Smartphones and touchscreens are great, aren't they? You can sweep and swipe and tap and pinch and a whole load of other things you can do to the world around you (and even the people in it, if you have permission), but all in a pretend space where the laws of physics are copied with seeming accuracy.
But who said we should all prefer simple, boring, everyday familiarity in the UI of our gadgets? Why do we want to flick-scroll a list of apps on the phone and watch the menu gently decelerate, or slide the virtual cover off our keypad to allow us to make a call? Should we really be so restrictively bound by the Newtonian framework of our own reality just to feel like we're "connecting" with technology?
I blame Apple. I blame Apple for most things: hurricanes in Japan, bird flu epidemics, iTunes. Some accusations are reasonable, others less so: iTunes was originally a third-party product called SoundJam MP that Apple acquired in 2000.
But in the case of today's smartphone UIs, it's actually less Apple's exclusive fault and more everybody else's flat refusal to do something new and original, lest they fail somehow to keep up with an assumed status quo.
Would Samsung be in half as much trouble when the patent lawyers came to call if it hadn't - let's face it - "borrowed" a goodly amount of Apple UI ideas? Pinch to zoom and swipe were the main offenders. HTC even got hit for "swipe to unlock". In a way, you can't blame these companies' designers; when you're fixated on copying real life, there's only a certain number of things that a) exist and b) transcribe well to a smartphone.
"What's the solution, then?" you're probably asking. I don't have one. That's why I'm a technology journalist and not an obscenely rich mobile UI designer. But would stepping back a bit and employing a little whimsy really hurt anyone? It would certainly stop a few people being sued, that's for sure.
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