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The Mobile App Design Tail Wags the Desktop Software Design Dog 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the stop-taking-away-features dept.
CowboyRobot writes "The metaphors and conventions of mobile apps on phones and tablets are now driving the design of desktop software. For example, dialog boxes in typical desktop software used to be complex, requiring lots of interaction. But these are now typically much simpler with far fewer options in a single pane. Drop-down menus are evolving, too. The former style of multiple cascading menus is being replaced. Drop-downs today have a smaller range of options (due to mobile screens being so small and the need to have the entries big enough that a finger touch can select it), and they never use the cascading menu. In Web-based apps, the mobile metaphors are finding greater traction as well. One need only look at the new Google Mail (GMail) interface and see how it's changed over the last year to view the effects of this new direction: All icons are monochrome, the number of buttons is very limited, and there's a More button that keeps the additional options off the main screen."
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The Mobile App Design Tail Wags the Desktop Software Design Dog

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  • Dumbing down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:12PM (#42674963) Journal

    The dumbing down of computers continues. What else is new?

  • History (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie (914043) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:14PM (#42674993)
    I think this is a classic example of 'those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it', but on a surprisingly rapid cycle.

    So first people start realizing that the way menus and such are handled on the desktop did not work well in the touch screen or mobile space, so designers learned that lesson and developed more appropriate layouts.

    Now we have a new batch of designers that is making the same mistake, taking the mobile layouts and trying to use them on a desktop where they do not make much sense.

    Though really, it is probably just the old 'I learned to do X in environment Y and now I want to do X everywhere because Y rocked!' thing.
  • Re:History (Score:5, Insightful)

    by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:23PM (#42675101) Journal

    There might be that. Or there might be laziness. "OK, got the UI working for compact touchscreen devices. Now to design a completely different UI for a non-touchscreen large-format device with mouse and keyboard. Screw it. I'll just upscale the first UI. It'll work fine, and I just want to check this off and maybe go home on time for a change."

    In a developer, laziness is next to godliness, in that it's simply another synonym for "efficient". The fact that a tablet UI is kinda yucky on a desktop system doesn't take away from the fact that it basically works. "Good enough".

  • Re:Dumbing down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kenshin (43036) <kenshin@noSpam.lunarworks.ca> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:30PM (#42675207) Homepage

    I honestly don't see what's wrong with that, as long as it's not the dumbing down of *all* computers.

    Car analogy time: I can't fucking stand manual transmission, but do I understand why people like it. They can have it. But the people who like manual transmission look down upon automatic transmission and complain "it's the dumbing down of cars."

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:32PM (#42675223)
    You only have to look at Windows 8 to see this trend.

    Rather than doing the sane thing and making different views/OSes for phones, tablets, laptops with small screens and full-sized computers, we've come to where we try a "one size fits all" method that doesn't work. It used to be that we had desktop-style OSes, sites and applications on smaller devices, now we have it backwards.

    Seriously, I've got a 24 inch screen, I don't need huge boxes for my applications like I might need on my tablet.
  • Re:Dumbing down (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:41PM (#42675323)
    Except for the fact that it is the dumbing down of the vast majority of computers. Ever used Windows 8? There's no way to switch back to the start menu without downloading third-party software (such as RetroUI). While Windows 8 is undeniably better than Windows 7 at supporting tablets, it doesn't make much sense to shoehorn a tablet/phone UI on a computer. To use a car analogy its like Microsoft is discontinuing any manual transmission cars and there's no way to get back a manual transmission once you've "upgraded".

    Granted, if you use *Nix you can still customize your computer no matter what the idiot developers *cough* gnome *cough* have recently done, but if you use Windows you are out of luck. And if you use a Mac, well, you long ago gave up customization.
  • Re:History (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:44PM (#42675345)

    So first people start realizing that the way menus and such are handled on the desktop did not work well in the touch screen or mobile space, so designers learned that lesson and developed more appropriate layouts. Now we have a new batch of designers that is making the same mistake, taking the mobile layouts and trying to use them on a desktop where they do not make much sense.

    The trend of simplification on the desktop started before mobile was driving it. I think there is a convergence in that some things that usability studies and other factors were driving in general happened to also mesh very well with what fits on mobile device and works without a multibutton mouse; there is some analogy, I think, to how SQL and the relational model were motivated by theoretical concerns but really took off because they also happened to be convenient to implement in a performant way on disk-based storage and were introduced as disk-based storage was becoming popular.

  • worried (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msheekhah (903443) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:47PM (#42675385)
    I am seriously worried about the future of desktop computers. If the economies of scale shift too drastically, the hobbyist computer and computer gamer will be out of luck. While I think the current shift towards mobile is making computers more approachable to more people, for those of use that use computer for work rather than play, it's detrimental.
  • Re:Dumbing down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlueboy (1799360) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:53PM (#42675419)

    The dumbing down of computers continues. What else is new?

    I would not call it dumbing down when the fact is that "the dumb" expect an intuitiveness that is just NOT here yet. A trend started by toolbars decades ago ASSUMES previous familiarity. If we learned anything from the backslash caused back in Office 2003 when the file menu went away, it was that it's hard to explain to someone over the phone what to click on when even your description of the icon can fall flat or cause ambiguity in what the user thinks you're suggesting.

    Today, smartphone feature reduction (more like forced simplification) has bled into webmail GUIs. For the adults I tutor one on one, I chose setting them up with Yahoo over Gmail due to richer, written interfaces. I also chose Firefox over Chrome due to the same, back before FF killed the menu in a copy-cat move that would undo this very effort. Imagine all the complaints I got from 3 of these students over 50+ years old when their Yahoo text labels went away last month. They instead got arrows, gear icons, disappearing options (dynamic) and paper clips where they expect "Reply", "Delete", "Attach". Those icons were always there, but they never cared to notice, kinda like people spend years clicking on "Edit \ Copy" without noticing what the Control - C and its icon are supposed to help with. The masses do not pay attention even when there's no pressure, and they did not take being forced to adapt very well. The ones who do are already computer savvy.

    Even though the buttons are far fewer, tablets are even worse. My mother unlearned how to Attach a file a dozen times. Finally, she learned the tablet GUI provides fewer confusion, but she's still greatly confused and is afraid of exploring what she thinks is a cryptic GUI and invisible "if you see nothing helpful, you're supposed to hold your finger down for the menu the programmer hid for that option". Android's interface is terrible for teaching an older person with limited memory AND time --I've had limited exposure to iPhones but find them friendlier and more likely to use words. See that gear icon over there [settings]? See that three line icon over here [menu]? See that bifurcating icon over here [share]? See that magnifying glass [search], not to be confused with this magnifying glass with a PLUS in it [zoom]? See those overlapping squares [windows]? Heck, I new it was trouble when I found it impossible to have them master multiple windows, let alone summoning and handling multiple tabs (plus icon in one browser, or square tabby thing in IE, or File \ New Tab in another)

    Older people tend to

    1) refuse to read our notes, books or sign up for classes in a real school with real homework. Too busy with fun and an "I need it now" attitude
    2) tablets have no mouseover help labels
    3) refuse to think through "geeky" words when 95% of the sentence makes sense.

    With things my mother enjoys on facebook, she constantly uses the hardcover dictionary to confirm spelling and meanings. The second there's a geeky word, she completely locks up and wants a quick way out. Dumbing down provides such a way, but becomes a trap destined to be understood only by the initiated, which are a much younger crowd that has no problem or shame in asking for help.

  • Re:Honestly.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:28PM (#42675787)

    Honestly I pity the world my kids would grow up in.

    Seriously? You can walk into a store and buy a "phone" running Linux for under $200. It gets several hours of battery life, and has a better processor and more memory and storage than anything available on the desktop 15 years ago. The screen is on par with desktop standards of the same timeframe. If you handed me one in 1980, I would have believed you were a time traveler or an alien.

    I can buy a $35 computer that far exceeds anything that a $3000 computer could do when I was a kid into computers in the 80s. The $35 computer is completely open, unlike anything from the 80s. Just like those computers, you can hook it up to your TV - but now your TV is a 55 inch 1080-line monster instead of a 20 inch 192-line lead and glass behemoth.

    I have 5TB of redundant storage sitting in the basement - 15 years ago Microsoft was so proud of the ability to index a single TB that they launched Terraserver just to show off.

    There will always be proprietary stuff out there, but I see no reason to pity my kids.

  • Re:History (Score:4, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @09:00PM (#42676551)

    I think this is an important point. I have used "touch" aka tablet friendly graphics software for over a decade and the tablet friendly UI's were all amazingly efficient UIs with a mouse and keyboard. People knock touch UIs as "dumbing down" UIs. But they said the exact same thing about GUIs *period*. You could say "dumbing down" or done well you could call it "removing excessive complexity". I could create the most cluttered UI imaginable just covered in buttons without any hierarchy. It would be extremely fast if you memorized where everything was. But a context menu would probably be better.

  • Re:Honestly.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @05:46AM (#42678759)
    I think you will find the entire "PC era" derives from the concept of IBM clones. DEC also published full details of hardware. Apple did indeed stamp on loads of clones.

    The IBM BIOS was published, providing detailed API information. Software was provided as source by both DEC and IBM. Unix (BSD and AT&T) was also supplied as source.

    Software was not closed until Bill Gates closed it.

... when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. -- Fred Brooks

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