Monday, 19 July 2021
“You should only see a button when you need it” seems to explain many of Apple’s recent UI directions. File proxy icons in MacOS document windows, for example, disappeared last year in MacOS 11 Big Sur — or rather, were hidden until you moused over them. This post from Michael Tsai has documented reactions and tips regarding this change over the last year — including the fact that in the MacOS 12 Monterey betas, proxy icons can be turned back on using an Accessibility setting in System Preferences. (If you think Accessibility is just for people with vision or motor skill problems, you’ve been missing out on some great system-wide settings for tweaking both MacOS and iOS.)
Does removing proxy icons from document window title bars reduce “clutter”? I can only assume that’s what Apple’s HI team was thinking. But I’d argue strenuously that proxy icons aren’t needless clutter — they’re useful, and showing them by default made them discoverable. Keeping them visible reminds you that they’re there. There’s a one-to-one relationship between a document icon in the Finder and the open application window for that document; showing the document icon in the window title bar reinforced that concept. This hidden Finder preference for MacOS 11 Big Sur delights me, because in addition to showing proxy icons, it also restores grabbable title bars in MacOS 11.
In a sense, no personal computer interface can out-minimalize an old terminal command line — just a blinking cursor on a black screen, awaiting your commands. The Mac’s breakthrough was establishing an interface where you could see — and thus discover through visual exploration — not just what you had done, but what you could do. Proxy icons in title bars weren’t added to classic Mac OS until version 8.5 in 1998, but they exemplified that philosophy. They said: Even though this document is open in an editing window, you can still do things with the file — here it is.
It’s devilishly hard work deciding what to expose at the top level of a user interface. Microsoft went overboard for decades of versions of Windows with way too many inscrutable tiny toolbar icons. But like almost every design challenge, it’s a Goldilocks problem — you can go too far in the other direction, and there is no “just right” that will please everyone. ★
Yours Truly on Rene Ritchie’s Show Talking About iOS 15 Safari ★
At WWDC 2021, Apple unveiled new interface designs for Safari on
Mac, iPad, and iPhone. They’re all radical but none as
in-your-face radical as the iOS 15 version for the iPhone, which
pulls the address bar to the bottom and hides a ton of controls
behind a menu-hamburger button.
We recorded this before today’s release of the third developer betas for iOS 15 and MacOS 12 Monterey, but it all holds up. The good news is that today’s betas show that Apple has taken criticism of the new Safari UI designs seriously — on MacOS, Safari once again defaults to showing the tab bar as a discrete UI element in the window, with one URL address bar. (Similar changes are coming for iPadOS, but didn’t make it for today’s beta.) The iOS changes today aren’t as significant, but, having talked to folks at Apple, there are a lot of changes and refinements still to come as summer progresses. I feel good about what I’ve heard.
(Something I missed in my critique of the Safari 15 betas two weeks ago: you can long-press on the domain name to the left of the “···” button in the floating toolbar to bring up a contextual menu. That contextual menu contains a Share item, and today’s beta 3 adds a Reload item (screenshot). I still say Share and Reload are both important enough that they should be exposed as top-level buttons, but knowing that this long-press menu exists is a great tip if you’re already using the betas.)
If an IBM Leadership Shakeup Falls in a Forest, but No One Is Around to Hear It, Does It Make a Sound? ★
Tom Krazit, reporting for Protocol on July 2:
IBM President Jim Whitehurst is stepping down from the No. 2
leadership position at the company less than three years after IBM
acquired his former company, in just one of several leadership
changes announced Friday.
Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of global
markets, will also leave the company, said IBM CEO Arvind Krishna
in a press release right before the three-day holiday
weekend. Rob Thomas, who has led IBM’s Watson initiative in the
past, will become the new senior vice president of global markets.
Did you catch this story 12 days ago? I almost didn’t. IBM is still a very big company — #42 on the current Fortune 500 list — but they’re just not relevant in the way they used to be, or the way today’s big 5 tech companies are.
It wasn’t too long ago — 20, 25 years? — when a leadership story like this at IBM would have been all anyone in tech talked about for weeks to come. They’ve been diminished not because the government broke them up or curbed their behavior through regulations, but simply because they faded away. It is extremely difficult to become dominant in tech, but it’s just as difficult to stay dominant for longer than a short run.
I don’t offer this observation as an argument against any and all regulation and antitrust investigations of big tech companies. I’m simply arguing that regulation and antitrust lawsuits should be wielded with surgical precision, not broad strokes. Competition and progress work.
Facebook’s Right-Wing Outrage Machine, CrowdTangle, and Kevin Roose ★
Facebook owns a data analytics service called CrowdTangle. CrowdTangle allows journalists and researchers to examine and study the “engagement” of link posts on Facebook. NYT columnist Kevin Roose has been using CrowdTangle’s engagement data to publish the excellent @FacebooksTop10 account on Twitter, which lists the 10 top-performing posts on Facebook every day. Unsurprisingly, most days, the list is dominated by right-wing commentators.
Roose today has a long column — incredibly well-sourced — that digs into Facebook’s response to this imbroglio, which, unsurprisingly, has been to treat it as a perception problem rather than a product problem:
Mr. Zuckerberg is right about one thing: Facebook is not a giant
right-wing echo chamber.
But it does contain a giant right-wing echo chamber — a kind of
AM talk radio built into the heart of Facebook’s news ecosystem,
with a hyper-engaged audience of loyal partisans who love liking,
sharing and clicking on posts from right-wing pages, many of which
have gotten good at serving up Facebook-optimized outrage bait at
a consistent clip.
CrowdTangle’s data made this echo chamber easier for outsiders to
see and quantify. But it didn’t create it, or give it the tools it
needed to grow — Facebook did — and blaming a data tool for
these revelations makes no more sense than blaming a thermometer
for bad weather.
Fleets, We Hardly Knew Ye ★
We had planned for Fleets to help people feel comfortable joining
the conversation in a low-pressure way, but it turns out Fleets
were mainly used by those Tweeting the most.
So now we’re ready to explore other ways for people to share on
The @Twitter account put it better:
we’re removing Fleets on August 3, working on some new stuff
we’re sorry or you’re welcome
I’ll resist dunking on Twitter for this, because I think it’s better for Twitter to try more new ideas — even if many wind up abandoned — than to find itself paralyzed by indecision over how to evolve the platform. Fleets were a fine experiment because, other than taking up a bit of screen real estate at the very top, they didn’t interfere with Twitter’s core features.
(The above encapsulates my thinking on the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. It’d be better to abolish it and let the party in power pass its agenda by a simple majority, even knowing that eventually the other party will be in power, and they’ll do things you don’t like. Let the majority pass its agenda, and if they’re good ideas, they’ll prove popular, and if they’re not, they won’t. Fear of letting the other side achieve its goals when they’re in the majority has resulted in a legislature that can barely pass anything — and that hasn’t worked out well.)
TAG Heuer Connected Super Mario Watch ★
Speaking of Mario:
The TAG Heuer Connected Super Mario Limited Edition brings you a
cutting-edge experience with a surprise twist: four exclusive
watchfaces focusing on playfulness through Super Mario patterns,
an exclusive splash screen as well as a Mario animated watch face
which encourages you to get out and step up your physical activity
Goes on sale tomorrow for $2,150. Not for me, but it’s cheaper than a $1.5 million unopened Super Mario 64 cartridge.
Unopened Super Mario 64 Cartridge From 1996 Sells for $1.56 Million ★
Makes more sense to me than buying an NFT.
Tuesday, 13 July 2021
A good mid-summer silly story from earlier today. Chaim Gartenberg, writing at The Verge, “Apple’s Weather App Won’t Say It’s 69 Degrees”:
If you’re an iPhone user, the weather is always a particularly
nice 70 degrees. Or 68 degrees. Any temperature but 69 degrees,
actually, because it turns out that the built-in weather app on
some versions of iOS — including the current version, iOS 14.6 — will refuse to display the internet’s favorite number, even
if the actual temperature in a given location is, in fact, 69
degrees, along with several other (less meme-able) numerals like
65 and 71 degrees.
It’s not clear if this is a bug or an intentional attempt from
Apple to cut down on 69-related humor. The rounding is only
visible in the weather app itself: clicking through to Apple’s
source data from Weather.com will show the proper temperature, as
do Apple’s home screen widgets. But the iOS weather app will
refuse to show 69 degrees anywhere in the forecast, whether it’s
for the current temperature, the hourly forecast for the day, or
the extended forecast.
Marques Brownlee followed with a quick side-by-side demo with an Android phone. But it was soon pointed out by commenters on Twitter that while true for the Weather app in iOS 14.6, it’s not the case in the current betas for iOS 15. (It’s also not the case for iOS 13, which I still have running on a spare phone.) Gartenberg soon updated his story at The Verge with the following:
A possible explanation for the issue (as pointed out by
several people on Twitter) is that Apple may be
sourcing data for its iOS Weather app in Celsius and then
converting it to Fahrenheit. For example, 20 degrees Celsius
converts to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, while 21 degrees Celsius
converts to 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit — which rounds up to 70
degrees Fahrenheit. The app appears to have similar issues with
temperatures like 65 degrees (where 18 degrees Celsius converts to
64.4 degrees Fahrenheit, while 19 degrees Celsius is 66.2 degrees
This theory that it’s a side effect of converting Celsius integer values to Fahrenheit integer values strikes me as almost certainly correct — especially considering that it affects un-notable values like “65”. Or that even in iOS 14.6, negative 69°F displays just fine. But it’s amusing to me that so many people bought into the possibility that someone at Apple thought it was a good idea to avoid showing 69° as a temperature.
Apple’s Compass app will show you 69°. The Finder will tell you if you have 69 files in a folder. Once you start down this path it’s hard to find an app from Apple that won’t display “69” some how, some way, if that’s the value that ought to be displayed. Apple even has products that cost $69.
But Apple’s reputation for prudishness precedes it.
What didn’t pass the sniff test for me with this “won’t show 69°F” idea is that it would cross the line into losing integrity, or at least losing accuracy. Can I imagine a third-party weather app being rejected from the App Store because its screenshots show a big “69°F” current temperature? Yes. But to program the iPhone Weather app to avoid displaying 69°F when it really is 69°F? (Or to demand a third-party weather app not show “69°F” in the app?) No.
Sometimes a cigar is just an integer math conversion glitch.
I’m reminded of the spate of articles a few years ago, when Apple’s original TV+ titles were ramping up production, that Apple executives were squeamish about R-rated content. E.g. this widely-cited report by Tripp Mickle and Joe Flint for The Wall Street Journal in September 2018, which claimed, “The tech giant wants to make scripted shows for streaming, only without violence, politics and risqué story lines.” It didn’t seem preposterous in the least that Apple might have been looking for a Disney-esque “family-friendly only” image for its original content.
Problem is: it wasn’t true. Ted Lasso sure is a feel-good show, but Apple’s acclaimed The Morning Show is just as surely not. Servant is R-rated horror (or pretty close to R-rated). See was a show about a future world where everyone is blind and they pray to their god by masturbating. Disney+ probably wasn’t bidding on that. ★
Friday, 2 July 2021
I think I like the changes for iPhone. The controls are easier to
reach at the bottom of the screen, and it’s quicker to switch
I get the move to the bottom, in theory — clearly this is about reachability. But I use Safari on my iPhone a lot and I have never minded using a second hand to get to the controls that, heretofore, were at the top: the “ᴀA” menu, the location field, and the reload/stop button.
Here are screenshots from Safari on iOS 14.6:
and iOS 15 beta 2:
Both the old and new designs put these controls one tap away: back/forward, location field, and the tabs button.
The only other one-tap control in the new design is the “···”
junk drawer menu button, which can be long-pressed to toggle Reader Mode. All the other controls are inside the “···” popover menu.
The old design has no “···” menu because it doesn’t need one. It has an “ᴀA” button at the top which can be long-pressed to toggle Reader Mode and when tapped shows a popover menu of site-specific viewing options. At the bottom it has one-tap buttons for Share and Bookmarks. I use the Share and Bookmarks buttons all the time on my iPhone.
The system-wide standard iOS/iPadOS Share popover menu is one of the best UIs Apple has come up with in the last decade. It is extremely useful, very well supported by both first- and third-party apps, and extraordinarily consistent across the entire system. Because it is widely supported and very consistent, it is well understood by users. I realize that the nature of my work is such that I deal with URLs more frequently than most people, but sharing URLs is really common.
I also think the “ᴀA” button is a much better idea than putting all the options previously contained therein in the catch-all “···” menu. Long-pressing “ᴀA” to toggle Reader Mode feels intuitive; long-pressing “···” to toggle Reader Mode feels like they just didn’t know where else to put it. The new iOS Safari “···” menu could have been a “here’s what not to do” example from Apple’s own WWDC session this year on “Discoverable Design”.
Bookmarks are almost completely lost in the new design, and unless I’m missing something, there’s no longer any way to run bookmarklets. I know bookmarklets are an old-school web nerd thing, but I have a few I use frequently, which, if Apple sticks with this design for the next year, I guess I’ll have to rewrite as Shortcuts shortcuts or something.1
The only new thing the new iOS Safari design has going for it is that you can swipe side-to-side on the floating browser chrome at the bottom to switch between tabs. I don’t think that is significantly more convenient than tapping the Tabs buttons to switch tabs. How often you want to swipe through tabs one at a time rather than see your tabs and select one in particular? And if you swipe just a little bit too low, you wind up switching between apps, not tabs.
All that said, I agree with Tsai that the new Safari for Mac is even worse:
For Mac, the new design makes no sense to me, and I’ll likely
switch to Chrome if it can’t be disabled:
- Not only does the location bar move when you change tabs,
but, because it changes width, all the other tabs move, too. It
- With everything on one line, there’s less space for tab text
- It’s harder to get at buttons and extensions hidden under
the … menu.
- There’s less empty space where it’s safe for me to click in
order to drag the window.
- Having the page background color bleed into the tab area makes
it harder to read, and it feels weird for the current page’s
color to affect the way other tabs look. It also works
inconsistently, even on the same pages on Apple’s site. At least
there’s a preference to turn it off.
You don’t have to install MacOS 12 Monterey to use the new Safari design; the latest versions of Safari Technology Preview have it too, and Safari Technology Preview is installed as a separate app, not a replacement for the current version of Safari.
Tabs in Safari on Mac (and, in my opinion, iPad) were a solved problem. The new Safari tab UI strikes me as being different for the sake of being different, not different for the sake of being better. The new design certainly makes Safari look distinctive. But is it more usable or discoverable in any way? I honestly can’t think of a single problem the new design solves other than saving about 30 points (60 @2× pixels) of vertical screen space by omitting a dedicated tab bar. But I think the tab bar was space put to good, obvious use with traditional tabs.
Matt Birchler points out that horizontally, the new tab design uses space less efficiently. Good luck convincing Chrome users to switch to Safari with this design. Not to mention that every other tabbed app in MacOS 12 still uses a traditional tab bar. It’s consistent neither with other popular web browsers nor with the rest of MacOS 12.
Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:
Over the past several releases of MacOS and iOS, Apple has
experimented with hiding controls until users hover their cursor
overtop, click, tap, or swipe. I see it as an extension of what
Maciej Cegłowski memorably called “chickenshit minimalism”.
He defined it as “the illusion of simplicity backed by megabytes
of cruft”; I see parallels in a “junk drawer” approach that
prioritizes the appearance of simplicity over functional clarity.
It adds complexity because it reduces clutter, and it allows UI
designers to avoid making choices about interface hierarchy by
burying everything but the most critical elements behind vague
If UI density is a continuum, the other side of chickenshit
minimalism might be something like Microsoft’s “ribbon”
toolbar. Dozens of controls of various sizes and types,
loosely grouped by function, and separated by a tabbed UI
creates a confusing mess. But being unnecessarily reductionist
with onscreen controls also creates confusion. I do not want
every web browser control available at all times, but I cannot
see what users gain by making it harder to find the reload
button in Safari.
There’s an axiom widely (but alas, probably spuriously) attributed to Albert Einstein: “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” But I don’t even think that applies to this new Safari design. It’s worse. It just looks simpler. All the old functionality remains — it’s just harder to access, harder to discover intuitively, and more distracting. One can only presume that Apple’s HI team thinks they’re reducing needless “clutter”, but what they’re doing is systematically removing the coherence between what apps look like and the functionality they offer.
Here’s another axiom, whose attribution is certain: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” ★
Jason Snell on the MacOS 12 ‘Monterey’ Public Beta ★
Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:
The Mac is also getting a boost with older iOS features finally
being brought to the other side, most notably Shortcuts, the iOS
automation tool that is the first sign of a renaissance of user
automation on macOS.
The good news is, for all the recent fears among Mac users that
Apple might be attempting to collapse Mac, iPhone, and iPad into a
single amorphous product, macOS Monterey still feels unreservedly
like a Mac. Apple wants its platforms to share features, but it
also recognizes that each serves a different (albeit overlapping)
Worth pointing out again that Shortcuts for Mac is not a Catalyst app. In fact, there are no new Catalyst apps from Apple in MacOS 12. It’s seemed clear to me all along that Catalyst was a transitional framework and that SwiftUI is the future. MacOS 12 Monterey seems to be bearing that out. (Snell has a screenshot of the new Shortcuts for Mac with an interesting-looking shortcut based on a Perl script….)
The elephant in the room with MacOS 12 (and iOS, but to a lesser extent): the new Safari tabs interface:
To make matters even worse, the background color of the entire
top of the Safari window is now matched to the color of the
website you’re viewing. It’s a cute trick, but while I understand
the desire to make Safari feel more like it’s a part of the
content it’s displaying, it’s a readability disaster. Contrast
with the text on tabs is frequently poor, and since the color
shifts depending on which tab is active, it feels like my brain
is constantly recalibrating how to read that particular text
contrast. On top of that, there’s also the cognitive dissonance
of seeing tabs for sites with a strong color identity displayed
in a different color because they’re not the currently active
tab. And you can’t see the title of the page you’re currently
viewing, because the URL displays instead unless you hover the
pointer over it.
Because the address bar is embedded in individual tabs now, it
also means that when I type Command-L or Command-T, I have to hunt
down the place where that URL is being entered — the URL box
jumps around based on the location of the particular tab I’m
A lot of user interface elements have also been hidden away to
provide more space for tabs. Tasks that were once a click away
sometimes need to be searched for in a sub-menu.
I think the new Safari interface is a noble experiment — intriguing ideas that were worth trying out. But I don’t know anyone who thinks, in practice, that they’re not a huge regression in usability. I’d love it if Apple just went back to the previous Safari interface for tabs and browser chrome. It’s crazy to me that even the Share button is now an extra click or tap away. If Apple ships this design for the Mac it’s going to push a lot of current Safari users to Chrome or other Chromium-based browsers.
Charlie Warzel: ‘This Is the Awful Voice Inside My Head’ ★
If you think I’m a jerk for my response to that leaked letter from a subset of Apple employees unhappy about the company’s new “three days per week on site, two days remote” policy, you might enjoy this piece from Charlie Warzel, on his new Galaxy Brain site, responding to it:
The voice says: You are free to choose your job. But once you’ve
done that, it’s time to fall in line. It argues that you should
be extra grateful for what your company provides you — a salary,
purpose, any auxiliary benefits — and not to think as much about
what you provide to your company. After all, you agreed to take
this job. You signed the contract. And, most importantly, you
have options. If you don’t like it, leave.
These are the words of a bully. This line of argument is designed
to make those speaking up feel as if they’re being ungrateful,
unreasonable and hysterical. The point is to intimidate employees
into silence. Listen to Gruber’s tone, here, which quite literally
asks: Who do these people think they are?
“And who are these people who took jobs at Apple not knowing the
company’s on-site culture? Do they think Apple built a new $4
billion campus on a lark? Three days a week on site and two days
remote is a huge change for Apple.
I don’t regret a word or emoji of my piece, and I’ve heard — privately — from a lot of Apple folks thanking me for it. So I think my take still speaks for itself, and I shan’t respond to much of Warzel’s take. But quite a few people who objected to my piece took away the same thing Warzel did regarding my mention of the new Apple Park campus. I’m not in any way arguing that Apple ought to keep people on site because they built the new campus; I’m saying the reasons they built the new campus haven’t changed.
Tellingly, he disguises this disdain for employee autonomy with a
classic tactic: the ‘culture fit’ argument:
Given that these letters keep leaking to Zoe Schiffer
at The Verge, I can’t help but think that the problem for Apple
is that they’ve grown so large that they’ve wound up hiring a lot
of people who aren’t a good fit for Apple, and that it was a
mistake for Apple to ever hook up a company-wide Slack.
The culture fit argument might sound intuitive at first. It’s
meant to suggest that “if you don’t believe in our mission, you
probably shouldn’t work here.” But that’s not what it’s actually
saying. Culture fit is really a way that power reproduces and
sustains itself in an organization and silences any dissent.
That might be one way some people argue about “culture fit”, but it’s not what I meant. Apple has, since its inception, had a company culture that encourages dissent and individuality. What they don’t have is a culture that encourages passive-aggressive, meandering 1,400-word letters that claim to demand nothing but make demands nonetheless, or try to rhetorically paint anyone who disagrees as being against inclusivity, or, more ridiculously, the environment. Not getting everything you want is not being “unheard”. And more so, the company has the opposite of a culture that leaks internal discussions with the media. Or that leaks anything for that matter.
Compare and contrast that 1,400-word letter about remote work with Bertrand Serlet’s recently-released 2007 email laying out the entire plan for third-party apps on iOS in a mere 130 words. It’s pretty clear from the first word of Serlet’s email — “Fine, […]” — that Serlet was opposed to allowing third-party native apps. (I’m pretty sure Serlet had argued, and lost, in favor of sticking with — and improving —the web-apps-for-third-party-“apps” strategy that was announced at WWDC just before the iPhone’s release.) But, he lost the argument, so, fine, he acknowledges a decision had been made and he laid out what he deemed to be the best course forward from that decision.
That is very Apple. You argue, you tussle, you make your case, and then when a decision has been made you go for it, even if you don’t like it.
But if you still think I’m being an ass about this, enjoy and savor Warzel’s response. It is worth a read regardless.
‘How Donald Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered’ ★
George Packer, writing for The Atlantic:
Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. He was worse than the closest contender, Robert McNamara, and that is not a competition to judge lightly. McNamara’s folly was that of a whole generation of Cold Warriors who believed that Indochina was a vital front in the struggle against communism. His growing realization that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable waste made him more insightful than some of his peers; his decision to keep this realization from the American public made him an unforgivable coward. But Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile — squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind.