Solve usability puzzles on Macs, iPhones, and iPads!

Apple Interface Mysteries

Michael E. Cohen

Apple devices are supposed to be easy to use, and they generally are—at least for basic things. But over the years, as features have multiplied exponentially and hardware has changed dramatically, the user interfaces of Macs, iPhones, and iPads (among other Apple products) have become increasingly inscrutable. This book explores the mysteries of how and why things are the way they are now—and shows you how you can solve your own Apple usability puzzles.

All Take Control books are delivered in two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—and can be read on nearly any device.


Note: This book is mostly up to date. However, in the past two years, Apple has released new operating systems that add still more mysteries. Michael hopes to update the book in the second quarter of 2023. (Read more about updates.)

When Apple introduced the Mac in 1984, its novel graphical interface revolutionized the way people thought about computers. Thanks to the Mac’s graphical user interface, people quickly realized a computer could be both powerful and easy to use. That legendary ease of use, which carried on through the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and other products, helped Apple become the huge cultural force it is today.

And yet, millions of people struggle to make sense of their modern Apple devices. (Indeed, that’s the whole reason Take Control Books has existed since 2003!) Users wonder how to accomplish seemingly basic tasks, where to find important menu commands, why the screen is scrolling the “wrong” way, how to type characters that aren’t on the keyboard, what gesture they can use to perform common operations on an iPhone or iPad, and why controls they want to use frequently are hidden. What happened to that ease of use, and why have Apple’s user interfaces become so…mysterious?

Apple Interface Mysteries aims to answer all those questions and many more. Michael E. Cohen, who is a Certified Usability Analyst (really!) as well as the author of numerous books on Apple products, also loves a good mystery. So he has done extensive research into the evolution of Apple’s interfaces in an effort to explain how and why things are the way they are today—and more importantly, how you can find hidden controls and capabilities, solve the puzzles of Apple’s seemingly opaque interfaces, and become a happier user in the process.

After an introduction to basic concepts of usability (such as affordances, or cues that tell you how to use a control), Michael takes you on a fascinating journey through mysteriously complicated Mac interfaces such as menus, keyboards, mice, and the desktop. He then turns his attention to iOS/iPadOS, discussing the unique capabilities and limitations of small-screen, touch-oriented devices, including gestures, hidden buttons, and inscrutable onscreen keyboards. The book concludes with a chapter of “crime fighting tips” that help you unravel new perplexities as you encounter them.

Unlike most of our books, the title of this one doesn’t begin with the words “Take Control of….” That’s because the focus is more on why than on how to, and it makes no attempt to be exhaustive. Rather, it’s an explanation of some of the historical and technological factors that led to Apple’s current user interfaces. But don’t worry, you’ll still learn tons of practical skills—along with lots of tips about hidden or hard-to-discover features.

Michael Cohen

About Michael E. Cohen

Michael E. Cohen has taught English composition, worked as a programmer for NASA’s Deep Space Network, helped develop the first commercial ebooks at the Voyager Company, and co-founded a major university’s Humanities computing center. He has authored several books, including Apple Interface Mysteries, Take Control of PDFpen, Take Control of Pages, and Take Control of TextExpander.

Version 1.0.1 corrects a handful of typos and formatting infelicities.

  • Read Me First
    • Updates and More
  • Introduction
  • A Brief Introduction to Usability
    • What Usability Is
    • What Affordances Are
  • Mac Puzzles Old and New
  • How Mac Menus Got Complicated
    • The Case of the Overburdened Memory
    • The Riddle of the Menu Shortcuts
    • The Mystery of the Mercurial Menus
    • The Puzzle of the Popping Menus
    • The Perplexity of the Popovers
  • How Mac Keyboards Got Complicated
    • The Modifier Key Adventure
    • The Alternative Character Enigma
    • The Input Source Imbroglio
    • The Substitute Text Surprise
  • How the Mac Mouse Got Complicated
    • The Which Mouse Affair
    • The Reverse Scroll Incident
    • The Matter of the Multiple Fingers
  • How the Mac Desktop Got Complicated
    • The Task Trouble
    • The App Pursuit
    • The Space Case
    • The Edge Case
  • The Ineffable Evanescence of iOS
  • The Case of the New Kid in Town
    • The iPhone and Its Early Limitations
    • Along Came iOS (and the iPad)
  • The iOS and iPadOS Look and Feel Casebook
    • The Affordance That Hid in Plain Sight
    • The Hidden Button Escapade
  • The iOS and iPadOS Edge Cases Casebook
    • The Home Button That Vanished
    • The Great Swipe Hunt
  • The iOS and iPadOS Touchy Text Casebook
    • The Dancing Fingers Oscillation
    • The Glass Keyboard Discombobulation
  • Crime Fighting Tips
    • Takeaway Retakes
    • Mystery Solving Resources
  • About This Book
  • Ebook Extras
  • About the Author
  • About the Publisher
  • Copyright and Fine Print

Michael Cohen discusses Apple interface mysteries on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on April 22, 2020

Michael Cohen joined Chuck Joiner on MacVoices in a two-part interview to discuss his new book Apple Interface Mysteries.

In Part 1, Michael talks about why he wrote the book as well as some of the “why” behind Apple interface decisions.

In Part 2, Michael explains more about hidden and mysterious user interface elements.

November 23, 2022—This book is mostly up to date. However, in the past two years, Apple has released new operating systems that add still more mysteries. Michael hopes to update the book in the first quarter of 2023. (Read more about updates.)


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