Safari 4 Beta and why I think “Mac Tablet” rumors are BS.

Usually I use this blog as a place to show work to friends an family. But today, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking a lot about, most recently with the release of Safari 4 Beta – input devices. You’ll see why in a minute.

Most input-devices are “move, stop, click”. When you use a mouse, you move the mouse to move the cursor. When the cursor is in the appropraite location, you stop moving the mouse and click with your finger. In most situations, there is enough friction between the mouse surface and the table surface to stop the click-action from moving the cursor. When you use a trackpad, you drag your finger across the surface to move the cursor, pick your finger up and click with your thumb. Again, no cursor movement is caused by the click event.

However, I use a Cintiq as my primary input device, which is basically a 21 inch monitor plus a pen device. The Cintiq basically works like this: In order to move the cursor, you hover the tip of the pen over the surface of the screen and move the pen to where you want the cursor to be. To “click”, you tap on the screen. To “double-click”, you double-tap on the screen. Since you have to physically move the pen closer to the screen in order to click, there is invariably a small amount of cursor movement, as your hand can’t move perfectly in the Z-direction (Z-direction being closer to the screen). Finder is very forgiving of these small movements. Using a pen device, it is incredibly easy to double-click on a file on your Desktop instead of moving it around physically. In Safari 3, with it’s “deep button tabs” as I like to call them (because they’re basically little inset buttons that you click), I could easily select tabs using the pen – they as well were completely forgiving of these small cursor movements. I think this is partly because the tabs were set further below the top of the window, which is where most users click & drag to move windows.

I just upgraded to to Safari 4, and thank God for John Gruber publishing this link about Safari’s hidden preferences, because I had to immediately switch back to the old-style tabs. Yes, I wussed out quickly, which is a shame because I actually like how the tabs work conceptually and graphically. However, it’s near-impossible for me to select a different tab using the pen – there is just too much hand & cursor movement involved in clicking with the pen, and Safari 4 is too unforgiving.

With the new-style tabs, the process goes like this: I’m drawing in Photoshop. I need to flick back to a different Safari tab because the image of a ram I’m using for reference was in a different tab. I click on a new tab to select it. It doesn’t work; in the process of clicking, I’ve moved the cursor too much, so the cursor movement is interpreted as a “move window” event. So I try again a second time, but I try it too quickly. OS X interprets it as a double-click event and the window is minimized. I have to take another 2 seconds to un-minimize the window, put down the pen, switch my hands over to the keyboard and hit “Cmd-Shift-RightArrow” to manually switch to a different tab, pick the pen back up, “Cmd-Tab” back to Photoshop with my left hand, and start drawing. By then, my creative flow is broken and it takes another 30 seconds to get back in. Plus I’ve been annoyed by the OS I’m so used to loving.

I can understand the desire to conserve space by moving tabs to the top of the window. I can also understand the desire to conceptually make the browser window more like a 3-ring binder filled with tabbed-dividers. It brings a stronger real-world metaphor to the browser window. However, I think the tabs should be FAR less sensitive to those small cursor movements, since users. As far as I can see, there is no advantage to this new hyper-sensitivity to cursor movements. A user clicking at the top of the window is far more likely to be attempting to select a different tab than moving the window.

Anybody using a pen-device input (including Axiotron Modbook owners) would be utterly and completely frustrated, as I am.

So, I ask, if an Apple-branded tablet was just around the corner as the rumors are always talking about, don’t you think they would have tested Safari functionality on a pen-input device?