- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

A Collection of Random Irritants

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.