macOS ‘About’ Boxes

There’s been a lot discussion recently about the state of Mac apps, particularly on what the future holds with Marzipan bringing iOS apps (and their design language) to macOS.

Naturally, many Mac enthusiasts have been concerned about how Marzipan could corrupt the look and feel of macOS—look no further than Mojave’s additions of Home, Stocks, Voice Memos and News last year for noisy complaints.

These apps are early demonstrations of what will be possible from WWDC this year and most notably, Steve Troughton-Smith has been reassuring users of the positive aspects of such a transition, both with his tool Marzipanify and recent videos on Twitter, showing the last major transition from classic Mac OS to Mac OS X. People should calm down—we’ve been through this before and some degree of inconsistency has always been present in macOS. (Just look at the three different ways that I had to write the name of the operating system in this paragraph… Apple has changed its mind over time too.)

With Apple set to make a massive cross-platform effort, the company and its third-party developers can only work to improve the experience in the system.

A great example of the current inconsistency in macOS is the variety of ‘About’ boxes in default and third-party apps. Sometimes this variation can be frustrating; other times it can add personality. Let’s look at a few examples.

The default ‘About’ box generally looks something like Safari’s below.

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Top-quality macOS citizens, such as Pixelmator Pro and Ulysses for Mac follow Safari’s simple, default design.

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Of course, iTunes does its own thing.

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Slack, as a somewhat controversial Electron app, still manages to keep consistent with this design, however it does not honour the activation of dark mode in Mojave.

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Reeder 4 for Mac, whilst an entirely new app that respects Mac conventions like keyboard shortcuts, has its own ‘About’ box design which is completely inconsistent with other apps. That being said, it is clean and includes nice credits to the creators of the app.

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Pastebot also includes a different type of ‘About’ box and is yet to support dark mode on Mojave, however, like Reeder 4, it also includes a nice list of credits.

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Mactracker takes its focus on Apple history seriously and even extends this philosophy to its own ‘About’ box, going into more detail about the make-up of the app.

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Perhaps the worst example that I have ever seen, Microsoft Teams, (an Electron app like Slack) opens a line of descriptive text within the app window rather than as a separate window. In fact, the app doesn’t even support multiple windows, which is dreadful in macOS.

Whilst other inconsistent ‘About’ boxes may be frustrating or out-of-date to some, at least they can be interesting or offer some personality and variety to the interface. Teams flies in the face of macOS design sensibility and convention.

The lesson to take from this is that design consistency, whilst aesthetically pleasing and particularly great for accessibility, can be bent a little bit in macOS to add variety and personality. With the exception of Teams, which disrupts the macOS norm, each of these developers can their own special something to their ’About’ boxes, along with the design of their apps.

As we approach the era of Marzipan and truly cross-platform apps for macOS and iOS, we should be positive and enthusiastic about the change that is coming. Apps will look different; their ‘About’ boxes will certainly be different… but new and perhaps even better ideas about interface design should rise to the top.

Furthermore, with easier development tools from UIKit, we will hopefully see more developers keen to develop for the Mac platform. In an ideal world, we’ll all receive great, new interfaces over time that are consistent overall, yet still bring their own special something.

If you’re still not convinced by this and fear a horribly inconsistent design future for the Mac, check out this interesting piece by writer Riccardo Mori on the history of vintage Mac ‘About’ boxes. Things have always been a little different and there’s certainly nothing to fear.

Rumination No. 38: Dining in with Takeaway

I’m assuming that you, dear reader, have visited restaurants and cafés before. You know the drill: you walk in, find a seat, order some food and/or drinks and then consume your chosen items around the table. If you’re with friends or family, then you may even engage in some enjoyable banter.

Natasha and I went out for breakfast to one of our favourite cafés in Audley, which is in Royal National Park, north of Wollongong. We followed the general process that I outlined above and were enjoying some delicious pancakes for breakfast. We observed something at a nearby table, however, which did not gel with the natural order of things…

Another young couple had walked into the café, placed an order at the counter, then sat down at a table for a few minutes. Rather than receiving food at their table, their order was called and they went to retrieve two takeaway coffees. ‘Ahhh…’, you must be thinking, ‘They were just waiting to receive their takeaway coffees before venturing out again’. Incorrect—they sat back down at the same table with their paper coffee cups.

I have two major issues with this. First of all, the café offers ceramic cups for indoor consumption of hot beverages. Why on Earth did these people think that it was appropriate to use disposable resources that can’t be recycled entirely (such cups are laminated), when a reusable alternative was present and much more appropriate for the dine-in context?

Second, this couple sat at a table and benches that could comfortably fit six people and for a good deal of time, they just stared at their phones.

This is a perfect (yet all too common and mundane) example of the arrogant, self-centred behaviour that is prevalent in modern society. It’s similar to waiting until the last few metres of an ending freeway lane to merge into the next one, leaving unwanted grocery items in the wrong aisle, tossing a cigarette in the street or stopping in the middle of a busy pathway to take a selfie. Why is it so hard for people to be considerate of others and the environment around themselves?

Let’s be frank: it’s just easier to sit down, block out the real world and monitor your likes on Instagram.

Rumination No. 37: LinkedIn Tales of Love and Adversity

Back in March, I ruminated about the horrendously boring meme culture on LinkedIn in a piece called Key Leadership ‘Learnings’ of Collaborative Synergy and Digital Disruption #AI #blockchain. I felt that summed up things nicely.

In that piece, I made a brief reference to the prevalence of ‘broems’ on the site. I’d like to revisit that particular topic now. Quite simply, they are poems by bros (‘broetry’, if you will)—these elongated, one-line-at-a-time tales of corporate success and revelation are some of the most pointless pieces of text that you’ll find on the Web.

Generally, they will deal with topics such as making the most amazing, unexpected hire (a unicorn!) or how having a latte with that one special suit changed one’s life forever, leading to a rewarding career journey of unimaginable heights and KPI-fulfilment. Their stretched-out presentation suck you right in and before you know it, you’ve clicked on the ‘See More’ button and you’re scrolling to get to the end in the hope that it will be worth it.

Well, I think that I’ve found the most pointless broem ever. It is so devoid of any detail or storytelling, that I’m completely baffled by the number of reactions that it has received. Surprisingly, it’s also a short one.

OVER 73,000 REACTIONS

MORE THAN 2000 COMMENTS

Apparently, all that you need to do to be successful is inhale and exhale, then repeat this process consistently until your particular moment of adversity has passed.

Now, I chose not to include the name of this person in the screenshot because that would have been unfair. I have no doubt that this person and his wife did in fact have to deal with hardship at some point. Unemployment is extremely difficult and they were obviously in a difficult situation.

Where is the story though? How can we appreciate this tale of triumph if the author can barely be bothered to share it properly? How can people out there, who may be looking for guidance through similar issues, possibly take anything from this? Why not offer something that’s genuinely helpful?

Somehow, sites like LinkedIn have become hubs for the production and consumption of pure mediocrity such as these broems… and people are rewarded for it with virtually meaningless likes and shares.

The next time that you see something like this online, don’t enable it. Let’s strive for a higher quality of writing in this amazing place called the Web.