Monday, March 28, 2016

OS X El Capitan: Nice features and usability problems


By Mert Metin

El Capitan is the latest major release of OS X operating system, by Apple Inc. It is the newer version OS X Yosemite which focuses on hugely security, usability, and performance.

In this blog, I will talk about some nice features that comes with this release. I will also discuss some usability problems that still exists with El Capitan and bothers me (and many users) in everyday use.

New Features that I liked:

OS X El Capitan (version 10.11) released in September, 30 2015 [1] and comes with many features that made the operating system even more usable. In this part, I will talk about three of them.

  1. Split View for apps
Users had to switch between the apps each time if they want to interact with two applications in previous versions of OSX. However, this is changed with El Capitan. OS X finally introduced the new split view feature that divides Mac screen with two apps. This is very good feature for some crucial operations like copy/paste and drag/drop,  Another good thing about this feature is that it is effortless! You don’t have to move or resize the applications manually to split them. OS X takes care of it. It divides the screen automatically and puts the apps side by side.

Figure 1: Screen split for two apps: Opera and Mail
Having the split view is very easy. All you have to is to hold the maximize button on left top of your window and place the application either to left or right.

2. Spotlight is better and smarter
Spotlight is a great software that helps us to search through the hard drive and quickly locate the items that we are looking for including, documents, pictures, music, applications. It is introduced in OS X Tiger, the fifth major release of OS X,  and over time it is incredibly improved especially in performance. However, I was having trouble with Spotlight in previous versions of OS X, especially in Yosemite because of the reindexing problem.

Spotlight is smooth and fast since it is keeping a  meta index database and there it has all the information about files in your system. When you search, it actually searches through its database quickly and shows you the results, instead of searching through the whole hard drive each time. However, I remember that there were moments I opened Spotlight and saw a progress bar (as seen in the below picture) that it was updating or reindexing its database, which sometimes takes a lot of time. The real issue here was that reindexing was consuming a lot of system resources particularly CPU. That was a really annoying in Yosemite.

Figure 2: Spotlight while indexing its database

Figure 3 :Activity Monitor with two resource consuming processes: MDS and MDWorker

However, it seems like Apple’s engineers solved this problem! I am using El Capitan for the past five months and used Spotlight a lot during this period and never got this problem again.

It also seems that Spotlight is smarter now. You can use Spotlight the same way you talk to Siri. It understands natural language. For example, if you write “mails today” to Spotlight, it will show you the mails you got today if you use the Mail application. This is a way faster than opening the Mail application and filtering the mails that are received today.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 5.42.43 PM.png
Figure 4: Spotlight search result

3) You probably will never lose your cursor again
The problem of losing cursor location is very old among users. We sometimes can’t see where the cursor is and moving to find it. OS X found a really good solution to this problem. When you jiggle your mouse, the cursor is getting bigger and you easily see the location of your cursor.

Figure 5: Cursor gets bigger after jiggling

Usability Issues
In this part, I will talk about some usability problems that annoys me in everyday use. These problems did exist in previous version of OS X, Yosemite and we still have them in El Capitan.

1) There is no split view in Finder
Finder is one of the most fundamental applications in OS X. It helps you to find and navigate your files, folders and apps in your system. However, there are a few things that annoys me. One them is the absence of the split view in Finder. Apple did a good job by introducing the split view for two different apps (as I mentioned above), but there is still no split view in Finder.  

If you want to move a file to another location in Finder, you have two options. One of them is cutting the file (or folder) and pasting to the other location. The problem is that many OS X users  actually have no idea that there is a cut command in Finder (Option-Command-V). [2] The other option is to hold the file and drag to the other location which is more common among users. However, both of those options might be annoying if the location that you are going to paste is buried deep in subfolders and it would take so much time to move various files like that. That’s why it would be much easier to have a one split view in Finder which includes the both locations (source and target) and then copying and pasting between them.

Some OS X users use third party applications to replace Finder because of this and some other problems. One the most popular one is called Total Finder which allows split view in Finder as seen in below:

Figure 6: Total Finder's split view
2) Files and folders are mixed
Finder does not show folders on top in list view. If you sort files by kind, it divides each file by their type and shows each type separately, as seen below. This looks a bit weird. I would prefer folders always go first like in both Windows and  Linux which looks more organized, clean and effortless.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.52.52 AM.png
Figure 7: Files and folder are divided 

3) Close button sometimes not really closing the apps:
OS X has a close button that may confuse users. In some applications such as Chrome, Safari, and Mail, the red close button just closes the window but not actually quits application and it actually remains open - as seen in the below video. So it is pretty much the same with minimize button. On the other hand, red close button sometimes closes both window and quits application for some applications like Kindle and Notes. This is very confusing for users.


Usability Evaluation: Uber

By Rawan Bahmid

As most people know, Uber provides a enhanced form of taxi service for which anyone can be a driver. It provides private transportation options in such a way that benefits both consumers and drivers. The company uses multiple media to deliver its services [2].

We evaluated its consumer mobile application to asses its learnability, simplicity and discoverability. The evaluation was been performed on the Uber Android application version 3.93.4, which was the latest available version for Android 5.1.1 when the evaluation started. Two evaluation techniques were used, heuristic evaluation using Nielsen’s 1990 [1] principles and cognitive walkthrough.

The evaluation covered three important tasks, to determine the usability problems and difficulties that might face a user, to provide some solutions, and ultimately to improve the user’s experience.

Task 1: Request Uber
This feature allows the user to choose the car size, get the estimated fare and order a car.

Success scenario:
  1.  Enter pickup location
  2. Choose UberX or UberXL
  3. Check car capacity
  4. Enter destination
  6. Request Uber
  7. Choose payment method
  8. Enter promo code (if any)
  9. Confirm the request
Failure scenario and recommendations:

Step 3, 4 & 5
Problem 1: the choices are hidden in the bottom of the page, one has to scroll down to find it, however, there is no sign or clue to scroll down. See Figure 1.
Figure 1 Request Uber: Hidden options

Issues of hidden options in Step 3, 4 & 5 could be solved by making clear to the user that there are more useful options in the bottom of the page. It would be better if the maximum car capacity of people is shown graphically. And if more expressive display of a currency sign is shown beside the text GET FARE ESTIMATE.

Step 6
Problem 2: The term SET PICKUP LOCATION is ambiguous and confuses the users. Should they enter the the pickup location again which means the first entering was not successful. But the address is in the PICKUP LOCATION field!! Or Is the entered location not correct? Or it might be for confirming the entered location.

Problem 3: In some times and places there are no available Uber cars. However, the user can request a car and keep waiting for a request that would never be confirmed. check Figure 2.
  Figure 2 Request Uber: No available car

Problem 4: In rush hours and when there is a lack of the available cars, a message would show that there will be a surge pricing. User could choose NOTIFY ME IF SURGE ENDS. However, user will not receive any kind of notifications even when the surge ends, see Figure 3.

Figure 3 Request Uber: Surge pricing

A clearer and meaningful term should be used such as “REQUEST Uber” or “REQUEST CAR”. Moreover, restrict the car requisitions to be used and activated only when cars are available. And provide feedback or message to the user explain the situation. Enhance the notification system as well.

Step 8
Problem 5: The option seems to be inactive because it is gray and users might think it is restricted and can not be used, see Figure 4.
           Figure 4 Request Uber: Promo code

Better to colour the outline of the text to show that it is active. And fill the text with a colour when a promo code is being used.

Problem 6: The cars’ slider may confuse users; they might use to enter the addresses because its like a path form a place to a place. They would first enter the Pickup location, move the car to the next point and enter the destination.

This could be solved by having radio button to chose the preferable car instead of the slider. Check Figure 5.
                       Figure 5 Request  Uber: Redesign

Problem 7: Beside all the analyzed issues, the application only supports portrait orientation. It does not allow page rotation, which is helpful when following the car’s movement. 

Task 2: Cancel a request
A car request can be canceled before and after the completion of the request. Scenario 1 illustrates the process of the cancelation before the request is being completed. Whereas scenario 2 states the situation of cancelation when the request has been completed.
Success scenario 1:
  1. Hold X button to cancel 
Failure scenario 1 and recommendations:

Step 1
Problem 8: The progress of the cancelation request is shown to the user, but it is not confirmed when completed. After cancelation the confirmation of car request page appears, which confuses the user as to whether or not the cancelation has been done.

To avoid this confusion, provide  descriptive feedback that states that the request has been successfully canceled. 

Success scenario 2:
  1.  Tap on CANCEL
  2. Confirm cancelation

Failure scenario 2 and recommendations:

Step 1
Problem 9: The CANCEL option is hidden. User has to scroll down to find it. However, there is no clue that there are some available options further down the page. See Figure 6.

Figure 6 Request Uber: Hidden CANCEL

Step 2
Problem 10: No feedback is provided when the request is canceled. Therefore, user has to go to the History page to make sure that the request has been canceled.

To allow users to use this feature correctly, make the CANCEL button visible and accessible by giving signal in the page that there are options when scrolling down. Moreover, make sure to provide useful descriptive feedback when the cancelation process is completed successfully.  

Task 3: Add an address to Places
This feature allows user to add their common to visit places to a list. Hence, they just type the shortcut in the destination field when want going there, instated of entering the full address.

Success scenario:
  1. Main menu
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Tap Add HOME or Add WORK
  4. Enter destination

Failure scenario and recommendations:

Step 3
Problem 11: The list is very limited, only two addresses could be added to it. Moreover, names of the places can not be changed. This is not expressive when adding, for instance, the address of the university under the name HOME and will require the user to remember each name is for what address. Check Figure 7.

          Figure 7 Add Places

Step 4
Problem 12: When the address is correctly added to the list, no feedback is shown to the user.
To make this feature more useful, allow the user to enter as many address as they need and name them based on their preferences. Furthermore, provide feedback when the entered address has been added to the list. Figure 8 states a recommended redesign of the PLACES.

Figure 8 Add Places: Redesign

Form the analysis we can conclude that the issues of the application are because of the invisible functions, limited options and the structural mistakes. 

  1. Nielsen, J. & Molich, R. (1990). Heuristic evaluation of user interfaces. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '90), Jane Carrasco Chew and John Whiteside (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 249-256.
  2. Uber (company). Wikipedia. Retrieved 20 March, 2016, from