Monday, March 10, 2014

don't be such a state machine

Apple release iOS 7.1 today. The improvement I was most coveting was the return of "list view" to the default calendar app. Folks whose schedule only has a few events per day tend to like having a view where they can see all the events of the next week or so at a glance. iOS 7 had something like this -- if you did a search but didn't enter any search terms -- but it felt odd to navigate that way. (And as we'll discuss, the month view didn't have a list view at all, you had to drill down to a day.)

So Apple dropped the ball, or at least confused the hell out of me. I could only get a "month list" view; a list view of a day's events underneath the month grid. No matter what I tapped or swiped or held, there was no way to see a simple list of events for multiple days. Sites describing the new 7.1 features in detail talked about this view, but getting there proved a mystery!

Similarly, my friend Diane was complaining how the update didn't include a "month list" view. Clicking on a day on the month grid just zoomed in on that day... checking multiple days then required bouncing back and forth.

Finally I figured it out: "You can't theah from heah", as they say in Maine. At least not directly. There are 4 fundamental states to the calendar, but you have to get back to the "plain month" view in order to see them. Here's a diagram that should make things more clear, or confuzzle them completely:

Start in the top left, the "plain month" view. You can click the new toggle at top, and go to a "month plus day list" view, or you can click on a day and get to one of the zoomed in modes. But if you're on the "month plus day list" clicking on a day won't change screens: you'll just change what day you're looking at.  So to get to the zoomed in modes, you MUST got back to the "plain month" view. (And from the "plain month" view, you won't know if you're going to the "zoomed in day" or the "flat list" view... it depends on where you left THAT toggle. That toggle looks similar to the toggle on the month screen, but has fairly different functions (and its icon seems to be recycled from a todo list, but it makes visual sense.))

Like I said, I think this is crazily confusing: the two toggles are just too similar. Also, it seems like the "month plus day list" is semantically closer to the "flat list" view, so having to navigate back to the "plain month" is counter-intuitive. (and Diane proved that it's not obvious that the icons are toggles at all, though I think that's a side effect of flat design without affordances to hint at function)

State machines can be very useful for programmers, but they should be easier for your users to mentally model than this!

Anyway, when I was in semi-despair about having my flat list view, I decided to experiment with alternate calendar apps. One popular one is "Fantastical 2". It's a good app, and has a kind of brilliant plain-text mode for new events (you can type "meet Fred for drinks thursday at 6 PM", or even speak it via Siri, and it does the right thing). But, man, the choice of colors:

The top is ALWAYS flaming baboon-butt-bright red. That's the same color iOS uses to tell you that GarageBand or Voice Memos is still listening. It is a horribly attention-grabbing and inappropriate color to use all the time. (And come to think of it, Siri can do that kind of scheduling on her own. Ah well. Fantastical does some decent "hours of a day" graphing, but I don't care about that. $4 down the drain!)

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