Apple’s confusing iPhone OS grammar

I was managing my calendar on my iPad last night and something was bothering me about the experience.

Every time I deleted a repeating event, I found myself pausing in thought, losing trust in my instinctive nature.

Managing my calendar is something I do naturally in iCal on my Mac, and it’s a very natural process. So I took a moment to examine the process on my iPad to see what might be tripping me up.

I was surprised to find that it was Apple’s poor sentence structure.

Check these screen shots:

Screen shot of the Mac OS X iCal dialogue box for deleting a repeating event

Repeating event deletion in iCal on Mac OS X

Screen shot of part of a modal dialogue box for deleting a repeating event on iPad

Repeating event deletion in iCal on iPad

Screen shot of part of a modal dialogue box for deleting repeating events in Calendar on iPhone

Repeating event deletion in Calendar on iPhone

Do you see what tripped me up? It’s Apple’s funky grammar and sentence structure, regarding the word only.

The use of the word only in different positions of the sentence is confusing, not only for a user like me who uses both the Mac OS and the iPhone OS, but also for anyone using iPhone OS to delete repeating events.

On the Mac, the sentence is: “Delete Only This Event”. On the iPad and iPhone, it is: “Delete This Event Only”.

In iCal on the Mac, only is used an adverb, so it is modifying the action the user is taking. (Or that’s how I read it. I’m no grammar king, so I could be off in my technical specifications there. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) Whether adverb or not, however, the fact that only comes early in the phrase is primarily important to communicating the meaning of the button’s action clearly.

On the iPhone and iPad, Apple turns only into an adjective (again, I could be wrong on my grammatical specifications, but that’s my take). Only now modifies the sentence’s subject, rather than the action. Not only that, but the word falls off the end of the sentence and could be ignored. And that was my problem. I was reading just “Delete This Event”, which is a full sentence and represents what I was essentially trying to do (delete one event in a collection of repeating events) and ignoring the modifier that hung off the tail end: only.

I think Apple’s got the phrasing wrong on the iPad and iPhone. The correct sentence structure to communicate the meaning to the user is, “Delete Only This Event”. The element of modification occurs early in the sentence and is immediately communicated. “Delete This Event Only” is, imho, not only bad grammar, but bad user interface design.

2 thoughts on “Apple’s confusing iPhone OS grammar

  1. Dealing with Microsoft Access for work I got a similar message that made me second guess my choice.

    It was telling me that the information would be removed from all groups, so I was unsure if it would be removed from the database completely.

    I chose not to delete.

    What’s with these poorly phrased messages?

    Don’t they test for clarity?

  2. I always try to use a verb + noun combination for for both ends of a button (delete + event). When Apple adds “only” to the conclusion of this phrase, it creates confusion. Then again, it also makes you pause and think, which may be the point. This is a destructive action and the designer perhaps wants you to recognize that, despite the grammatical blunder.

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