I can safely say that I’m not an avid Apple user. At the moment of writing this article, I own an Android phone, 2 Windows PCs, a ‘hybrid’ windows tablet, 2 Macs, an iPad and one iOS device. All things considered, it would be fine for them to just put a normal mouse pointer into an iPad and be done with it. But apparently, they’re not just sailing along.
As a designer living in an ever-changing landscape of this exciting industry, you are entering into a world that questions everything you’ve experienced. Apple's designers have done exactly that - they sat down and began to explore beyond the usual assumptions, thinking that "we can do it better" and got to work.
Pretty interesting stuff right?
An ambitious collaboration between PC controls and intuitive touch-screen
From a click wheel to an all-touchscreen phone, it’s fascinating how we are witnessing the change moving from the pointer-based UIs into the newly paved "accessibility" era. Blending the display area and interface for input sure is exciting.
Even so, supporting both at the same time is another story. Apple has never been shy about trying out young and new user interfaces that could potentially change how one uses a device. To improve upon the old one and include it in their presentation, all to become a part of the post-pc devices is intriguing to me as a designer and a user altogether.
the iPadOS pointer functions like a normal one. But better. Designers: This is how you can properly improve interfacing tools.
I’m feeling sceptical… Do explain.
The premise of the new iPadOS that was brought to the table is that it’s just better than the traditional mouse pointer.
Apple has made a lengthy video of how they explored ideas and came up with the new adaptive mouse pointer for their iPadOS.
As a UX researcher and a product designer, this presentation is an entertaining watch for a bunch of reason:
1. Probability: It’s a dissection of how we interact with objects on the computer screen
Think about this: you have been using a mouse as a floating ‘finger’ all these years. It is somewhat a part of a UI, but it actually isn’t. You’re just poking on the supposed button and hope it hits the intended spot.
Said actions might come as a natural manoeuvre for you. Truth be told, I have some difficulties teaching some elders in my family on how to navigate the mouse precisely. This really shines light on my assumptions and changes my perception of how something we use every day doesn’t retain the same learning curve for everyone across the spectrum.
iPad does sell well on older generations as their ‘go-to’ devices, so it only makes sense that Apple would try to appeal to those targeted groups.
2. Usability: it takes less effort to actually target something
Remember using a badly optimised mouse and struggling to get a grip on clicking that annoyingly small link? Apple tried to relieve the pain by integrating a pointer to seamlessly blend into their UI elements. It resizes to match the boundaries, gravitates and lightly snaps into whatever parts of a UI with which you want to interact.
Put the context first and show icons in its highlighted state where you align your pointers around to make sure you are not in an ambiguous state of ‘will it touch this button or the edge of that dropdown?’
This new mouse handling behaviour lessens frictions experienced while navigating through dense UI input.
3.Additionally: It’s also visually engaging
Never have I felt more that the current cursor visual is long overdue for an update. Truth be told, we had 2-3 shapes for a cursor and only some minor gimmick (like shadows) added to it for decades now. Apple changed this and began playing around with the idea, coming up with a more shape-shifting nature of cursor appearances.
They’re having a blast creatively putting together the dynamic nature of the modern UI and retaining a coherent concept: that a pointer is to be an adjustable spotlight beam that aids the user mind of how an object should be highlighted, lifted and hovered over. This is just a small aesthetic notion, yet plays a huge role in interaction design going forward.
Downsides? Of course, there are
It’s fun to get excited and be engaged in how a change is going to impact our lives. Be mindful that some of it might not be pleasant for you. How? Here’s a quick example:
1. It might be really hard for everyone to 'get right'
The reason we get the pixel-based cursor across different manufacturers is that it’s universal. The amount of customization and uniqueness of these software pointer controls doesn’t overwhelm you too much. And that’s a good thing. Sure, you can adjust the mouse DPI (how far it moves across the screen per its physical movement) and have it behave differently. But that’s only ONE factor.
Imagine having multiple OS and products fine-tuning how the cursor feels and having no standards in place when you have to constantly switch between devices, let alone the fact that each of these elements will need to be coded into the UI which will take time and money developing (and breaks the whole notion of it if inconsistently put within an app). The amount of muscle memory needed to re-learn the velocity of the cursor every once in a while should be frightening by its own right. Speaking of adopting this method...
2. It’s yet to be proven effective on professional tools
If you’re willing to switch between precise movement and guided cursor. better nail it right out of the gate when implementing it for our professional software that relies on such complex interfaces.
They were clearly not made with this behaviour in mind and could pose a problem bridging the gap between flexibility and accessibility.
Nevertheless, it’s still an attempt to open the door to new possibilities
Whether or not the new cursor controls are here to stay or just a fun gimmicky feature that we could brush off and pretend it never happened, there’s no denying that the effort Apple put into optimising their experience for UI interfacing on their hardware is not being done haphazardly.
From actually using it myself, I can feel that it’s far from an afterthought, less so just to cater for extra selling points. It strongly shows dedication to retaining its reputation of being ‘user-friendly’ and accessible for both newcomers and power users alike.
Is the new iPadOS pointer hit or miss? That’s for you to decide.