Thursday, November 19, 2020

Big Sur Not “Preparing” for Touch Macs

Craig Federighi:

I gotta tell you when we released Big Sur, and these articles started coming out saying, “Oh my God, look, Apple is preparing for touch”. I was thinking like, “Whoa, why?”

We had designed and evolved the look for macOS in a way that felt most comfortable and natural to us, not remotely considering something about touch.

We’re living with iPads, we’re living with phones, our own sense of the aesthetic – the sort of openness and airiness of the interface – the fact that these devices have large retina displays now. All of these things led us to the design for the Mac, that felt to us most comfortable, actually in no way related to touch.

I’ve never felt more comfortable moving across our family of devices as a user, which I do hundreds of times a day than I do now, moving between iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS Big Sur. They all just feel of a family – there’s just less cognitive load to the switching process.

To me, it seemed obvious that the reduced information density was to enable touch. Because why else would you pay that cost for no benefit? Plus, the Mac App Store had started to feature artwork of a finger touching interface elements.

The cognitive load that Federighi mentions just isn’t something I’ve (consciously) experienced. And one could make the argument that it’s confusing to make systems that work differently look the same. But I take him at his word because it certainly explains decisions like the awful iOS-style alerts. That design provides no benefits for touch; it just makes macOS look more like iOS, which he considers to be a plus. All of these changes also help to make unmodified iOS apps running on Apple Silicon Macs blend in a bit better.

Nick Heer:

Big Sur offers a little more space around some elements, but not by much, so I think this speculation is quickly snuffed out if you use Big Sur for more than a couple of minutes. Most of the menus, buttons, and window controls are still tiny and clearly designed for a cursor and decidedly not a finger. It is still very much on the desktop side of the continuum.

Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

Someone PLEASE create an app to decrease the spacing of the menu icons in Big Sur!

My apps now take up 50% of the width of it, instead of 25-33% previously. 😞

Francisco Tolmasky:

“We are willing to go through a multi-year transition on the Mac to use the same chip as the iPad, and do a design overhaul to make macOS icons look touchable, and even let iPad apps run on macOS, but we refuse to make these steps make sense by shipping a Mac with a touchscreen.”

Steve Troughton-Smith:

macOS would still need dramatic changes if it were ever to go touch-first. Catalyst is not in any way designed to dynamically switch between ‘Mac’ & ‘iOS’ modes — if an app has adopted Catalyst to explicitly make a Mac UI, it would be a ton of work to support dynamic switching

But, to be clear, the Mac doesn’t have to go touch-first to justify touch support. Apple Pencil support on macOS, on a drafting table iMac, would fit into all kinds of pro-level workflows currently dominated by Wacom, from illustration to 3D modeling.

Jean-Louis Gassée:

I think the charming and articulate executive is putting us on.

I absolutely think Apple will add at least limited touch support to future Macs, even if that wasn’t the plan when Big Sur was being designed. Federighi didn’t even deny that.


6 Comments RSS · Twitter

Someone ought to try hooking up a touch-supporting monitor and see how well it works for Big Sur.

Apple should make a Mac tablet.

Perhaps the chief UI designer at Apple has one of these:

As so many enlightened people have pointed out in the past, it would be ludicrous to think that Apple does not, somewhere, have a touch Mac in its labs and does not keep the necessary hardware and software current. They did, after all, keep building Intel Macs in secret for years, just so that they could flip the switch when inevitably, the time came to abandon PowerPC processors.

Big Sur’s big buttons, so to speak, certainly facilitate adding touch to macOS down the line, without dramatically revamping the UI once again and making it obvious too many months in advance — since such a major interface change would need to be introduced at WWDC well ahead of the release of the first touch-enabled hardware. Big Sur’s design language, which can be excused as a celebration of Silicon, is already touch friendly enough that it would be visually easy to loosen it a little further still when the Mac switches to “touch mode,” without radically rethinking the structure of the menus and windows.

Older members of the Mac community, like myself, keep pointing out how subpar a touch experience would be on a Mac, because the controls and buttons are still “too small,” but such a “sub-par” experience has been thriving on Windows for nearly a decade: Windows is still not a touch-first OS, for all its use of “tiles” and “toasts,” but it works well enough in touch mode when the average user flips their laptop to “tent mode” and watches Netflix. This is pretty much all that most users want from a touch laptop and Apple has proven of late that they no longer consider shipping “good enough” features to be below them — iOS apps on Silicon, early Catalyst apps, News…

Of course, as many have said, touch support could mean Pencil support: fingers would have to be supported to lure reticent users into purchasing a pencil, but there are plenty of touch-centred features which could work even with Catalina’s UI design, such as note-taking, sketching, etc. Convertible Windows laptops have shown that users enjoy turning their laptops into tablets for very specific tasks and do not mind ignoring the touch layer when using the machine as a traditional “PC.” Since the touch layer is now fully invisible, adding it would not impede the normal operation of the machine in any way.

Would Steve have looked at Big Sur’s interface and slapped a touch screen on it? Probably not. Would Tim do so, if it made financial sense to cannibalise iPad sales with a touch-enabled Mac? Of course he would.

It's certainly possible Craig isn't just putting us on --- but then, as Hermes Conrad once said, "That just raises further questions!"

[…] At the same time I’m in full agreement with Michael Tsai when he says: […]

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