Archive for the ‘Various Frustrations’ Category

Dropbox’s very bad not okay UX on iOS

Consider this question for a second: why do people own Dropbox? So they can put stuff into it and grab stuff out. Sure, there are other features but that mission statement pretty much the bottom line for iOS use. So why is Dropbox’s iOS client so horrible?

Start with the main menu bar. After selecting an item that you want to open in another app, which of these icons do you tap? The garbage one is clearly wrong, but the ellipsis is a very muddy choice. This should obviously use the (user-facing) share/(developer-facing) actions icon instead.

Apple’s design team agrees.

Once tapped, what’s the next step for “Open in”? Move and copy make sense but you have to tap “Export”, which finally uses the actions icon to give the hint that you want to open the selected file in another application. Bad naming, although it does appear properly as the first action.

Once tapped, you next have to find “Open In”. I have a couple of blockers installed (which shouldn’t even appear in this action sheet), so you have to scroll right to find the right icon.

It’s only after I scroll right that I finally locate “Open In” and can start the progress of opening my file in an appropriate application.

To summarize:

  • The ellipsis is a bad choice. It should be the Action/Share icon and it should directly open the Action Sheet.
  • Rename and Move should be placed into a separate “File actions” menu, along with discard (the trash can). They don’t belong grouped with the Action/Share sheet, which has a specific and conventional meaning in iOS.
  • The app should use care, especially with known file extensions, to limit the options presented in the sheet. “Open In” should be about the only choice for an epub extension file, and the other actions should be constrained to the invoked context.
  • Dropbox made me sad.

Holy War: Why I utterly loathe the new app switcher in iOS 11

Under iOS 10, you could switch between apps or remove an app from the “recent list” by following these simple steps:

  1. Double-click the Home button to see recently used apps.
  2. Swipe left or right to find the app that you want to use.
  3. Tap the app or swipe upwards to quit/remove it from the list.

  • Each page was  clear and easy to identify. The app name and icon appeared on top.
  • The nearly full size rolodex presentation ensured that users with poor eyesight could easily identify each app.
  • The swipe area to select or remove an app was large, supporting users with a wide range of dexterity skills and motor limitations.

It was a great system that worked well.

In iOS 11, Apple redesigned. It decided to combine this recently used apps list with the control center, so that you could put as much information on-screen at once as possible. This produced an interface with teeny tiny images, and lots of user confusion overload.

In other words, in the current beta and the presentation at WWDC, they espoused a system that is best used by nimble millenials who unlike most every fidget-spinner-ing millenial I have ever met, would not be overwhelmed by sensory overload when presented with far too much information on a single screen.

In my opinion, this new design doesn’t work for the young, the old, the millenial, the seasoned pro, the able, the dis, the hawkeyed, or the near blind. Apple basically disregarded every rule of human usability and thrown it all together into a jumbled disorganized mess:

Compare this screen, with its dock, its windows, and its nearly two dozen control affordances to the iOS 10 version.  It’s a big jumbled insane mishmash of a UI design mess.

The controls in particular are unlabeled. Consider the timer, alarm, and stopwatch icons. They’re nearly identical and randomly scattered. And I can’t for the life of me remember what the dot is to the right of the camera.

As I constantly harp on about, a key factor in enhancing usability is to prioritize recognition over recall. As much as the Apple engineers have aimed to make all the buttons recognizable, they really aren’t.

You have to remember what a lot of these items do: the man in a circle, the magnifying glass, the three different clock faces, etc. You must further remember what happens when you tap and hold these as several of these items have secondary panels with embedded controls beneath them.

This 3-in-1 design breaks George A. Miller’s basic rule of working memory. Miller’s rule argues that you should not present the user with an overwhelming number of interactive items at once. The user cannot effectively remember and strategize interactions when shown more than seven or nine items at a single time. It’s as if Apple didn’t bother passing this screen through a usability evaluation process.

Working memory is not all that’s wrong with this design. In iOS 10, you just tapped or swiped up to manage apps. Those are both relatively large motor functions that require little fine control. That makes them an excellent match for a wide range of user ages and abilities. (Plus the pictures are all big and easy to recognize!)

Compare with iOS 11. To remove an app from the recents list, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Enter the control center. (In an improvement over iOS 10, this can be done with double tap, even if you’ve disabled swipe-up for the control center.)
  2. Swipe left and right to locate the app of interest.
  3. Tap and hold any app screen until the “X” buttons appear (and, maddeningly, the icons and app names disappear). This wait is short but frustrating.
  4. Tap exactly on the “X” to dismiss any app. This usually takes me upwards of three or four tries because the “X” is so small, my coordination is bad, and apparently I may need to re-align my touches with the OS.

In the end, the new control center a big giant mess trying to do too much in a massive design mishmash. I wish Apple would go back to its original design, although I wouldn’t mind some way to access the control center from the App Switcher.

Update: Oh you have to be kidding me:

If you like my posts and you want to say thanks for helping to prevent the meltdown of global civilization (“But if I’m right, and we can swap out that screen shot… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters”), consider buying a book.  Save the Turtle, save the World. Choose the form of your Constructor. Thanks, all!

The problem with Swift Playground localization

Starting in Swift Playgrounds 2, you can now use localized strings to guide the narration of your interactive lessons. As the screenshot above demonstrates, you can used localizable markup to provide the most appropriate text for titles, introductory text, and feedback.

However, what you can’t do is localize Swift members. Your French and Chinese consumers must tell Byte to moveForward(), not avancer() or 向前移动().

One of the guiding principles of the Swift language is demonstrated in its embrace of unicode for identifier symbols. This approach accommodates programmers and programming styles from many languages and cultures.

Xcode 9 has introduced major advances in code refactoring. It seems an obvious win to allow that technology to be applied to Swift Playgrounds 2, enabling identifier localization.

That’s because identifiers play such a key role in Swift Playgrounds. Unlike standard development tasks, where it’s unnecessary to create idiomatic APIs like IUContrôleurDeNavigation, the point of Swift Playgrounds is to teach and instruct. It uses small, limited, controlled API exposure, nearly all custom and supporting of the teaching story.

The anthropomorphized Byte character acts as a stand-in for the learner coder. And in doing so, it should communicate with commands that this coder identifies with, turnLeft and moveForward, not incomprehensibleForeignPhrase1 and evenMoreConfusingForeignPhrase2.

I think this is an opportunity waiting to happen, and I can’t imagine it would be all that hard to implement given the expansive identifier suite and the limited API visibility presented in a typical playgroundBook.

What do you think? Is it too much to ask for a localizable.Members.plist?

Bug reporter complaints

I wasn’t part of the bug reporter preview but having used it today, I’ve got to say that I am not a huge fan of the updated interface. It may be pretty, but for me it’s harder to use. I’d rather see icons and names at the start of the entry screen than scroll through three pages of iconless text (and their subtables) as I try to recognize the phrase that best matches my issue.

It’s funny because this design is a clearly cognitive mismatch between how I used to find the right items, which was just a matter of a single-screen scan, and trying to construct or detect the right verbal phrase that now matches the target issue. The new system is hitting the wrong part of my brain.

If you look at it, it’s laid out very nicely, with big clear areas to enter text and the “drop a screenshot” system is vastly improved over the old system. (Nice job there!) I like the font choices, can live with the sickly purple, and a lot of thought has gone into streamlining issue entry.

That said, the whitespace feels like there’s too much there, the left-to-right range of field width is too hard to scan to review the information you’ve entered, and as I mentioned before, the ‘What are you seeing an issue with?” tables are a little too much for me to process.

If I were to redesign it, I’d:

  • Change the wording to be more business-like: “Classify this issue:”, not “How would you classify this issue?”. “Affected Product or Area”, not “What are you seeing an issue with?”. “Bug or Suggestion”, not “What kind of issue are you reporting” (with the bias being towards ‘bug’, since that’s the primary purpose of the tool.) “Reproducing the issue”, not “What steps can we take to reproduce this issue”, and so forth.
  • In the prompt text, I’d eliminate weasel words. “Step-by-step instructions to reproduce this problem”, not “Please provide a step-by-step set of instructions to reproduce the problem (if possible).”
  • I’d cut back massively on the vertical whitespace, allowing more of the report to be seen at once. There’s just too much floaty gray for my taste.
  • I’d apply one of the “optimal line length” studies, which suggests anywhere between 50 and 75 characters per line for text (which is most of what this tool provides) and 80-160 characters for code entry. (I’d also consider a code-specific “related code” field.) The current width is about 98 characters if I counted correctly. It is very hard to track from the right back to the left while maintaining vertical positioning.
  • I’d explicitly mention Markdown/Common Mark support for bullets and numbering, as well as other markup.
  • I’d change the Suggestion/Bug toggle into either a radio control or a visual toggle with Bug, which should be to the left, pre-selected.
  • I’d massively increase the size of the “Cancel/Save/Submit” buttons and move them from the bottom bar to the main field under attachments.
  • Finally, I’d add a specific call out on completion. Thank the developer for taking time from their busy workday and express appreciation for participating in the radar process. Enroll them either in a rewards-for-radars program or a random giftcard giveaway for the month. It’s a small price to sweeten that “Radar or GTFO” message and it lowers frustration of typing into a big, faceless, low-feedback system.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Xcode Autocomplete Frustrations

A year after it debuted, Xcode’s enhanced autocomplete features continue to struggle with overly liberal matches:

In this example, several of the matching text results display few commonalities with my search phrase . There’s really no reason that “fatale” should match CFDataGetLength(theData: CFData!).

It shouldn’t be hard to create heuristics that count the number of matched chunks, their distance from each other, to build a score related to whether the match is chunky (a good thing for keywords) and singular (another good thing for discerning developer intent).

Successful autocompletion promotes good matches and discards inappropriate ones. “upper” should score high on CFStringUppercase and low on CGScreenUpdateOperation and CSSMERR_TP_INVALID_CERTGROUP_POINTER.

That’s not the only problem with autocomplete. Image literal completion is a big problem. Xcode often prioritizes images over code APIs. When starting to type “picker”, Xcode should not suggest “picture-of-lovely-cat”. Here are some real world examples of this issue:

One developer told me that while typing in for closures, that eighty percent of the time, he gets a random autocompleted image literal instead of the keyword he’s shooting for:

Surely, this is an obvious place to introduce autocomplete preferences that allow you to exclude literals from the API list. The auto complete for image literals should act more like colors, offering an Image Literal entry point to a image picker instead of clogging the API name space:

It would certainly get rid of those inappropriate in matches.

Thanks Olivier Halligon, Andrew Campoli, and everyone else who gave me feedback and direction for this post.

Grepping for parentheses

Just because I had to do this today and thought I’d share. Either use the -E option, for example,

grep -E "let \(" */*.swift

or use egrep directly:

egrep "let \(" */*.swift

Both egrep and grep -E use extended regular expressions, allowing you to use a simple backslash rather than trying to get your shell to cooperate with hyper-escaping. You can use the same approach with sed as well:

echo "(hi)" | sed -E "s/\(/[/"

I hope this helps someone.

Swift Terms: arguments, parameters, and labels

Help me refine some terminology.

Start with this code snippet:

func foo(with a: Int) -> Int { return a }

You use arguments at call sites and parameters in declarations. This example function defines one parameter that accepts one argument from the call site, e.g. foo(with: 2). 

Apple’s Swift Programming Language book uses this approach:

Use func to declare a function. Call a function by following its name with a list of arguments in parentheses. Use -> to separate the parameter names and types from the function’s return type.

The mighty Wikipedia writes:

The term parameter (sometimes called formal parameter) is often used to refer to the variable as found in the function definition, while argument (sometimes called actual parameter) refers to the actual input passed.

The Swift grammar lays out the external and local differentiation available to parameter declarations:

parameter → external-parameter-name local-parameter-name type-annotation default-argument-clause

Like Apple, I use label instead of name to refer to a parameter’s API-facing component outside of the grammar. The Swift Programming Languages refers to these as a custom argument label, naming it from the consumption POV. Apple writes:

By default, functions use their parameter names as labels for their arguments. Write a custom argument label before the parameter name, or write _ to use no argument label.

I generally call it a label or an external label instead. I often use parameter here (external parameter label, for example), especially when talking about the declaration. I don’t think there’s any real harm in doing so.

In this example, the parameter’s local or internal name is a. Some developers also call it the local or internal variable name. I find that word overloaded in meaning. Swift differentiates constants and variables and does not permit variables in function signatures.

I don’t have any problem calling it an internal argument name either because it’s the name given to the argument passed to the function or method. This seems slightly out of sync with SPL standards and practices. What do you think?

How To: Finding your iTunes Connect Vendor ID number

Apple sent me an email:

Apple was recently notified that your bank account information has been manually corrected by the processing bank for iTunes payments to vendor [my personal vendor id number]. Unfortunately Apple cannot continue processing payments with the current banking details provided in iTunes Connect. To avoid unnecessary payment delays or returns, please log into iTunes Connect and provide the correct account information in Agreements, Tax, and Banking. For instructions on how to update banking, see ‘How do I add or edit a new bank account?’ in iTunes Connect Resources and Help. After the banking changes have been entered in our systems, payments will resume.

Oh shiny.

I pull out my latest statement and off I go to update my details. Here’s my problem. I don’t know which vendor account Apple is referring to. Like many developers, I use multiple iTC accounts. When I log into each one, I cannot find the vendor ID. Argh.

To save you lots of time, do this:

  • Log into any iTC account.
  • Manually navigate to
  • The vendor ID is listed next to your name. You should not have to re-authenticate when hopping from iTC to this page.

This helped me figure out which affected account was being referred to in the email and was able to update my info.

To update a direct deposit routing number, you need to hop into Agreements, Tax, and Banking. Click on the Bank Info > View button. You cannot edit the routing number in your existing Current Bank Account. Instead you need to Add Bank Account with the same details and the new routing number and then select that as your new account. Once you do it will take 24-48 hours for the change to go through and you will not be able to make further edits during that time.

Bridging Swift Generics with Darwin Calls

Seth Willits was working on an interpolation protocol that would allow conforming constructs to interpolate from one value to another, regardless of their underlying types. It needed to work for CGFloat as well as Double, and be decomposable and useful for CGPoint and CGRect as well as any custom Swift Polygon struct.

This created interesting challenges, as some of the most fundamental animation curves use exponentiation, which is not built into the Swift standard library. So I turned to pow, which is only defined for float and double:

public func powf(_: Float, _: Float) -> Float
public func pow(_: Double, _: Double) -> Double

In the past, I’ve created horrible bridging solution that permits migration from most floating point values to double. It’s not beautiful but I decided to pull it out from my toolkit and introduce it to this problem.

What I did was to build an extension on BinaryFloatingPoint that returned an interpolated value along a styled curve. My hack let me create a single interpolate method that applied across floating-point. I bridged to Double to use the Darwin pow function:

There’s an interesting CGFloat bug in play here, where the value history does not display as a graph but the numbers are right and work properly during animation.

Here’s the code. Shout out your improvements and alternatives.

MacBook Pros and External Displays

Today, I hooked a newly purchased display to my MBP. (Looks like they’re out of stock right now, but it was $80 for 24″ when I bought it last week.) This isn’t intended to be my display. It’s replacing an old 14″ monitor for a kid. I thought I’d just steal it now and then during the day. It’s extremely lightweight and easy to move between rooms.

What I didn’t expect was how awful the text looked on it. I hooked up the monitor to the MBP using my Apple TV HDMI cable. The text was unreadable. I use similar TV-style monitors for my main system and they display text just fine. However, I’m using normal display ports and cables for my mini. This is the first time I’ve gone HDMI direct.

So off to websearch I went. Sure enough this is a known longstanding problem that many people have dealt with before. The MBP sees the TV as a TV and not a monitor. It produces a YUV signal instead of the RGB signal that improves text crispness. Pictures look pretty, text looks bad.

All the searches lead to this ruby script. The script builds a display override file containing a vendor and product ID with 4:4:4 RGB color support. The trick lies in getting macOS to install, read, and use it properly. That’s because you can’t install the file directly to /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides/ in modern macOS. Instead, you have to disable “rootless”.

I wasn’t really happy about going into recovery mode. Disabling system integrity protection feels like overkill for a simple display issue. But it  worked.  It really only took a few minutes to resolve once I convinced myself it was worth doing. If you have any warnings and cautions about installing custom display overrides, please let me know. It  feels like I did something morally wrong even if it did fix my problem.

My external display went from being unusable to merely imperfect. The text is still a bit blurry but you can read it without inducing a migraine. Not nearly as crisp as normal display ports (which looks fine when used with this monitor) but I don’t have to buy a new cable and I don’t plan to use this much.

If I were going to use this monitor regularly with the MBP, I’d definitely purchase a proper cable. As it is, I’m happy enough to have found a workable-ish solution. The monitor is quite nice especially in “shop mode”, and has so far worked well with Chromecast, AppleTV, and Wii.