As a writer, even in an age of social media, it’s hard to tell whether anything you pen affects people in any serious way. In truth, much of what I write is opinion-based: thought pieces and reviews that might briefly help and/or entertain a certain section of a site’s or magazine’s readership, but that relationship between words and results is typically fleeting.
One major exception in my writing career centres around accessibility. When Apple’s iOS 7 for iPad and iPhone arrived, it made a lot of people sick. Aggressive animations became motion-sickness triggers for a surprisingly large range of people. I was fortunate enough to write about the subject for Stuff and twice for The Guardian. Apple rumbled into gear. Changes were eventually to iOS made via the introduction of Reduce Motion, which switched slides and zooms for cross-fades. I have it on good authority that what I and others wrote did have an impact on Apple’s decision-making.
Although motion/balance accessibility remains poorly understood, and third-party developers remain largely ignorant of these issues, merrily peppering apps with animated interface components, I and others are now broadly safe when using iOS. The same is not true for OS X. It’s been three years since I first wrote about the subject on this blog, and I’ve penned articles elsewhere, including for major tech publications. It’s hard to believe that Apple’s listening. The company, despite making great strides in vision/hearing/motor accessibility, appears either ignorant of or uncaring about motion/balance problems.
That might seem like an extreme statement, but I think it’s entirely fair. Major triggers, such as full-screen slides/morphing transitions, and also slide transitions within Preview and Safari, arrived in OS X Lion, and we’ve since seen three major updates to OS X without a single setting for overriding these animations. There’s no Reduce Motion in OS X, despite Mac screens being larger than iOS ones, which means the transitions displayed are more — not less — likely to cause problems.
Today, I fired up the new OS X Photos app. Within five minutes, I felt ill. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a motion/balance trigger is built right into the interface, with the main pane zooming while it crossfades. Presumably, someone at Apple thought this looked pretty. There’s no way to turn it off. For anyone who finds this animation problematic, their choices are to avoid Photos entirely or remember to close their eyes every single time they click a tab.
This is just not good enough. Apple is a company that prides itself on making its technology accessible. Given that a somewhat throwaway setting in a third-party utility can override or entirely disable the majority of full-screen animations, it’s hard to believe Apple couldn’t fit a Reduce Motion system into OS X if it wanted to. If developers could hook into that, most motion/balance issues would disappear in an instant, without affecting the majority of users, who could happily continue watching interface components zoom about before their eyes.
As I wrote today in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m sick of the current situation, figuratively and — in a fortunately fairly mild way — literally. Highly animated interfaces may be the ‘in thing’ right now, and sometimes have potential benefits in providing a sense of place; but that doesn’t mean Apple should overlook people for which these often aesthetic additions cause major usability, accessibility and health problems. I’ve no confidence anything will change. Every email sent feels like yelling into the wind, but I’ll be delighted to see and experience a change in direction should that happen in OS X Yosemite’s successor.