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The two biggest computer companies in the world use opposite scrolling directions!

When you switch from Windows to Apple, you'll notice that Apple has its scrolling reversed. But maybe it's Windows who has its scrolling reversed..

Which makes me wonder: what scrolling direction is the right direction and should it be different than a the swiping direction of a touch pad?

Things to consider:

  • What's natural? In what direction would a first time user scroll to go down the page?

  • Should a mouse have the same scrolling direction as a touchpad?

marked as duplicate by Devin, Mayo, Evil Closet Monkey, Matt Obee, SteveD Sep 26 '16 at 8:52

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Just in case you did not notice that in OS X settings you are allowed to change the scrolling direction. – Ivan Venediktov Sep 25 '16 at 10:20
  • @IvanVenediktov I did notice, and I know people who use it. And I'm wondering what the motive of most people is to use that feature (because it's a habit or because it's logical). Thanks for the edit by the way! – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 10:21
  • I always ask people "why on Earth would you use a reverse scroll" and most of them tell me they are doing this for the comfort. So it is a personal preference I guess. – Ivan Venediktov Sep 25 '16 at 10:24
  • @Devin That question wasn't answered and in my opinion not clearly formulated. The answers on this questions are completely different than the 1 answer on the "possible duplicate", so I'm interested in finding the right answer. – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 18:09
  • Windows style is more ergonomic – Filip Haglund Sep 30 '16 at 4:55
up vote 9 down vote accepted

There’s no “right” way. It’s all in the analogy.

The Touch Screen Analogy

When you use a touch screen, the scrolling behavior is intuitive — it’s like you put your finger on the actual content and push it around. A few years ago, Apple switched their scrolling direction to follow this analogy.

The Scroll Bar Analogy

Another way to look at (Windows-style) scrolling is that you are interacting with the scrollbar, rather than with the controls. Apple is not keen on the whole concept of scrollbars currently, and hides them in many contexts by default. This pushes the concept of scrolling gestures interacting directly the content.

The Mouse-Wheel Analogy

The first trackpad scrolling mimiced how mouse scrolling worked. And the first scrolling mouse had physical wheels (many still do). If you imagine the scroll wheel sitting on a paper you were reading, the “Windows” scrolling direction is intuitive — the content moves in the direction the wheel would push it.

Apple mice don’t have these physical wheels anymore, so they are pushing for the touchscreen analogy for all their scrolling devices. But when I plug my old-school mouse with the real wheel into my Mac, the Apple’s “Natural Scrolling” doesn’t feel so natural anymore.

Your Brain doesn’t really care

Users generally find it takes just a moment to adjust to the new paradigm when the scrolling is working the opposite way. I don’t know of any “regular Joe” users who get upset about this, they jiggle the scroll a moment to get used to it, and start using the device.

  • The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 running Windows 10 uses the "Touch Screen Analogy" by default for he trackpad. I think as more and more user become used to touchscreen this will become the default. – GollyJer Sep 25 '16 at 17:17
  • +1 for the clear answer with the analogies, and I think you did a good job on addressing the importance of the scroll bar. Do you think Windows will adapt / invert their scrolling behavior, like @GollyJer said? – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 18:18
  • 1
    I think the point that the brain doesn't care is illustrated by the fact that I hadn't actually noticed that Windows works in reverse from my touchscreen devices... – PhillipW Sep 25 '16 at 18:19
  • I've always thought the analogy is a viewfinder, or even something like a reading lens/stone. When I scroll down, I move my view down in relation to the document. I'm not moving the document itself. – Bergi Feb 24 at 0:27

Both the platforms assume different mental models.

  1. Apple assumes that users are scrolling the view itself and hence it should move in its direction.
  2. Microsoft has a mental model of a window blinds. I mean real windows, with curtains and all. When you pull the ropes down, the curtain goes up. Similarly the scroll bar, when pulled down the view goes up.

Both Apple and Microsoft were early in the PC game, and users didn't have a mental model already in their mind because a mouse was a completely new gadget, so they learned the ones they started with.

But of course, if it's a touch screen, there is no ambiguity, you are touching, so the view should behave like an object when touched. Imagine a paper, if you swipe up, it goes up.

  • So you're saying that it doesn't matter how they program the scrolling direction? – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 9:57
  • Yes it doesn't. – Saurabh Kumar Suman Sep 25 '16 at 10:07
  • It can become highly user unfriendly when the user switches a lot between both operating systems and mouses / touchpads. – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 10:13
  • I completely agree with that. But the two companies wouldn't give up on any of their logic behind it. Although, Apple does give an option to change the direction of scroll in the settings. – Saurabh Kumar Suman Sep 25 '16 at 10:15
  • That's exactly why I'm wondering which logic is the best. It would be cool if we knew how many users use the inverted scroll option with apple. – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 10:18

The right direction, in my option, is whatever the user or group feels most comfortable with - you should leave the option up to the target you're dealing with.

I use a Mac but I always set the scroll on my trackpad to 'un-natural'. I think the main reason for this, for me is, as previously mentioned in another answer, I was born in an earlier era and when I scrolled down/up it was without a mouse-wheel so you had to literally click and scroll down/up in the direction you wanted to go. When I first used the mouse-wheel you scrolled towards the direction you wanted to go. When I first used a track-pad it was the same logic. I remember when Apple changed this but I was used to the 'un-natural' way.

I don't find it a problem using the 'natural' way but I guess it's habit now and I've always set it to the way I used at the start.

One thing I do find interesting about the natural/un-natural scroll on the default Mac settings is that the default side to side scroll on a Mac (i.e. going between left and right between desktop screens) uses the 'un-natural' scroll. I find it more streamlined if I keep the up and down scroll 'un-natural' as the side to side scroll is set, by default, to 'un-natural'.

  • Good thinking, but my question remains: what direction is natural, and why? – Max de Mooij Sep 25 '16 at 18:12
  • "What direction is natural", as I said at the start, is "whatever the user or group feels most comfortable with" :) ...but I would also add to that it also depends on the object you're interacting with. Take for example the act of reading. Natural for me is left to right, but there's billions of people who would argue otherwise. – David McEwan Sep 25 '16 at 19:28
  • If I had to choose 1 or the other, I'd actually go with the 'natural' scroll direction, based on the fact that more people are switching to mobile for everyday uses and also the introduction of 2-in-1 touch screen devices. So, while I like the 'un-natural' scroll for the trackpad on my MacBook Pro, I'd rather change that to the 'natural' scroll rather than change my mobile or if I had tablet or touch screen desktop to an 'un-natural' scroll - if I had to choose one type of scroll to streamline across all my devices. – David McEwan Sep 25 '16 at 19:48

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