Aug 052011

Unlearning is hard. I noticed it myself when I upgraded (clean install, ahem) to Lion over the last weekend. I used the whole weekend my Mac Mini with Lion and no other computer. It took these 2-3 days to get used to the “natural” scrolling in Lion.

The strange thing happened on Monday: When I scrolled on my work computer (with Windows using scroll wheel), I really felt that the text moved in the ‘wrong’ direction – unnaturally.

Browse through Apple discussion fora and you will see people complaining that “Scroll goes the wrong way in Lion” and how to ‘fix’ it.

Why does Apple consider it ‘natural’, when it is the opposite of how it is done in all graphical user interfaces so far – including Mac OS X? They must be wrong, right?

First of all, plenty user interfaces nowadays provide scrolling exactly this way. You do it all the time when you use an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Android and – I guess – other smart phones. And that felt naturally, right? And you did not get confused with what you do on your phone and on your computer, because it was a different context.

These touch interfaces have been leveraged to make more ‘natural user interfaces‘ – as some boldly call it. Some might claim the breakthrough started with the multi-touch interface a guy in black shirt and jeans presented on-stage in 2006.

But why do GUIs use the other direction in the first place? Well, originally you did not move the content itself up, but you moved the ‘bar’ (or thumb) in the scrollbar down. Originally, graphical user interfaces were limited to what you can do with point, click and drag using a traditional computer mouse. Particular GUI objects, such as scrollbars, are used to allow specific user actions.

However, the scrollbar has been no longer essential to provide the user action since the introduction of the scroll wheel. Apple has continued this by making multi-touch devices ubiquitous with their computers with Magic Mouse and Magic addition to the multi-touch pad in their MacBook notebooks.

Apple’s “Back to the Mac” push with Lion evolves the OS X user interface away from a traditional GUI. The switch of the scroll direction makes it consistent with iOS, more intuitive for complete novices and permits to completely remove the scrollbar as an actionable object.

So don’t simply fix the ‘wrong’ scroll direction in Lion. Rather unlearn an outdated concept and I am sure you will find the new way completely intuitive after a few days. Enjoy!

  One Response to “Up or down? Scrolling on OS X Lion”

  1. I feel that since there is a layer of abstraction (the mouse) between the user and the content that the scrolling should be as it has been for years on the computer but if there isn’t a layer of abstraction such as on an iPhone or iPad that since the user is interacting directly with the content that it should be reversed since when you have a piece of paper in front of you and you move it up then you see the content lower down the page.