Future products are not a good excuse for bad UI today

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 2 min read

User interfaces are usually quite subjective, so there is always room for debate over how good or bad something is. I'm always happy to argue the merits and potential reasons a change makes sense overall even if it doesn't work for me personally.

However, there is one line of reasoning that I wish to catapult straight into the sun: "well, maybe Apple is preparing for a new device and this will make sense then."

No, I'm sorry, get that right the hell out of here.

At a very basic level, it's a pretty bad explanation to say that because something you need to buy in the future may exist, your experience on the device you've already bought must get worse. "Sure, this makes your experience worse, but the good news is Apple has a new $1,000 device coming one day that you can buy to improve the issue they created."

No, just no.

Furthermore, I struggle to think about a change that people thought was questionable at the time but then became super clear once new hardware was released. A few times I've been told this in the last couple years include:

  1. This week I talked about how I, and many other people, didn't feel like the new watchOS button behaviors are intuitive (even after using them for 3 months). "Maybe it will make sense with a new watch that has different button layouts."
  2. Early in the watchOS 10 beta I mentioned that the buttons at the end of a workout were shuffled around from how they had always been and that ending a workout took more taps than before. "Maybe it will make sense when we see the new watches in September and they have a new feature."
  3. A few years back Apple made it so that when you scanned a QR code with the Camera app, the button to go to that link would stick to the QR code in the viewfinder, which often meant it was moving all over the screen and was hard to hit with your finger. "This will make more sense when they have a mixed reality headset."
  4. Around that same time, Apple infamously redesigned Safari and we had the summer of "OMG SAFARI IS SO BAD." Much of the concern was around the address bad losing functions and hovering on top of content, but there were people saying that this UI will make sense when there was an AR headset.

I'm sure there are more, but these were what came to mind first and I think communicate the type of conversation I'm talking about.

We don't know about the first one, but the other three have absolutely not come to pass. The Series 9 and Ultra 2 Apple Watches added no functions to the Workout app and the UI is identical to the other models, Apple reverted the QR code UI less than a year after rolling it out and changed Safari for the better, and the Vision Pro doesn't seem to use this UI for QR codes at all, while it's Safari UI looks much more like the desktop Safari UI rather than those Safari betas.

Let me know on Mastodon if you can think of a UI change that seemed bad or at least controversial at first, but became more clear when new hardware came out soon afterwards, because I genuinely can't think of anything.

The closest I can think of is when they rolled out autolayout for iOS developers and then released bigger screen sizes with different aspect ratios soon afterwards. That's not really the thing I'm talking about though, as that was a developer feature, not something that made the user experience worse.