Reda Lemeden

Reda Lemeden

Indie Developer & Designer

The Reshaped Mac experience

Riccardo Mori writes about a Twitter Thread by Jeff Johnson, where he criticizes the direction Apple took with Big Sur.

[…] the Mac experience today feels disjointed. […] Big Sur embodies what I’ve been fearing in recent years — a progressive iOS-ification of Mac OS.

The so-called iOS-ification is often cited as to why the software we use today on the most powerful hardware we’ve ever had access to is barely more advanced than what we used decades ago. I’d argue that the real reasons go much deeper than that and permeate an entire industry, not just Apple. But let’s leave that for another occasion.

But this loss of differentiation is especially detrimental to Mac OS, which is being reduced to the lowest common denominator and loses an increasing amount of user interface ideas and conventions that were central to its superior user experience and ease of use.

I haven’t been keeping tabs on UI regressions in Big Sur, but this all sounds like hyperbole to me. Especially considering the example the author chose to illustrate the point:

You want an example that I find particularly glaring? Big Sur’s UI features a general increase of space between elements — icons, menus, labels, toolbars, sidebars, pretty much everywhere.

The argument that more space between elements reduces information density is well established. But calling it glaring is nothing short of an overstatement. There is a point beyond which spacing becomes actively harmful in a user interface, but it’s hard to argue that Big Sur crossed that threshold. And I am saying this both as a long time Mac user and as a UI designer.

These are all notes from an external observer, mind you. I don’t have inside information. I don’t know anything about how the Design team works at Apple. I’m just trying to make deductions based on what I’m seeing when I’m using Big Sur compared to all Mac OS versions I used previously and still use along with Big Sur.

I understand that people have different expectations of what a desktop operating system should be, and that Big Sur is by no means regression-free in the the UI department. But this sentence is the crux of what I object to in this piece and others like it; I have a hard time empathizing with the author when all I am presented with are assumptions and opinions disguised as facts.

Even after all these months, I am still trying to collect my thoughts regarding Big Sur. My current impression is that it has its highs and lows, like every software release ever. Some UI decisions, especially around title bars, might need further adjustments. Some icons need additional pixel hinting. Some elements need better alignment. But quite frankly, none of it stands out enough to completely ruin the experience. When you’re absorbed in a given task, these details mostly stay out of your locus of attention, until they hinder your task progression—which might or might not happen depending on how much attention you pay and how easily distracted you get.

At the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing wrong with people sharing their experiences and opinions; I am just ranting about a rant so that I can link people to it when they send me more rants about Big Sur.