customers who may never use a trackpad with their iPad won’t have to learn something new, while making it great for those who may switch back and forth between touch and trackpad

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Origin: Tech Crunch – How Apple reinvented the cursor for iPad
via: 9 to 5 Mac – Creating the iPadOS cursor wasn’t easy, says Apple SVP Craig Federighi [U]

Honestly, the thinking could have stopped there and that would have been perfectly adequate. A rough finger facsimile as pointer. But the concept is pushed further. As you approach an interactive element, the circle reaches out, smoothly touching then embracing and encapsulating the button.

The idea of variable cursor velocity is pushed further here too. When you’re close to an object on the screen, it changes its rate of travel to get where you want to go quicker, but it does it contextually, rather than linearly, the way that macOS or Windows does.

Predictive math is applied to get you to where you’re going without you having to land precisely there, then a bit of inertia is applied to keep you where you need to be without over shooting it. Once you’re on the icon, small movements of your finger jiggle the icon so you know you’re still there.

…there has never been a cursor like this one. Designed to emulate your finger, but also to spread and squish and blob and rush and rest. It’s a unique addition to the landscape.

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But to understand the process, you have to get a wider view of the options a user has when interacting with an Apple device. Apple’s input modalities include:

  • Mouse (Mac)
  • Touchpad (Mac, MacBook, iPad)
  • Touch (iPhone, iPad)
  • Pencil (iPad)
  • AR (iPhone, iPad, still nascent)

Each of these modalities has situational advantages or disadvantages. The finger, of course, is an imprecise instrument. The team knew that they would have to telegraph the imprecise nature of a finger to the user, but also honor contexts in which precision was needed.

The iPad, specifically, is multipurpose computer so it’s way more complex than any single-input device. There are multiple modalities to service with any cursor implementation on the platform. And they have to be honored without tearing down all of the learning that you’ve put millions of users through with a primary touch interface.

customers who may never use a trackpad with their iPad won’t have to learn something new, while making it great for those who may switch back and forth between touch and trackpad.