Archive for April 18, 2019

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Origins of the Apple Human Interface

Riccardo Mori (tweet):

Recently, the Computer History Museum has uploaded on its YouTube channel a lecture called Origins of the Apple human interface, delivered by Larry Tesler and Chris Espinosa. The lecture was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, on October 28, 1997.

Being extremely interested in the subject myself, and seeing how apparently little thought is being given today to the subject, I wanted to quote a few selected excerpts from the talk, just to show what kind of hard work creating a user interface was back in the day when the Apple Lisa was being developed. It turns out that isolating this or that bit was futile, as the whole talk is made up of such cohesive, engrossing discourse. So I chose to transcribe it almost entirely, and add a few personal remarks here and there. I hope this turns out to be as interesting to you as it was to me.

I recommend watching the whole video. Mori’s transcription is a great companion that includes better images of the screen and context from a modern perspective.

A few parts I want to highlight:

[Larry Tesler is saying that at this stage of development of the Lisa interface, when you clicked on, e.g., the upward‐facing arrow, the content would move upwards too, in the same way “Natural scroll direction” works since its introduction in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.[…]]


So we made a decision that had nothing to do with ease of use, nothing to do with ease of learning, nothing to do with error rates. It wasn’t a human factor’s decision at all in the traditional sense. It was a decision based on what customers liked.


And what I found was that the way we taught it made a lot of difference. You could take the same user interface and teach it in a different way, and people would get confused; or understand it; or make more mistakes; or fewer mistakes. And terminology made a difference also, so we then started a terminology project that Ellen Nold ran, which ended up with the FILE menu, the EDIT menu, etc., as you know today, and all the various commands that were in them. You know, choosing all the words for everything.


I remember very very very clearly that one of the massive controversies around the development for the Macintosh circa 1982–1983 was [that] developers would come up to us and say, You know, if you make the user interface consistent and if you put all that software in ROM that makes it— you know, if you make it hard to write to the screen directly, so that we have to use your user interface software to talk to the user, how are we ever going to make our applications unique and stand out and be different from each other in the marketplace?


[…]and so there’s constantly the dilemma (which you’ve seen historically in Mac system software) that the expert users want to put in the features they want to use, but the people who want to keep this system pure for the novices want to resist those

And if you’re lucky, you get a system that is easy to approach for the novice, and gradually unfolds itself for the expert. And if you’re unlucky, you get a lukewarm mediocrity between the two, where it’s a little too complex for the beginning user to understand, but still not nearly powerful enough for the expert user.

[I think this is a perfect snapshot of the current situation with iOS.]

Update (2019-04-22): Colin Cornaby:

On the note at the end: I drafted a blog post a while back on how I wanted a macOS iPad. When I passed it around, I got unexpected feedback from a few people. While iOS isn’t complicated enough for people like me, iOS is already growing too complicated for novice users.

iOS sits in their weird place, especially on iPad, where it’s not really working for anyone quite right. And there is a feeling out there that making iOS more complicated will make it less accessible to users (which, to be clear, is not my personal preference.)

Google Decides to Monetize Maps

Bloomberg News (via Hacker News):

Schindler’s response showed that Google isn’t waiting anymore. He sliced the opportunity in four areas. Basic directions are a “utility” that can’t be messed with much. Second are requests for things nearby; followed by broader, personalized recommendations; and finally, searching neighborhood business listings.

“If you think about Maps monetization from those four different angles—a little bit more caution obviously on the first one, not disrupting the utility aspect, and all the other three—I think it’s a really, really interesting playground going forward,” Schindler said.


For the last two years, Google has also tested “promoted pins,” waypoints emblazoned with an advertiser’s brand that show up on the map regardless of whether or not the user searched for that business. McDonald’s, Dunkin’ and Michael Kors are among adopters.


Before the changes, Owczarek’s startup got 750,000 free map views a month and then was charged 50 cents for every 1,000 views on top of that. Then Google started charging after 30,000 views and the cost was $7 per 1,000 views. His costs jumped from nothing to $5,000 a month.

When Rules Don’t Apply

Filmmakers Collaborative (via Hacker News):

When Rules Don’t Apply is a multi-media campaign to educate the public about the impact of “no-poach” agreements and how they limit competition and employee wages, a violation of antitrust law.


How to Remove Siri From the Touch Bar


You probably use your backspace (delete) key quite a bit. If you have a Macbook Pro, you probably also hit the Open Siri button quite a bit, as it is (in)conveniently located adjacent to the backspace key.


This short guide will show you how to remove the Siri button from your Macbook Pro’s touch bar, disabling the button without disabling Siri.

The Hard Part in Becoming a Command Line Wizard

John D. Cook:

McIlroy’s script was a real example of the kind of wizardry attributed to Unix adepts. Why can’t more people quickly improvise scripts like that?

The exercise that Bentley posed was the kind of problem that programmers like McIlroy solved routinely at the time. The tools he piped together were developed precisely for such problems. McIlroy didn’t see his solution as extraordinary but said “Old UNIX hands know instinctively how to solve this one in a jiffy.”

The traditional Unix toolbox is full of utilities for text manipulation. Not only are they useful, but they compose well. This composability depends not only on the tools themselves, but also the shell environment they were designed to operate in.


You could memorize McIlroy’s script and be prepared next time you need to report word frequencies, but applying the spirit of his script to your particular problems takes work.