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Steve Jobs Hates Buttons 713

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the also-buffy-hates-vampires dept.
ElvaWSJ writes "While many technology companies load their products up with buttons, Steve Jobs treats them as blemishes that add complexity and hinder their clean aesthetics. The iPhone is Steve Jobs's attempt to crack a juicy new market for Apple Inc. But it's also part of a decades-long campaign by Mr. Jobs against a much broader target: buttons. The new Apple cellphone famously does without the keypads that adorn its rivals. Instead, it offers a touch-sensing screen for making phone calls and tapping out emails. The resulting look is one of the sparest ever for Apple, a company known for minimalist gadgets. "
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Steve Jobs Hates Buttons

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  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by D'Sphitz (699604) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @10:59AM (#19983433) Journal
    Admittedly I haven't tried the iphone yet, I may try one out but i'm not excited about the complete lack of buttons. Currently with my treo i can type out a phone number by feel while driving, or type out a text with the phone in my pocket. Also the buttons give you a confirmation that you gave input, as you can feel the button go down. Without being able to feel a keyboard it seems like typing could be a pain.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:00AM (#19983449) Homepage Journal
    Half of the buttons on the iPhone are . . . volume buttons.

    -Peter
  • buttons arent bad. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:00AM (#19983451)
    I dont mind buttons at all. In fact I think the biggest mistake with the ipod is the lack of buttons. A quick and easy way to switch tracks AND volume should be required on all mp3 devices. Having to go through a menu system to change volume is silly. (not to mention the lack of FM)

    Granted, i dislike the typical A-B button and other shortcuts electronics manufacturers go through, but buttons can be done right. Its a shame no one is really trying. Softkeys can be a lot worse than buttons. Buttons should be there for basic functionality and be spaced out enough so users can click on them without looking at them.

    Aesthetics arent everything. For instance, i much prefer a thumb keyboard than a virtual one.
  • by neapolitan (1100101) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:01AM (#19983469)
    This is well in keeping with Apple's philosophy of often breaking convention for "minimalism," which has simply been met with mixed success.

    iMac -- made the "minimalist" move of omitting the floppy. I remember thinking at the time back in the late 90's this would create a data island, and being quite uncomfortable with the decision -- today, most would feel this was a smart move, and the ubiquitous USB drive has replaced the clunky floppy. Overall, a success.

    Mouse -- keeps on pushing the minimalist single button. I detest this, and know many people (linux, mac, and pc users) that feel the same. Another button simply adds to the functionality -- I right click several hundred times per day, and don't want combo presses or holding down to approximate this. Overall, I view this as a bad move.

    iPhone -- we'll see the verdict regarding this. I, for one, would appreciate a "hang up" button as I tend to push this a million times when I want to hang up... it is nice to have a solid feeling as you wait for the UI to respond. With a softkey, did you really hit it? Did the UI register it? You don't know without watching the screen. I view this as a bit extreme, but we will see if people complain. Buttons have their place when well-implemented.

    Can you imagine getting on a "soft-key" elevator? I think it would be cool at first, then really annoying.

    I'm happy that Apple pushes technology like this, but only in ways that force adoption of a better technology.

    Ah well, we can all "vote with our wallet..."
  • by ArtDent (83554) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:19AM (#19983731)
    Mr. Jobs' blind hatred of buttons is a mistake. Sure, appealing looking designs are important, but that has to be balanced against the function of the device. Inconspicuous looking buttons are nice, but lacking buttons altogether? Not so much.

    A perfect example is cited in the article: an elevator that has no buttons and stops on every floor. It's far less fucntional than an elevator with buttons. I don't like waiting unnecessarily. And if I were going from the top floor to the bottom floor, with no one else on the elevator, I would be fuming by the time I arrived.

    Another example is the iPod itself. The lack of an explicit power button, also mentioned in the article, isn't a big deal. But having no separate volume control really harms the usability of the device. While I'm listening to music, I don't want to have to look at the screen. But because volume and seeking within the track are loaded up on the same physical control, I have to watch the screen as I toggle between the two functions. It feels like a huge step back from my Rio Karma, where I could easily adjust the volume with a pair of buttons and use the thumb wheel to seek in the track. If I'm reading, walking, or watching the scenery while listening to music, it's a big inconvenience to have to move my eyes to the screen.

    The amount of time you spend navigating those menus is just sick. Want to enable shuffle? Navigate up to the root, down to options, back up to the root, and back down to your songs.

    Want to select a song and start playing it in a fresh on-the-go playlist and, while it's playing, add more songs to the queue? Navigate down to select the song, up to the root, down to play from the playlist, back up to the root, back down to select your next song. Fantastic!

    Now, of course, they could have made a more usable interface even with limited number of "buttons" they have. But it's easy to see that a couple more buttons would have helped immensely.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:22AM (#19983765) Journal
    No offense or anything, but every time I look at my home theater interface I want to go after it with a hammer. I work with complicated crap for a living, and I don't get a 1/10th of the performance I could get out of my system, because the interface is cluttered, busy, poorly labeled.

    Buttons that have one label are used in conjunction with different modes to change properties not reflected in the labeling of the button...Basically, you have to memorize the manual because the interface is the opposite of intuitive.

    It's that way with nearly all consumer electronics. There will be ten buttons but there will be a need for 30 buttons, to follow that button-centric design philosophy, but you can't put 30 buttons on it so the 10 buttons have to have 30 buttons worth of functionality, which means some buttons toggle the functionality of other buttons.

    So, in a nutshell, though I am not completely fond of Apple's obsession with minimalist controls, they do an infinitely better job on their crappiest product than any piece of home A/V equipment I've ever seen. One look at a universal remote will tell you that.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by danpritts (54685) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:27AM (#19983849) Homepage
    As it turns out - not necessarily.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactation_consultant [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:34AM (#19983949) Homepage

    but the VOLUME CONTROL HAD BUTTONS built into the side edge.
    This is an example of a bad use of buttons. Volume controls should be knobs or sliders, not buttons.
  • by mveloso (325617) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:36AM (#19983991)
    You're missing the point. Buttons are intuitive, until you have 85 of them, all of which do something obscure.

    The problem with buttons is they take up space - physical space and cognitive space. Watch a 65 year old try and use a modern A/V system remote, and they're totally lost. It's like looking at the cockpit of a 707.

    It's a problem, because while 90% of the people only use 10% of the features, you have to be able to access the other 90% of the features. How many times do you change the surround sound mode of your home stereo? I did it once per input, then never did it again. So why do those buttons still take up space on my remote?

    The harmony remote is one attempt at reducing the complexity - you trade complexity up front (you need to program the remote with your devices) for simplicity later. The above mentioned 65 year old had no problem watching TV with the harmony remote - on a system an order of magnitude more complicated than his.

    The higher-end models have almost no buttons; they have screens that overload. In fact, you really only need four or five for a TV remote: volume up, volume down, channel up, channel down, power, change input. Sure, the number keys are nice, but they aren't necessary.

    However, a more sophisticated remote costs more money. Simplicity always costs more up front, but pays off every day because there's less aggravation. Buttons are cheap. Removing buttons is expensive.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by valintin (30311) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:40AM (#19984057)
    What your talking about is your customers reaction to a hundred button remote where they desperately want a simple interface for the two things they need most often. The don't want MORE buttons or hard buttons they want a simpler design that allows them to do just what they need with out all the clutter.

    With out buttons you can have context sensitive control. On a soft screen there would be a huge MUTE button every time the unit is left idle. And a simple slide your finger down the control would reduce volume. Not having to look for a button or a control because the unit has the correct context in mind is what makes soft panels so good.

  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:46AM (#19984161)

    Currently with my treo i can type out a phone number by feel while driving
    Here's what I want in a phone: a system that gives an electric shock in any imbecile who tries to use it while driving.
  • Maddox's Opinion (Score:1, Insightful)

    by emcoffey3 (1076763) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:48AM (#19984205)
    I thought this was pretty funny: http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=ip hone [thebestpag...iverse.net]
  • by Control Group (105494) * on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @11:57AM (#19984345) Homepage
    You're obviously not blind.

    I'm not normally one to kvetch if some device isn't perfectly tailored to the disabled - and the iPhone is a perfect example. No, a blind person can't effectively use it, but that same blind person can acquire another device that mimics the essential functionality.

    With an elevator, though, if you get rid of braille and tactile buttons, you've essentially prevented a blind person from reaching the upper floors of the building. There isn't a feasible alternative to the elevator to get from the lobby to the 20th floor.
  • by djupedal (584558) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @12:31PM (#19984847)
    "...but when software tries to guess what I want, rather than take what I've actually done, I usually end up wanting to put my first into the screen."

    Generally speaking, guessing what you want is what software does.

    Defaults, preferences, templates and even localized software exist so that the system and/or an application can make a 'best guess' as to what you want whenever you perform an action or sequence. Do you really think you 'open' a word processor, 'create' a new document or 'save' a file? These are simply virtual references, designed to promote 'ease of use'. Press a key and hundreds of lines of code race towards an option-laden conclusion, aka a 'guess', as to what you want/expect to happen next.

    The current type-ahead, learning-capable software on my Motorola (Linux based) is quite good, and I would be surprised if the iPhone wasn't better still.

    Time to take off the steam-punk hat and give some fresh technology a chance, perhaps.
  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @12:46PM (#19985049) Journal
    So those of us who are able to drive and talk safely should suffer with the rest of you?

    Yes.

    Most people can drive safely under normal conditions on the phone. Most people can drive safely under normal conditions with a BAC up to 0.15 or even 0.20. Most people can drive safely at 20-30mph over the posted speed limit.

    Driving laws exist for the "not most" situations, however. Some people can't safely drive a monotonously straight road on a clear day while sober and well-slept. Roads occasionally get icy (in the North). Kids (or deer) sometimes jump out in front of your car with no warning (hey, I'd call that "Evolution", but the pesky legal system tends to call it "involuntary manslaughter"). People age and their eyes and reflexes get worse.

    Put bluntly, we cripple the majority rather than take away the licenses of the 10% or so who should never get behind the wheel in the first place.
  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @12:50PM (#19985129)

    Great. So those of us who are able to drive and talk safely should suffer with the rest of you?
    Yes, that's right. Just like I'm sure sure some people can drive safely with over the legal limit of alcohol in their system, I'm sure some people can drive safely while talking on a cell phone. You think you're one of them? Good for you. But the idiots ruin it for everyone competent - tough shit and get used to it.

    The problem is even if some people can use a cell phone safely, most people can't. And those most people will always see people who can drive and talk safely and think "MEEE TOOO!".

    For another angle, think about building a house. I hope to raise kids that aren't stupid enough to suffocate themselves by sticking their head in between stair banisters. But that doesnt matter because building codes require me to put the banister supports close enough together that a kid can't put his head between them, and all because some idiots somewhere managed to kill themselves and screw it up for everyone else. Is it fair that I have my freedom to build banisters limited by morons? Nope, but life ain't fair. Deal with it.
  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by homer_ca (144738) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @12:53PM (#19985159)
    Yeah, and with no tactile feedback because it's a touchscreen. It's one thing to clean up the UI because of too many single-function buttons and displays (look at an old school 747 cockpit). However, I want a few dedicated buttons for important functions like volume, power, and send/hang up.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheGreek (2403) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @12:57PM (#19985253)

    You aren't seriously putting remote controls up as an example of why buttons are good are you?

    Why not? The TiVo remote comes to mind as one of my favorites. It's instantly intuitive. I wouldn't see it working nearly as well as a touchscreen without tactile feedback....
    Why not? I'll tell you why not.

    The TiVo remote control is just that. A device that remotely controls another device. You're paying attention to your TV. You shouldn't need to take your eyes off it to change the volume.

    The iPhone isn't a remote control. It's the device you're using, so there's the presumption that you'll be looking at it with some sort of regularity while you use it.
  • by drfrog (145882) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @01:15PM (#19985491) Homepage


    a touch screen is just a very complex button

    so jobs is doing away wiht buttons by making them more complex?

  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by notasheep (220779) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @01:17PM (#19985533)
    I think talking on the phone requires much more concentration than talking in person. I have kids and I know that, when I'm on the phone, the noise they generate makes it very hard to carry on a conversation. When I'm talking to someone in person you get visual cues back from the person that makes it much easier to ignore the noise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @01:36PM (#19985787)
    With your question written as a statement, and a huge run-on sentence, what's your point? A good teacher knows who can handle themselves just fine, and who needs to be spoonfed a few more rules to break stupid habits. Why should a CompSci TA has to go postal on your ass when you write sloppy code? It works, don' it?
  • by mosch (204) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @01:50PM (#19985979) Homepage
    I didn't use it extensively, but I did use it. I tried to figure out how to type on it for a good 30 minutes, and I was never able to get above maybe 70% accuracy. That said, I really liked the way everything else worked, and how fast and easy it was to launch and switch applications.

  • by DarkVader (121278) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @02:04PM (#19986159)
    So all that proves is that it's ok to use a handset while you're driving, there's no need for handsfree.

    That, or ban GPS, music, and passengers.

    It's unreasonable to single out cell phones - they're no more distracting than those other things.

    Of course, I also question the funding on that study - it wasn't obviously documented in your link.
  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarkVader (121278) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @02:06PM (#19986195)
    If you're getting visual cues while you're driving, you're not paying attention to driving - thus you're more distracted by the passenger than you could possibly be by the cell phone.
  • Re:Problem is.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @02:47PM (#19986741) Homepage Journal
    ""cro-magnon" rock guitarists that like their Les Pauls, their Tube Marshalls "

    Well, maybe those old guys got it right the 1st time....Telecasters, LP's and tube amps...well, they just sound GOOD. Not many effects are needed if you get the basic tools right.

    :-)

    Besides....amps that glow are cool!!!

  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fahrenheit 450 (765492) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @02:56PM (#19986851)
    Yeah... and with all the wing to wing traffic they have to deal with up there, it's a wonder there haven't been more fuselage-benders.
  • by Malekin (1079147) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @04:51PM (#19988271)
    As a cyclist, I beg you, I implore you and I demand that you turn you damn phone off when you get in your car. Your tacit assumption that it is okay to use any phone while driving is nothing short of murderously inconsiderate.

    Switch the damn thing off when you get in your car. Let voicemail take the calls. Switch it back on when you get to your destination. Accept that no call is so important that it is worth the life of the person you splatter across the pavement.
  • by stmfreak (230369) <stmfreak@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @05:30PM (#19988753) Journal
    There are a number of comments in here about how you cannot get rid of buttons because then how would we [press this button]? The posters neglect to imagine the innovation that comes from necessity. If you RTFA, it mentions that Jobs forbade arrow keys on the original Macintosh because he wanted to force developers to accommodate the mouse. You know what? It worked.

    With the iPhone, he's forcing developers to think of new ways to use a tactile screen. He's sprinkled the creative field with some suggestions. Touch to click, drag to scroll, flick to page. I'm sure there will be others. One poster wanted to know how you could turn volume up or down without a knob. Why not just draw a clockwise or counter-clockwise circle on the screen? Software can determine that motion from key presses. It's innovation waiting to happen.

    This sort of innovation through change and design is a good thing. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's spectacular. Jobs is great because he keeps hitting this ball despite his failures. In time, we'll regard the iPhone as a success or failure, as a Mac or a Lisa, as an iPod or a Newton. But until then, try to remember that Jobs brings both to the table with regularity.
  • Re:Buttons!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tigerhawkvok (1010669) on Wednesday July 25, 2007 @05:54PM (#19989001) Homepage
    Physical buttons are also *alyways there* ... and in a consistent location. So if there is any frequently used functionality, having an actual button ultimately lets you blindly use some of these basic functions by virtue of consistent placement and the all-important tactile feedback.
  • It's not a quirk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Swift2001 (874553) on Thursday July 26, 2007 @03:01AM (#19993427)
    Look at the average smartphone. Understand that Apple wants a wide-screen iPod and a web browser, e-mail, etc. All of it good size. Touchscreen. Usable. Cover Flow. Motion sensor for horizontal or vertical page layout.

    Where do you put the friggin' keys? Lot easier to put them on the touch screen when you need them. It solves all the problems, as long as the typing goes well. My friends tell me they can type about 15 words a minute, after using it for a couple of weeks. Good enough?

    Yes, Jobs is a design freak. But he doesn't make monstrosities like the old Citroen 2CV -- cool but weird design -- but in Apple devices, form follows function. Don't know, for myself, if it works, except I was typing better than on my stupid Moto RAZR in five minutes in the Apple Store. For that little adaptation, you get movies, full-screen web, etc., and no keyboard that takes up valuable handheld real estate. Good enough for me. How many sentences do you write on a phone? Aren't mobile message something like. "Got yr message. Go ahead. Meet U at 4:00." It would be rotten trying to write a screenplay on, but uh--

    Now look at all the smartphones with keys. Type an e-mail, the keys are handy. (Though they don't go to horizontal when you turn a Blackberry, do they?) Surf the web, watch a movie, they shrink the available screen. Fold them up inside the phone and you've got thickness and heat problems. Go ahead, call him weird and a cultist. I think hating buttons is a good move.

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