That’s Darn Exciting!

Updates to Apple’s MacOS operating system do not always seem like huge affairs. Big Sur, though, feels different. Not only are there a bunch of new features and changes introduced to the Mac, but the entire look and feel of MacOS has undergone a sea change.

I’m not sure I can remember why I despise crApple any more. It’s been such a long time since I touched one of their offerings that, whatever the reasons, they’re long since lost in the mists of time.

I mean … obviously, there’s the matter of their customer base …

If ever there were a motivation for me to spend my life researching time travel with a view to changing the history of the World (a logical impossibility, I know, but humour me) … much as I’d be torn between the usual suspects and Rupert Murdoch ¹, the chance to rid the World … nay, the Universe … of macolytes might well be cause enough for me to say “No … it absolutely, positively has to be Steve Jobs”.

Actually, I lied again.

I have a Mac. And an iPhone. They’re both older models, granted, but the Mac still runs OS X nevertheless and the iPhone iOS 13.6. I just have no reason to ever turn them on is all — the only reason why I might consider a new Mac is because it’s handy to be able to exchange projects with people using Logic or Pro Tools.

So, it’s not like I have no idea what’s going on in Stepford.

Apple really is an exercise in Marketing, not technology.

They did well with the iPhone because they are:

  1. good at Style, not Design ² — their stuff looks good
  2. aspirational — their products are reassuringly expensive

They weren’t even the first to market with a touch-screen … or even apps: Sony beat them to it with the P800/900/910 years before … and they had perfect handwriting recognition across the entire system that worked in all apps — yes, Sony had mobile apps before Apple too.

In fact, when you look at …

  1. Apple’s insistence on non-compliant connectors for their products
  2. the iPad and its lack of connectivity — no USB port for you, fanbois and fangrrlz
  3. gimmicky headphones that fall out of your ears and are lost …

… it’s no surprise to find that the iWatch was an exercise in style over substance.

Their much vaunted aptitude for designing intuitive systems doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you look at the Mac either.

If you click on the ‘X’ on a window it closes it.

But if the window happens to be an app/program instead of a folder or popup it minimises it instead — and that despite the fact that there is a perfectly serviceable ‘minimise’ button on both types of window.

It’s inconsistent (and inconsistency is the hallmark of poor design) … and not remotely intuitive (intuitive is when doing something produces a consistent result in all circumstances).

Also, look at the trash can: to delete something, you drag it to the trash can … to eject a medium (but not delete it), you drag it to the trash can. It’s not intuitive at all and, again … especially in an era with an already long-since established, universal symbol for ejecting a medium … namely the eject button on audio devices as old as cassette players, and on video devices as old as Betamax … that predates the home computer by a considerable marginindicative of a failing in a basic principle of functional Design: that of consistency.

Apple do Style … not Design

They don’t even know enough about fundamental principles of Design to appreciate that — hence their insistence on how good they are at it … which is just the cherry on top really.

The only people worse at design than Apple are the developers at Medium — but they don’t even do Style, never mind Design.

As for their innovation … Apple don’t innovate any more than do Microsoft — just like the latter, they copy and cover with their own style.

Take the Windows 95 = Mac ’89 thing for instance.

Not only was the WIMP GUI concept invented at Xerox PARC in ’72 but Apple were 35 times slower to copy Xerox than Microsoft were to copy Apple — even slower, if you consider that Windows originally appeared long before 1995.

The change from MacOS ≤ 9 to OS X?

Darwin is basically simply a mix of elements of NeXTSTEP, BSD, Mach, and a few other free software projects. with an Apple styled interface — Apple’s only innovation there is the branding … which, itself, isn’t a concept they can lay claim to either, least of all simply by virtue of being good at it.

The only people less innovative than Apple are the developers at Medium — I’m not sure they actually are developers, to be honest (I get the impression Medium is hosted by Wix, or some other webhost, and Medium’s ‘developers’ provide what little functionality they do by way of WordPress plugins).

So, let’s take a look at the ‘biggest revamp the Mac operating system has seen in years’, shall we? Because, where I’m from, the claim that “the result is vastly different from what we were used to in Catalina” is fightin’ talk.

Apparently, ‘the entire look and feel of MacOS has undergone a sea change’.

Really?

Okay … let’s, as they say, start with the Dock.

The icons for Apple’s apps now all share the same rounded square style.

So, it’s not so much a change as more of the same in a different … well, not even a different colour, just the same basic shape with slightly rounded edges … like Android has had since … when?

Does Android even still use rounded edges, or was that the last style?

No … seemingly, the default shape is round, but you have the choice of previous styles as well — Square, Teardrop, Squircle, and Rounded Rectangle.

I don’t know; my phone is a tool, not a toy and I don’t use icons as a fashion statement.

That may not sound like much

That’s because it isn’t.

There’s a dock.

It has icons on it.

That hasn’t changed since Mac OS 8 — which was released nearly a quarter of a century ago!

My desktop paradigm, on the other hand …

that’s different.

Or it is in comparison to the kind of ‘impressive renovation of the Mac operating system’ under discussion here anyway — even though pretty useless on a desktop/laptop … the paradigm only really coming into its own on a mobile phone ³ … Rainmeter, Conky and similar ‘apps’ are pretty ancient in OS terms. so my own approach isn’t actually radically innovative either.

What else then?

Well, I say what else, but there hasn’t actually been anything yet, has there?

So … erm … what then?

Full-height app sidebars remove the solid line separating the vertical sidebar and horizontal toolbar in windows, creating a greater sense of space.

Wow … that’s totally rad, man! (I assume Mac users still think it’s ‘hip’ to say ‘rad’, right?)

Mind you … titles in the sidebar might be a bit longer, but the titles on the toolbar are deprived of their edges?

Oh, no!

They’ve given with one hand but taken with the other … the sidebar is taller but titlebar is shorter.

It’s a change too far … too radical.

Seriously … it’s a total inversion of the desktop paradigm: up is down, black is white, Monday is Tuesday, cats and dogs will live together, women will start wearing trousers …

Quick … what’s the number for the Samaritans again!?

Ooh, look!

You can put icons/shortcuts in the control centre — just like you you’ve been able to do on your desktop (or, indeed, any other folder of your choosing) since … erm … ummm … aaah … pretty much since there’s been a Mac OS, in fact.

So, there’s nothing to see here — as the police like to say (whenever there’s nothing to see).

Moving swiftly on then …

Widgets come in different sizes and can be put in the control centre — just like Windows Vista’s sidebar, in fact (how different).

Catalyst apps are, seemingly,

  1. just as much of a disappointment as they’ve been all along
  2. in exactly the same ways
  3. for exactly the same reasons
  4. which makes a change

Safari is a web bowser.

Okay … that’s a little too concise on my part, perhaps, so, let me elaborate.

It now lets you do things that you’ve been able to do with every other web browser for so long that people long ago realised that they were a bad idea in terms of security and privacy, performance and usability … and started providing ways to disable them (so long ago now that I can’t remember when I first started turning them all off by default after every fresh install).

Speedwise, it depends on which result is significant to you, but … as both were designed by Apple anyway … how much difference does it really make to your night if you go home with the guy who says his ex used to go wild over his performance in bed rather than the guy whose current partner does go wild over his performance in bed?

So, yeah … Safari is a web browser, you know. I could elaborate precisely how underwhelming that revelation is … or just, you know, say ‘Safari is a web browser’ and leave it at that (which kinda says it all really, when you think about it).

So … is there anything else?

Do you know what?

I don’t know and I don’t care.

I really can’t be bothered.

The only radical change about Mac OS 11 is that it’s called Mac OS 11 after all these years of Mac OS X being ‘the last Mac OS ever’ and there only being upgrades to it.

It’s an exercise in branding …. in style over substance — so, appropriately, there’s no change there either then.

Get it … install it (if you can) … or get a new Mac and get it by default … whatever.

Or don’t.

Just …

Whatever.


¹ No Murdoch, no Thatcher … no Thatcher, no …

What does it matter? No Thatcher … yaaaaaaay!

² You only have to look at the dreadful mess that is the alarm setting function to see that. Restyling the ‘4 x 0–9’ input method … that is not simply as old as digital itself, but actually predates it … to a ‘cycle through all the individual numbers, overshoot, try again’ approach … is a clear indication that, in Apple’s case, they don’t know squat about Design — hence their re-invention of the wheel into a triangle in the digital clock/alarm settings … because they don’t know that, however stylish it might look, if the access structures implemented do not provide the most frictionless experience possible then the thing needs redesigning not a new coat of paint.

Before even digital technology was the substrate, there were electronic (or even just plain electric) systems that implemented the digital approach …

To set a time / alarm, there are four fields for a clock displaying the value in HH:MM format.

You select the value for each field from ‘0’ to ‘9’ individually.

This is the most efficient way to enter the values and thus the form of the design (four individual fields, with the least number of values necessary for each) meets the requirements of the intended function (entering the time value accurately) with the least number of steps necessary to do so.

In the worst case scenario, where all four values are 9 away from what you need them to be, you have to cycle through 4 x 9 = 36 values — with bi-directional selection the maximum is 4 x 5 = 20 values.

Compare this with Apple’s restyling of the input method on the iPhone/iPad, where you have two fields with values ranging from ‘00’ to ‘59’.

From any given value for each of those fields, instead of 9, you potentially have to cycle through 29 values to reach the desired one, so you potentially have to cycle through 2 x 29 = 58 values to set the time … even with bi-directional selection.

The effort required to set the time value is 161% that of the standard 4-field design — 290% with bi-directional selection.

It’s inefficient.

Like redesigning the wheel as an oval instead of a circle, it might look cute and stylish, but from a Design perspective it’s a fail: it’s an exercise in Style over substance, not evidence of a flair for Design — in fact, it’s evidence of a complete failure in understanding the fundamental tenets of Design.

And don’t get me started on the utterly illogical structure of the Settings section!

³ Because, at home, you’re either using an application (not looking at your wallpaper/desktop) or you’re not using your computer at all (and not looking at your desktop/wallpaper), just waiting for a popup/bing to alert you to incoming email or whatever … and laptops you can see notifications on without turning them on do not have displays capable of displaying that amount of information anyway, so it’s of no use on those either.

⁴ Which is why Microsoft introduced the sidebar in Vista … because desktop widgets were no use to anyone actually using their computer — and only Billy No-Mates sits staring at his wallpaper/desktop when he’s not actually using his computer for anything (everyone else has a life to lead, people to see, things to do).

⁵ Hey, look … don’t knock it. Apple could just as easily have done the same thing as they have with the sidebar/toolbar and made Catalyst apps

  1. just as much of a disappointment as they’ve been all along
  2. in (almost, but not quite,) exactly the same ways
  3. for almost, but … and here’s the kicker … not quite, exactly the same reasons.

You wanted change … you got change!

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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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