September 26th, 2007 • 5:24 pm
There is, in my opinion, something slightly wrong with the current design of Apple’s web site.
Say you visit the “Downloads” section of the web site at http://www.apple.com/downloads/, for example.
On that page, here’s what the right-hand side of the grey bar at the top looks like:
As expected, the “Downloads” part of the bar looks like a depressed button, to indicate that you are currently in that section of the site. The “Support” part next to it, on the other hand, looks like the rest of the bar, to indicate a link to another section of the site. And then there is a “Search” field.
Now think about it for a second. If you enter a keyword in this search field here and then press Return, what will the scope of the search be? Will the search tool search for the keyword in the “Downloads” section of the site only, or in the entire Apple web site?
I am afraid I have to say that, based on the visual aspect of this grey bar at the top of the page, the search’s scope will be the entire web site. There are no visual clues that the scope of the search will be limited to the “Downloads” section. On the contrary, the “Search” field is on an equal footing with other parts of the bar, all of which are links to other sections of the site outside the “Downloads” section.
Yet when you do indeed submit a search request, there is a connection to the “Downloads” section. For example, I submitted a search for the keyword “sleep,” and the web site took me to a page with the following URL:
Paradoxically, this results page actually contains results from outside the “Downloads” section! But the results from the “Downloads” section appear at the top. So I guess the scope of the search is the entire site, but with more weight given to results from the results from the current section (in this case the “Downloads” section).
It a rather strange approach, but I guess it makes some sense. It certainly is a more “marketing-friendly” approach, because it allows Apple to “advertise” other things below the search results. Indeed, in this particular case, below the results for “sleep” in the “Downloads” section, I got results for “sleep” in… iTunes and then the “Products” section of the site, and then the Apple Store.
I have to say that it looks a bit too much like Apple is trying to push its products on me here… The fuzziness of the scope of the “Search” field is actually a convenient way to get me to look at all kinds of things that I don’t really need or want to see.
Interestingly, on that results page there is yet another “Search” field, under the “Search Results” heading, but here again, the scope of that other field is just as fuzzy as the scope of the other field above, in the grey bar.
Also, if there are no results in the “Downloads” section
for the keywords that I enter, the results page does not even have a “Downloads” section at the top, with “0 results” or “no results.” It just immediately lists the next section, which is the iTunes section.
So if the keywords don’t match anything in the “Downloads” section, the search results page does not even give any clues that the search’s scope did indeed include the “Downloads” section! The only clue is the page’s URL in the address bar (which is still http://www.apple.com/search/downloads/?q=***, where “***” is the keyword) and in the “Downloads” button in the grey bar, which still looks depressed.
As well, it is interesting to note that the sections of the results page do not match the sections listed in the grey bar at the top. This does not really help give a good sense of spatial orientation within the site.
This fuzzy approach does not strike me as particularly user-oriented, but rather marketing-oriented.
It is also worth noting that the “Support” section of the site uses a different approach, with a search field labelled “Search Support” visible right on the home page for that section, and with a search tool whose scope is indeed limited to the “Support” section exclusively. But if you use the search field in the grey bar while you are on the home page of the “Support” section, the site uses the same fuzzy approach, with more weight given to results from the “Support” section, but also with results from other sections.
So in addition to the fuzziness mentioned above, we have some inconsistency between sections here. It could be argued that each section of the site needs its own search tool, with a clear indication that the scope of the search will be limited to that particular section.
Apple’s web site is still a pretty good web site, of course. But in a way it’s reflective of today’s Apple company, where sometimes marketing considerations supersede user-friendliness. I guess it is simply unavoidable, especially for a company whose product line is more and more diversified.
(For those who are wondering, I was actually looking for a software tool that would let me put my displays to sleep immediately without putting the entire machine to sleep. Right now, if I want to leave my machine running but don’t need the screens, I have to wait until they go to sleep on their own accord, at the time set in the preferences. I don’t see the point of wasting that little bit of energy when I could put them to sleep myself right away. I am still looking.)