I downloaded and installed Max OS X Lion yesterday, and probably the most immediately noticeable update is the way in which you use the track pad to scroll. Previously, if you wanted to see text below the bottom of the visible page, you swiped with two fingers in a downward direction, and the page would scroll down in response. Now, the default has switched so that, to see more text below, you must swipe two fingers up, not down (and vice versa).
There is a certain logic to this. First of all, in direct opposition to the title of this post, it’s not really inverted scrolling: the way we’ve always scrolled is actually the inverted version, and this update “corrects” that. We are moving definitively in the direction of Apple Singularity: the convergence of user experience across all Apple products. Due to the massive rise of the iPhone and iPad, both of which are entirely touch-based, users have grown used to swiping down to scroll up and vice versa, because it feels natural to do so when you’re interacting directly with a screen.
The problem I see with trying to integrate the iPhone/iPad experience with that of a MacBook Pro, for example, is that there is a long history of user interaction with computer visuals, and that history is completely unaccustomed to the new “inverted scrolling” method. Most obviously, to move a cursor around a screen, you don’t touch the screen: you use the track pad. But when using this track pad, since you’re not physically (and I use the word “physically” here in a metaphorical sense, not literally) swiping a page up and down like you do on the iPhone or iPad, the natural expectation is for the cursor to move in the same direction as your finger movements.
This is still exactly what happens when you’re simply moving the cursor. But now, the moment you want to scroll, you’re forced to override your instincts and scroll in the opposite direction of what you want to see, despite the fact that the act of moving the cursor is handled exactly oppositely. So you basically have two sets of track pad rules for the same device, a MacBook Pro. On the iPhone and iPad, you only have one set of rules, which is to scroll in the opposite direction of what you want to see, and it feels natural because a) those devices have always only worked that way, and b) due to the touchscreen, you actually feel as if you’re swiping a physical piece of paper up or down, which would correspond perfectly to the movements you’re making on the screen. On the computer, you’re using a trackpad; you’re not swiping on the screen, so there’s already a disconnect between your finger movements and what’s happening on the screen.
By throwing “inverted scrolling” (which can be changed, by the way; it’s only a default) into the mix, Apple is either betting that this will catch on long-term on laptops as well, or they’re not particularly concerned with placating their laptop users — a possibility which is increasingly viable, given the incredible revenue growth of their touchscreen devices. I actually haven’t even switched back to the old settings, because in a way I agree: we are inexorably marching towards a touchscreen future (even though, I hope, laptops won’t disappear completely), and on some level it does make sense for all the scrolling rules to work similarly, no matter on which device. It just feels a little strange and unnatural on a laptop, where we’ve had years to get used to another system and where we continue to use that old system when it comes to moving the cursor but have switched to the new one for scrolling.