The Apple Goes Mushy

July 29th 2016

Explaining how Apple has violated each of these last three principles, I will establish why that fact should sadden anyone who believes, as Apple once did, that using a computer should be easy, fun, and even gleeful

A worthwhile two-part read about UI design, clarity, and experience design in macOS. The author is quite scathing in dissecting Apple's UI and feedback mechanisms as they've evolved over recent years. Several of the points had me nodding in agreement – things are becoming less obvious and I find myself, more and more, having to hold the option key to perform so many basic functions that should just be exposed as buttons, or at least visible in a menubar dropdown.

My latest holy-hell moment with macOS was trying to find a way to speed up audio playback while doing podcast show notes (listening @2x is so much more efficient). Turns out there used to be a playback speed option in iTunes – gone. There also used to be a playback speed menu item in QuickTime – gone. I spent way too long Googling my way around this, trying to find 3rd party apps that wouldn't cost hundreds of dollars, like Logic.

Turns out, there is a way to change playback speed in QuickTime: option + j. Yup, option. Plus j.

It was bewildering to think that this couldn't be in a right-click menu on the play button or scrubber, or as an item in the menubar. I recognize that tradeoffs and ruthless prioritization needs to be made in software design. But this is functionality that has existed for a long time and used to actually be exposed as an explicit function for users to click. But now playback speed will never be found or used by anyone in QuickTime, forcing people like me down long rabbit holes of Googling and downloading 3rd party apps only to discover later that there are obscure shortcuts to solve these problems natively.

I want to end on a positive note, but it's tough. I think that macOS has become prettier over time. But when certain feedback mechanisms and affordances disappear completely as the software evolves, it becomes painful to watch everyday users struggle to perform basic tasks. I do feel some sense of relief in knowing that software like macOS is a work in progress – they'll keep learning and things will keep evolving.

I just hope it's in the right direction.

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