I think Apple could be hailed as the king of user experience (UX). With the release of iOS 4.2, Apple continued to improve the device. The addition of folders, multitasking and quick access to display brightness and volume were welcome additions. Apple did however make one huge blunder in their upgrade to iOS 4.2 – the changing of the toggle switch on the right side of the iPad from ‘orientation lock’ to a ‘system mute switch’ is completely wrong.
I use orientation lock a lot. When I wake up in the morning, I lock my screen so that I can read my e-mail while laying on my side in bed. Many of the documents I receive have some pages in portrait and others in landscape. When I’m drawing in apps, I lock the screen so I can flip it around to get different angles. Having quick access to orientation lock is important.
To lock orientation now, one has to double click the home button twice, slide the bottom menu over to the left, and click the orientation lock button. The major problem with this is that you need to be able to have access to the system to lock it. So if you have having problems viewing the device at the current orientation, you’ll need to manage to unlock the device with a pass code and then navigate to the button.
If you can’t move the device easily it can be difficult to set the lock. My sister uses the iPad an augmentative communication device. Her fine motor skills, arm strength and accuracy to hunt and peck on the iPad are not great. I’d like to think she will be able to find and use the orientation lock button when she upgrades to iOS 4.2, but I have my doubts. Its extremely disappointing that this software upgrade will hinder ability to use the iPad to its fullest potential.
Bottom line: Orientation is a VISUAL problem, and thus if you can’t easily manipulate or see the screen because of its orientation having a physical toggle switch that doesn’t require the user to have a clear view of the screen is essential!
Now lets look at the mute switch… For the record this is a “System and Notifications Mute.” This is not a normal mute, which kills all audio coming from the iPad. If you are watching a YouTube video or playing iTunes, this switch will not silence that audio. The only noise this switch will prevent are notifications from other applications such as the ‘new mail ding’ and ‘ instant message’ noises. That way, if you are watching a movie you won’t be interrupted by other application and system sounds.
I don’t have a problem with this functionality, in fact I think its a necessity with a multitasking device. I do have a problem with the way Apple implemented. Firstly, most people see ‘mute’ and (I believe accurately) assume it will kill all the audio. The icon that shows up when you toggle the system mute toggle switch is a speaker with a slash through. There is nothing in that icon to identify that its not killing all audio. In fact, this new system-mute system is so unintuitive and so poorly communicated by Apple that even their own Genius Bar employees thought this was a mistake.
I upgraded to iOS 4.2 a few weeks back as a developer. I assumed that the reason the mute didn’t work, was because I had a developers version of iOS 4.2. When the real release came out, I upgraded again. The mute button still didn’t silence my iPad, so I took it to the Genius Bar at my local Apple store to get it fixed. The genius bar couldn’t figure out why the switch didn’t silence my iPad, and since I was still under warranty, they sent me home with a brand new iPad.
Let me state that again… Apple technical support sent me home with brand new iPad because they too thought the ‘mute switch’ was designed to silence all audio. Clearly this is not intuitive.
So how do I think this should be fixed? Quite simply really: The functionality of that switch is clearly software related since it changed with a software upgrade. Put the power in the hands of the user and give them the option of setting the toggle switch to “System Sound Mute” or “Orientation Lock”.
Update 1/17/2011: I just installed the iOS 4.3 beta, and the toggle switch can be either orientation lock or system sound mute. THANK YOU APPLE FOR LISTENING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS!