Release Candidate One with Chris Clark

Overdoing the Interface Metaphor

Nobody should need to perform a full-width swipe gesture and wait two seconds for their fake page to turn in their fake book

Marco Arment

As I watched the iPad launch keynote in January and saw the book-style interfaces for Calendar, Contacts, and iBooks I cringed a little and worried about what Bruce Tognazzini called slavish fidelity to real-world objects. Forcing stupid interactions upon a user just to stay true to your visual metaphor is criminal, and Marco’s example of the Mac OS X Calculator is right on the money.

But as far as the iPad goes, the concerns are unfounded. iPad apps have a high visual fidelity to real-world objects but retain the sensible interaction design one would expect from Apple. iBooks doesn’t force you to swipe its pages side-to-side; you tap on a page to advance to the next one, and the page-turning animation is done in a fraction of a second. Even in Maps, where Steve Jobs showed off the ability to slowly drag a dog-eared corner and reveal the map’s options, you can just tap.

That isn’t to say every app should be jumping on the page-turning bandwagon, tapping or not. When I mentioned iBooks and Instapaper in the same breath last week it wasn’t to praise one and admonish the other; they tackle different problems and both are worthy of high praise. If NaNoWriMo is any indicator, the typical novel is around fifty thousand words. This blog post is, by comparison, a mere three hundred words; that’s two orders of magnitude difference, and people tend to skim web content in a way they’d never skim through a novel. Different problems require different solutions.

It’s important to remember that despite Apple’s insistence that iPad apps have lush graphics evoking physical objects, there’s no license to be stupid about interaction. Good design is good whether your toolbar is leather-bound or a flat gray. Sexy graphics and animation are icing on the cake.


Marco has updated his post to clarify that he was speaking in generalities about fake books, not specifically about iBooks, but the thrust of both his article and mine remains the same. Meanwhile Neven Mrgan has some excellent thoughts on the matter, too.