On The Guts of a New Machine (Aside)

One thing that I noticed for the first time today was the distinct similarity between the navigational style of the iPod and the horizontal-hierarchy menu-driven interface to Tivos. Is there a memetic forebear to both of these that I’m unfamiliar with, or is this simply an emerging standard in navigating through libraries of content when you only have a few physical buttons and real-life interface elements to deal with?

14 replies on “On The Guts of a New Machine (Aside)”

Not just there, but Mac OS X too! It seems to be a convenient way of looking at large amounts of data in distinct categories. I’ve never used Windows much — is there any history of the trend on that platform?

Ah yes! The column-view in OSX does that too doesn’t it! I should know that since I’m writing all this rubbish on Mac. That’s really interesting. I wonder if anyone’s done a family tree for this particular way of moving through heirarchies and structures. Must have done…

When I first got my paws on Mac OS X, I remember my reaction to the column view being more of “about time” than “what innovation!” I’m not sure why. Maybe I used this interface in a past life?
Anyway, I would love to see a timeline or family tree tracing this…

I don’t think this is a deep observation. Essentially any heirarchy of possible functions will arrange itself in this way, if the number of items on each menu are limited (by screen space, for example). Research shows limiting the number of items on a menu is better anyway, even if there is no limitation, because people deal best with a limited number of choices (I think seven is the maximum).

“Essentially any heirarchy of possible functions will arrange itself in this way.”
How do you figure that’s true? The horizontal model is definitely unique — they could’ve just as easily had you click, then see a new directory list, with no horizontal movement implied. Decades of personal computers have had hierarchies of possible functions listed in a limited space, yet the “column view” is relatively new.
Deep? Maybe not. But certainly not inevitable, like you say.

Lots of console games use this kind of display for menus, particularly RPGs which require complex inventories for several characters (The Grandia series springs to mind). As others have said, it seems like a fairly obvious way to arrange heirachial menus using small amounts of screen space. I expect you’d see this kind of menu a lot in Game Boy games, though I don’t have a Game Boy so can’t be sure.

Hierarchical pull-down menus have always “flown out” to the right too. It goes back to the fact that we read left-to-right, and when we “turn a page” we move to the right. I wonder if an Arabic TiVo or iPod would provide the sense of moving leftward through menus. As an aside, you know that famous Japanese tidal wave print? The Japanese “read” paintings right to left. Flip the image horizontally in an image editor to get the European version of how it seems to them. (The wave looks a lot more like its looming when you do this.)

The “fly out” navigation shows up in the Windows START button too, all the way back in 1995. This type of navigation is fine, but it really does seem – if you’ll forgive the expression – evolutionary, not revolutionary. If the menu itself is vertical, it stands to reason the only direction the fly-outs can fly out is to the side.

“a few physical buttons” – however the Tivo has 32 buttons on the remote (I just counted ’em) which does seem slightly at odds with the navigation system they’ve used (and it drives me nuts, I have to say)….your point is an interesting one though….

Gopher, indeed! Although no client was sophisticated enough to visually represent “expand to the right”, the arrow-key navigation of most imparted a similar sensation. The first time I used TiVo, I thought “this is the prettiest gopher client I’ve ever seen.”
Back in my day…

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