

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