A Collection of Random Irritants

May 25th, 2012

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that more and more sites inflict loud videos on you within seconds after their home page displays. Some bury the unwanted videos in a subsection, such as the Cars area of the Los Angeles Times, which is sponsored by the cars.com automotive site. Worse, the videos aren’t always visible, so turning them off is a non-starter. Even if I wanted to hear that nonsense, I shouldn’t have to go and search for the player so I can click Stop.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon is especially common on a number of financial sites, but at least there’s usually a YouTube-style embedded player window that I can switch off. But inflicting such unwanted noise on visitors to someone’s site is a huge turn-off. Silent animations are one thing, and don’t tell me just to turn down the volume control on my Mac. For me, those noisy interruptions can happen at times when the audio levels are set to record an interview for one of my radio shows. I will often go online to do a little extra research as a guest is speaking, and visiting the “wrong” site can bring unintended consequences.

I also have to wonder what the designers of those sites were thinking. Maybe they hope to suck you in with some sort of promotion from one of their advertisers. They have the right to make a living, but annoying customers isn’t going to make them feel warm and fuzzy about someone’s product or service.

But I’m only getting started. On my iPhone, I’m still hoping for some sadly needed iOS fixes. Maybe I’ll have good news for iOS 6. Meantime, there is the inability to add extra signatures to the email system. Yes, I’ve tried an app that promises to do that, Quick Sig, which, at 99 cents, is certainly a decent value. But it’s also buggy, and has a nasty habit of turning my multiline signatures into a single line entry.

Being able to bounce back to the last-selected bookmark in Safari would be helpful. Yes, that feature soft of works for a short time if you visit a site, and return right away to the bookmarks list to check the next site. But after a while, the display jumps right back to the beginning, so you’re forced to scroll through what might be a long list to locate the entry you wanted, and you shouldn’t have to perform a search. I see this problem on both an iPhone 4s and third generation iPad, so I’ll have to assume it’s Apple’s fault.

Speaking of the iPad, one of the recent wish list items for iOS 6 is the ability to work in more than one app at the same time, and not be saddled with the limited multitasking scheme that Apple devised. Having multiple windows open in a word processing app, such as Pages, is still a good thing.

Remember that the iPad’s 9.7-inch display is not so dissimilar in size compared with the earliest PowerBooks, where you could certainly run as many apps as you want. Sure the iPad is severely constrained when it comes to memory usage, and that might be a large reason why you wouldn’t want too many apps to be fully loaded, as opposed to sitting idle in the background when not selected. But if the iPad is meant to serve, in part, as a consumption device, you’d think Apple would be working on a solution for this dilemma. Or maybe they aren’t taking it seriously yet.

A larger issue on the iOS might be better app interface consistency. You want to know that the swipes and taps deliver consistent results. Some apps do put up an illustration showing how things operate on first launch, but if there’s no help option, those directions may be lost to the dark recesses of your memory.

That takes us to the larger issue of help systems. The one for OS X sucks rocks. When you invoke Help on the desktop or in an app, there’s an annoying delay as information is retrieved. Apple will rely not just on help files stored on your Mac, but online as well. If you have a slow connection, no connection, or a large amount of data has to be retrieved, you just wait.

But the real issue is whether the delivery of instructional information is truly helpful. For the most part, the text comes across as similar to a regular computer instruction book, though not quite at the “Dummies” level. I’m not so much a fan of text that’s dark gray rather than black. That also hurts readability. All right, you can make the text larger when you click on the gearbox at the the top of a Help window, but the “Show” and Hide” links remain small as ever.

The key question, however, is whether the Help menu is really getting the job done. It doesn’t reveal much imagination, or make much of an effort to enhance the ability of, say, a new Mac user to figure out things really fast. After giving up on the infamous Balloon Help in the Mac OS years ago, it’s not as if Apple has really devised anything altogether new. Here the Mac and Windows help systems are both serviceable, but not much more.

And it’s not as if the situation is any better in Mountain Lion, unless Apple is making some big changes that developer’s have yet to discover.

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7 Responses to “A Collection of Random Irritants”

  1. dfs says:

    A number of my current pet peeves deal with the Apple Store. First, let’s say the last twenty purchases I’ve made from the iTunes store have all been music Beethoven. So why do I get a steady stream of e-mails from Apples pushing stuff like Lady Gaga’s latest album? Same with the screen display when I visit the Store online. And pretty much the same thing happens with iBooks. Amazon has a fairly good algorhythm for tracking my purchases, figuring out my tastes and interests, and making recommendations I might conceivably find interesting. And Netflix does a far better algorhythm for figuring out my movie-watching preferences. Here’s an area where the Store falls absolutely flat. At the same time it annoys me and must be costing Apple a bundle in lost sales.

    That’s one. Another: why is updating software I’ve already purchased so difficult. If I visit the page for something I want to update I am merely told I already have the item in question. So I have to manually put the version I already have in the Trash before the updated version becomes accessible for downloading. Booooo.

    Third, I’ve been a shareware junkie for a long time, and I’ve always thought that the great thing about shareware is the availability of demos. Sometimes I have tried out something that caught my eye and decided I didn’t want it. Other times I’ve been so bowled over by a demo that I’ve bought something I might have passed on otherwise. I. m. h. o. the unavailability of demos on the Store is killing the entire idea of shareware.

  2. immovableobject says:

    Maybe its just me , but one of my longstanding pet peeves is the inability to have the dock stay hidden. It’s just too easy to inadvertently gently graze the edge of the screen with the cursor and have the dock eagerly slide into view. For similar reasons I dislike and don’t use hot corners. These problems could be reduced if activation required striking the screen edge with some threshold velocity. Another possibility for more positive activation would be to require an actual click in addition to positioning the cursor at the hot corner or edge.

    Another issue is gestures. I have a magic trackpad. Maybe I’m a klutz, but I’m always using too many or too few fingers so the screen goes nuts (navigating forward and back, changing desktops, opening mission control, etc.) when alI want to do is scroll a window. Too much finesse is required.

    On the iPhone, I have jillions of apps installed and can’t always remember where I put them or what their names are. Why is there no simple list view of installed applications so that I can just pick the one I want?

    Ever try to play or pause the top voicemail but hit the Greeting button by accident? It happens to me a lot. The spacing too close.

    Regarding your complaints about Apple Help, I agree with most of them. However you CAN increase the text size as you would in Safari by using the “Command +” keyboard shortcut. Font size adjustment also appears in the Help window toolbar’s “Gear button” dropdown menu.

  3. dfs says:

    Yes, I agree. I keep my Dock hidden and about 100 times a day manage to graze the bottom edge of my screen, accidentally bringing it up. Back before OSX there used to be a third-party version called A-Dock which had a user-defined minimum time the cursor had to be in contact with the edge before the dock-raising mechanism would be activated, and I don’t see why Apple can’t copy that feature. Then too there’s this irritant: you size Window A the way you want it, show or hide the toolbar and sidebar. Then you close it and open Window B, set up differently. Then you close it and reopen Window A, and find it has forgotten its original settings and now displays the settings of Window B. This has been the way OSX has handled always handled windows, and I can’t decide whether it’s a long-standing bug or just poor design. You should be able to lock the settings of your individual windows. And then there’s the business of the random order in which non-Apple icons appear in the menu bar. Determining the order in which third-party software loads doesn’t appear to do an adequate job of controlling this. Yes, there is a good deal that Apple could do to make its OSX interface more user–friendly.

  4. Rod says:

    Having migrated from NeXTSTEP (not the early Mac System OSes) to Mac OS X, I have my Dock on the right side, thereby eliminating the possibility of accidentally causing the unhiding the Dock when moving my mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen (usually to use the resize window thing).

    I have experienced the problem that you mention when assisting other users whose Dock is on the bottom of the screen or when first setting up a computer, before moving the Dock location, which is now one of the first things that I do (as a the only IT guy in my college department). The resent ability to resize windows from any edge fixes most of the accidental unhiding, so I find that the problem occurs far less often than in earlier versions of Mac OS X.

    I would not be in favor of a prolonged delay before the Dock un-hid, as I prefer response to my intentions.

  5. immovableobject says:

    Rod, I’m glad the right side dock works for you, but I tried it and found that I still tended to activate it unintentionally when operating the vertical scroll bars which of course are adjacent the right screen edge when windows are expanded to maximum size.

    Now that Apple seems to be deprecating scroll bars in Lion, this would probably be less of an issue. Nevertheless, I don’t understand why in over a decade, they never addressed what has obviously been a problem for a lot of people.

    I could go on about what an abomination the dock is in terms of being inconsistent and overloaded with functionality, much of it not easily discoverable, while the Apple menu (which pre-OS X was very useful) now languishes.

    There is no question that OS X saved the Mac by providing sorely needed stability (via protected memory and preemptive multitasking), but much of the Mac’s deep UI advantage (discoverability and consistency) was abandoned while emphasis was put toward gratuitous graphical eye candy.

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