I love natural scrolling in Lion

July 24, 2011 in Technology

I want to add my voice to a (silent?) minority: I love natural scrolling in Lion.

For those readers who aren't yet running Apple's latest OS, scrolling has been reversed in the new software: to scroll down the page, flick your fingers up; to view a panel to the right, drag your fingers left.

It sounds insane when I write it like that, and yet people are using this type of scrolling intuitively, immediately, on their iPhones and iPads. So it can't be that crazy. The motivation lies in the metaphor applied to the scrolling device: on an iOS device, we imagine we are interacting directly with the content. So, if you want to see below the fold, you drag the content up and out of the way. But in their wisdom, the designers of the mouse scroll wheel decided some 20 years ago that the metaphor was brand-spanking-new "window". If you want to see more content below, then you need to scroll the window down.

In the old paradigm, we scroll the window down to move the content up. In the new paradigm, we just move the content up. The new way removes an entire unnecessary abstraction from the interaction process.

I'll admit that I was frustrated with the new setup for a few hours, before my muscle memory updated. Now I'm fine with it. In fact, now I love it -- I feel like I'm more directly interacting with the content on my screen. It is very satisfactory to swipe my browser off to the left and have it replaced by Mail's fullscreen app flying in from the right. Yes, it feels a bit minority report.

But, as I've written at length before, users remain stuck-in-the-mud, unable to adjust to even something as minor as a reversal in scrolling direction. No, instead we have to put up with written-for-the-sake-of-writing nonsense like this (it probably goes without saying that it comes from Business Insider):

Because your computer screen is on a completely different three-dimensional axis as the surface you're touching, "natural scrolling" is jarring.

If the problem were actually that scrolling doesn't work in a different plane from the content, then it wouldn't matter if it was reversed or not. It wouldn't work in any direction! Quite plainly, in this writer's mind, working in a different three-dimensional axis is actually completely fine as long as it is arbitrarily oriented in a manner to which he is accustomed. But swap that orientation and suddenly his "hands are manipulating a space that doesn't mentally signify what's happening on another plane."

He continues:

So, natural scrolling is logical, but can we re-train our brains to get used to it while we're trying to scroll vertically? I felt helpless as I tried to adjust, and I'm a young guy with a pliable mind. I'm not stubborn.

Allow me to suggest that if natural scrolling leaves you helpless, you may want to consider a career outside the fast moving world of technology. It's hardly the most jarring change we've experienced in the last two decades, but for the most part we all seem to be doing just fine. There was a time, not long ago, when Apple was frequently accused of leaving the training wheels on too long and alienating power users. Now it seems the opposite is true - O cruel Apple, won't you think of the reverse scrollers?

If you are truly worried about your brain's ability to learn a new direction in which to move your fingers, Apple provides an option to turn natural scrolling off. It's quite painless - a simple checkbox on the trackpad preference. Click it, and enjoy your preserved sense of sanity. Just don't bother the rest of us anymore.

(Addendum: I've been switching between Lion and Snow Leopard machines all morning, scrolling on each one with no problems or false starts whatsoever. I don't know whether to be more impressed by my brain's apparently unique ability to handle this extraordinarily complex three-dimensional conflation, or more disappointed with the blogosphere's continued march toward "post first, think later" updates.)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: