the little pointy hand

24 Mar 2009 - 9:50pm
7 years ago
2 replies
857 reads
Guillermo Torres
2009

If you are on a mac and press command-Tab to switch apps, you will see your
cursor will change from the arrow to a pointing hand. We know this cursor is
good for pointing out links or buttons, particularly for the web. At first I
blamed the inconsistency on an oversight, which is common on web apps (Gmail
only changes the cursor for underlined text, Reader doesn't). But this
cursor is rarely used at the OS level; someone had to make the decision to
make the switch. Do you know why? I can't. Now that the web is invading the
desktop and applications are going online, is it time to ditch the hand, or
keep it?

Guillermo

Comments

25 Mar 2009 - 4:06am
Brian Forte
2004

Guillermo Torres wrote:

>If you are on a mac and press command-Tab to switch apps, you will see your
>cursor will change from the arrow to a pointing hand. We know this cursor is
>good for pointing out links or buttons, particularly for the web. At first I
>blamed the inconsistency on an oversight, which is common on web apps (Gmail
>only changes the cursor for underlined text, Reader doesn't). But this
>cursor is rarely used at the OS level; someone had to make the decision to
>make the switch. Do you know why? I can't.

Apple's own [UI guidelines][1] note the 'Pointing hand' is for 'URL
links'. On that basis, at least, it is definitely an inconsistency.

The hand itself first appeared in [Bill Atkinson's][2] [HyperCard][3]
(with the pointing hand icon designed by [Susan Kare][4]). In
HyperCard, the pointing hand appeared whenever the pointer passed
over an area that, if clicked, produced an immediate effect. This was
(I believe) a way of distinguishing such areas from others that
required a double-click to produce an effect, or took a click to make
them active (eg a text-edit area).

When you press Command-Tab and bring up the Application Switcher,
each item in the list is clickable. (In fact, you don't even need to
click: press Command-Tab to activate the Application Switcher;
release the Tab key but not the Command key; move the pointing hand
over an icon in the Switcher; release the Command key; you will
switch to the application the pointing hand was hovering above.)

It's difficult to call this a fully-formed reason for changing from
the arrow to the pointing hand icon but I can imagine someone making
the argument and winning, perhaps as an effort to make the clickable
nature of the Application Switcher list more apparent to users.

>Now that the web is invading the desktop and applications are going
>online, is it time to ditch the hand, or keep it?

Given how many millions of people rely on the pointing hand to tell
them 'this is clickable', I'm not sure we have much say in the
matter. For better or worse, the pointing hand is with us for a while
yet.

Regards,

Brian Forte.

[1]:
<http://developer.apple.com/documentation/userexperience/Conceptual/AppleHIGuidelines/XHIGCursors/XHIGCursors.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40002724-TPXREF101>

[2]: <http://billatkinson.com/>

[3]: <http://apple.com/hypercard>

[4]: <http://kare.com/>
--
words, edits, type, layout, code
<mailto:bforte at betweenborders.com>
<http://betweenborders.com/>

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