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The Apple goes mushy: OS X's interface decline
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-07-26 22:08:33

Nicholas W. Howard:

Wander into almost any online forum or article comment section about a controversial announcement from Apple Inc. and you will almost certainly hear a variation of this sentence: "Apple has gone downhill since Steve Jobs died." The sentence slithers around vaguely; it never seems to specify how, or in what ways, Apple has gone downhill. I agree, nonetheless, that it has. Whether or not Steve Jobs's absence caused the decline (though I suspect it did), I grow frustrated as I watch each software update further erode one pillar of Apple's formerly astronomical greatness.

No: I am not referring to their software's stability, important and perhaps worsening with time as it may be. I walk a different tightrope. The design-community-approved articles pertaining to an "Apple software decline" focus on bugs (see Marco Arment, Glenn Fleishman, Russell Ivanovic) or even lunge for their shields to claim that Apple has no such software problems (see Jim Lynch), with the glaring exception of this thoughtful and much-needed lament by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini. The article you are about to read will address the same unsung subject as Norman and Tognazzini's article: the design, not the engineering, of Apple's graphical user interfaces. But where their article is general, I have harvested specific example after specific example of the user interface decline of (the now-former) OS X.

A great article with which I wholeheartedly agree - but my agreement comes with a twist.

Where Howard seems to regard the purest form of the Aqua graphical user interface as the bar for the decline, I consider the bar to be what is now referred to as the Classic graphical user interface, but which is actually named Platinum, which reached its zenith in Mac OS 9.

Platinum in Mac OS 9 was elegant, clear, memorable, focused, and pleasant. Forget OS 9's multitude of structural problems - it was a terribly designed house of cards that would crumble if you looked at it funny - and just focus on the UI, in which elements are clearly marked, there's tons of useful but not annoying visual feedback, and a rare sense of spatiality to it all.

Aqua has always been too candy cane for me, and it's only gone downhill from there for Apple - iOS and Mac OS today are dreadfully bland and void of character, and this article does a decent job illustrating it.

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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-30 -- 31-33
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Aqua bad? WTF?!
By sergio on 2016-07-26 22:36:48
Aqua UI blended perfectly with my PowerMac G4 Quicksilver... both were aesthetically unique and super cohesive.

To me the Aqua/G3/G4 era was Apple Computers at its best... from software to hardware, from UI design to customer support. Everything was "different" in a good way: creative, personal and also pretty affordable.

Computers for the masses (not the classes!;) with that artistic and human touch Apple had in the past. Good old times...
Permalink - Score: 5
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Oooof
By WorknMan on 2016-07-26 22:44:09
Didn't like the 'classic' look back then, and sure as hell don't like it now. Not even a little. I mean, I'm sure it's fine from a design point of view, but these things always come down to subjectivity anyway ...

Edited 2016-07-26 22:44 UTC
Permalink - Score: 2
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Agreed.
By CaptainN- on 2016-07-26 22:55:13
I recently reformatted my entire Mac Book Pro, and briefly had the last skeuomorphic UI before the refresh. It's better. No candy, clear icons, clean lines, buttons are obvious. It's rare that I install or come across an old version of a thing and thing - gee, that was better - Windows, Cars, etc. - the old one just seems old when I come across it. It's not so with OSX. The old one was better.
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Elegance
By tomz on 2016-07-26 23:06:03
I'm not for skeuomorphic per se. Sometimes it just gets annoying, but the release of Windows "Aero" served to clarify the differences of thought.

Jobs - and there are others but none apparently work for Apple - understood the idea that the UI must simply and clearly indicate what is going to happen, status, etc. or otherwise is just Eye Candy like Aero.

This has been lost. Like a 5 star restaurant that loses its chef. It still serves soup but there is something not quite right.
Permalink - Score: 5
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Still like it but....
By mlankton on 2016-07-26 23:10:10
....the UI peaked with Snow Leopard and has been declining since.

As a long time NeXT user it took me a while to warm up to Aqua, but I did, in a big way. It's very long in the tooth now and needs a major overhaul.
Permalink - Score: 3
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Hear Hear, Tom!
By bryanv on 2016-07-26 23:13:23
I couldn't possibly agree more.

Platinum was a thing of beauty. Platinum was the singular reason I would install Kaleidoscope on Mac OS 7.x machines. It's feedback and use was top. notch. And for craps sake -- the Finder was actually useful back then.

MacOS Platinum stands right up there with later iterations of OpenTracker / OpenDeskbar as my ideal desktop metaphor -- for which I still pine.
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RE: Still like it but....
By bryanv on 2016-07-26 23:14:34
Also agree. Snow Leopard was the peak for Aqua. The early iterations were pretty out there with the use of the effects -- which was all for the ohhhhh and ahhhhhh factor.
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RE: Agreed.
By Alfman on 2016-07-26 23:27:54
CaptainN-,

I also object strongly to the elimination of context clues. The design world has always favored style over substance, but with moderation you could have a balance with the best of both. However absolute minimalism became a fad that swept the consumer tech industry like crazy and nobody seemed willing stand up and say that interfaces are becoming less predictable and more difficult.

I think this line sums it up:
> Unfortunately, visually simple appearance does not result in ease of use, as the vast literature in academic journals on human-computer interaction and human factors demonstrates.

Edited 2016-07-26 23:40 UTC
Permalink - Score: 6
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2 GUI Things
By MrEcho on 2016-07-27 01:45:59
Theres only really 2 major GUI things that bug me. One being that the Dock will randomly switch screens, its not sticky on the primary monitor. Second is the lack of 'snap' and window functions.
Damn it, no mac, not full full screen, just the view area or what ever you call it.
I guess a third thing would be OpenGL/Vulkan, come on Apple.
Permalink - Score: 1
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RE: Oooof
By sergio on 2016-07-27 02:11:52
> Didn't like the 'classic' look back then, and sure as hell don't like it now. Not even a little. I mean, I'm sure it's fine from a design point of view, but these things always come down to subjectivity anyway ...

Me neither, 'classic' sucked and it was totally outdated even Windows 95 UI was better.

IMHO Mac OSX with Aqua was a HUGE step forward in every aspect, when I used it for the first time I thought: "wow, this is something from the future!!"
Permalink - Score: 3

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