This year's January 10th performance of Mahler's 9th Symphony, conducted by Alan Gilbert, was interrupted by a muted iPhone. Gilbert, in a rare decision, stopped the performance. Patron X was horrified to experience, as I have on several occasions, the fact that the mute switch does not completely silence the phone.
John Gruber, in On the Behavior of the iPhone Mute Switch, and Marco Arment, in Designing “Mute”, argue that Apple's choice of behavior for the mute switch is reasonable because it does the right thing for most people most of the time. Guy English, in Mute This, almost agrees. Andy Ihnatko, in an emptily-named article, disagrees, arguing for a more aggressive mute switch.
Ihnatko's argument that obviousness-in-usage is a more important design goal than an I'm-smarter-than-you approach should strike a chord with folks who have participated in the many failed search and personalization startups. Grandiose, but unexplainable, user actions are the sirens that continue to founder startups on the rocks of user impatience and apathy. The presence of the adjective "smart" in a product name is a warning sign for me.
I find it somewhat surprising that, in what are usually both nuanced and comprehensive analyses, the supporters of the current design seem to have overlooked the ever-present physicality of the mute switch. Surely, it matters that Apple decided to make this switch physical? In all other aspects of the iPhone, hardware UI is deliberate, expensive, and rare. Doesn't that choice imply an immediacy of purpose that touch interfaces do not? That purpose is "Be quiet, now!"
- Said another way: What would the touch version of a mute switch do differently?
- Also: doesn't order of operations matter to "doing the right thing" in an I'm-smarter-than-you design?