Custom UI Oddities, Past, Present, and Future

Niki Prokopov:

Ok thread of weird stuff found in redesigned macOS Ventura System Settings app.

This is, indeed, a thread full of a lot of really weird stuff. There are some new standard UI components in here, but there are definitely some custom elements and behaviours that, all told, make it look like a bad port of an application from a different platform.

At a live taping of the Talk Show this year at WWDC, Craig Federighi commented on the “new control types” in MacOS Ventura “that [are] not too heavy, [are] very readable and scannable, and yet clearly interactable”. But there are many examples in this thread of non-obvious controls, non-standard interactions, and things that only make sense if you know to hover a pointer over them.

That means this Settings app fits with Apple’s recent obsession with buried controls and cross-platform consistency, even when it may not make sense, but it makes me worried for all the times I will need to use the Settings app. I do not change systemwide preferences very often so, when I do, I want everything to smack me in the face with its obviousness.

Jeff Johnson on the new and similarly nonstandard Share popover:

If I want to navigate the menu with the keyboard, I need to enable full keyboard navigation in the Keyboard pane of System Settings. This setting is disabled by default.

And then I can navigate the menu… but not with the arrow keys! I need to use the tab key to go down the menu, shift-tab to go up the menu. Correspondingly, the menu items no longer get selected, as on Monterey and earlier, but instead have a focus ring.

Peter Böttges on Twitter (via Michael Tsai):

Keyboard support was also removed from Menubar controls like Sound/Vol. and Wi-Fi with the overhaul in Big Sur.

And most of the new UI has zero support for Apple Script automation, making it inaccessible to those having to rely on it.

That’s the wrong direction to take macOS to.

Custom UI elements are a familiar presence in MacOS. Remember the many window themes in Mac OS X Tiger? There were standard windows with a title bar, “unified” windows that merged the title bar and toolbar, bizarre pill-shaped buttons that were only present in Mail, applications that sported a brushed metal effect, and slightly darker windows in Apple’s pro application suites. Heck, iTunes was full of custom controls from its earliest incarnations, and many third-party developers have their own take on what their brand of Mac application ought to look like.

I have no problem with non-standard controls in principle. But I do have a problem with non-standard behaviours. I know Ventura is still being finished, but it is worrying to see things like keyboard navigation being, maybe, tacked on toward the end of the process. There is the very real possibility it may not materialize, too; I remember similar problems with the search field in the first Catalyst version of Maps that shipped with Big Sur.

But one hopes Apple learns from its missteps and corrects for them the next time it tries something similar. What it feels like with the changes to Settings, the Share popover, Control Centre, and the ubiquitous back button in Catalyst apps is a redo of a flawed approach. The more concerning thing this time around, for me, is that it is part of a pattern of questionable choices introduced and never re-evaluated because the next version of MacOS will be shown off just ten months from now.

Update: The new Share popover in MacOS Ventura also requires the user to move the pointer more. This runs afoul of Apple’s guidelines, which advise software vendors to “place the most frequently used menu items where people are likely to focus first”. In this context, those are the Share destinations. It is also obviously a regression.