Under the Lens #4 : an Os x feature

This article in the “Under the Lens” series is about a user friendly feature in OS X. Everybody will agree that OS X is high on the usability scale. Its interface is clean, simple and intuitive. While it has some features which are extremely helpful, there are also features which are not that user-friendly and some which appear gimmicky even, but I would rate it the best when it comes to usability.

For those of you not familiar with the gesture support of the multi-touch trackpad, I must say you’ve been missing something great. The Macbook line of laptops have a multi-touch trackpad that detects unto 5 fingers. This lends itself to some uber cool and extremely helpful gestures. One of these is the 3 finger tap on a word, to bring up its meaning. This means, if you don’t know the meaning of a word and it is selectable (not a picture), you can place the mouse over the word and tap on the trackpad with 3 fingers. It instantly opens up a small pop-up window with synonyms, antonyms and thesaurus word equivalents. Extremely useful and I’ve been using it from the day I got this laptop!

In the latest software update, this gesture has become even more powerful. Why is an article about this feature in the Under the lens series? Because of the way in which it works; it understands what the user needs, what he will be needing next and to give it in the most user-friendly and logical manner possible. Let us see an example of this.

This is the scenario: I typed in “Blank Space”, intending to find Taylor Swift’s song. Let see what results OS X gave me when I used the 3 finger tap.


3 finger tap on Blank

Blank dictionary

If you notice in the picture, there are options for dictionary and wikipedia. It defaults to dictionary, as that is the intention of the user – to know the meaning. But, when you go to the Wikipedia tab, you’re presented with Taylor Swift’s Blank Space song’s wiki page. Pretty neat huh!

Blank wiki

3 finger tap on Space

Space wiki

Again, there are usual options for dictionary and wikipedia pages. Notice that the wikipedia page is not one pointing to the song. That’s clever, i guess!?!

3 finger tap on Blank Space

But, the real magic of the update is when I 3 finger tapped on the whole word. Let’s see what happened.

blank space wiki

As expected, I got the Wikipedia page of the song. But notice the other tab; it says “Song”. When I clicked on this, within the same pop-up window, it showed me the song in the itunes store along with the list of all the songs in the album. I could also play a small sample without ever going to the browser or itunes. This saved me a lot of time and effort in trying to find a song.

blank space itunes

This clearly is an example of a user-centered design feature. What I learnt from this feature is that it doesn’t matter if there is an already established way to do it; if it adds to the user-friendliness, its alright to implement a new feature even of it makes the interface more complicated than before. I could do the song search by opening a browser, opening the google home page and typing the song’s name. Or opened the dictionary app and looked for the meaning of the word. But that’s not as user-friendly as a simple 3 finger tap, right?! Sure, it asks the user to learn something new, which in most cases devs are advised against, but the benefits far outweigh the effort to learn.

Now I don’t have to over-think adding features to a design as long as the benefits of having it outweigh the effort to learn to use it. This is golden!

I hope you found this article useful and that if you’re a Mac user, you’ve understood the benefits of this feature!

Until next time, cheers!

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