It seems like almost everything Apple does these days leads to a heated discussion. The iPhone 4’s antenna. The Mac App Store. Now the screen orientation lock / mute button on the iPad.
OK, I’m game.
Regarding Apple’s recent decision to turn the hardware switch above the volume rocker on the iPad from a screen orientation lock into a mute switch:
I think it’s stupid.
Wanting to mute an iPhone is a much likelier event than wanting to mute an iPad.
Because a mobile phone tends to ring in situations where it’s inconvenient, so it’s good design to be able to mute it with a hardware button instead of having to fiddle with a software solution. In the same way, wanting to mute an iPad is, compared to an iPhone, a rather rare event, but the iPad being the great ebook reader it is, being able to lock screen orientation with a hardware button is great design because it’s an often-required feature when reading an ebook.
Some people are arguing that turning the switch into a mute button is the right choice because it’s consistent across devices. The switch on the iPhone is a mute button, so the same switch on the iPad should have the same behaviour, right?
Wrong. That’s saying a lever or switch should always do the same thing, no matter what machine or device it’s attached to. Isn’t the whole idea of design to make things so that they work best when used in the way they where designed to be used?
That, in my mind, is the core issue: The iPhone and the iPad are being used in very different situations and contexts, and that should warrant different behaviours. An iPhone isn’t an iPad. An iPhone is a mobile communication device while an iPad is a combined ebook reader, gaming device, web browser and more. Sure, both devices can be used in more or less similar ways, but how people are actually using them is what counts. And I’d bet that more people are using the iPad as an ebook reader than the iPhone. And for an ebook reader a hardware orientation lock makes a lot of sense.
It all comes down to this:
Are you going to design your devices for the best user experience for their most common uses, or are you so vain about your product line that you have to make everything as consistent as possible, regardless of how your customers actually use the product?
Some people are pointing out that what makes the hardware switch on the iPad even less logical as a mute switch is the fact that pressing and holding the volume rocker switch down duplicates the mute functionality. That’s the way it behaves now, but I bet Apple will change that switch’s function in the final release of iOS 4.2 to how it works on the iPhone — to incrementally lower the volume without the mute “jump”;
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