Wednesday, November 24, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The MacBook Pro Notch

Tom Warren:

Snazzy Labs owner Quinn Nelson has posted two videos on Twitter demonstrating some of the early notch issues. The main video demonstrates what appears to be a bug in macOS. Status bar items like Apple’s battery indicator can get hidden underneath the notch when status bar items are extended.

Nelson demonstrates this with iStat Menus, which can be hidden under the notch or can force system items like the battery indicator to be hidden underneath the notch. While Apple has issued guidance to developers on how to work with the notch, the developer behind iStat Menus says the app is just using standard status items and that Apple’s dev guidance “won’t solve the issue presented in the video.” This doesn’t appear to be intended behavior, as the notch works differently inside certain apps.

Jason Snell:

You could imagine this notch being a major pain point for developers and users alike, but it’s not. And that’s thanks to the menu bar, a Mac convention since day one that provides the perfect place to hide a display cutout. The menu bar has been given a little extra height to completely encompass the notch, and menu items automatically move to the other side of the chasm if there isn’t room for them to fit.

It takes no time to get used to having a notch at the top of the display. And it’s a good use of space since moving the menu bar up into what would otherwise have been unused bezel means that there’s more room downstairs for everything else. (I see now why Apple changed the metrics on the menu bar in macOS Big Sur—it was clearly laying the groundwork for this display. Add in the curved-edge highlights that appear when you click on a menu-bar item and the whole approach really looks great.)

Howard Oakley:

If you obsess about it, I’m sure it could become irksome, but I barely notice it.

John Gruber:

The notch in the menu bar for the camera is very weird at first. The mouse pointer passes under it, so it justs disappears when in the center of the menu bar. That’s really weird! If I had written this review a week ago, after my first day with the machine, I’d have written a lot more about the notch. One week in, I’m just not noticing it. One notch-related change I’m still getting used to is the taller menu bar. It makes the menu titles look even more disconnected from the actual menus. It’s interesting that last year’s redesigned menu bar in MacOS 11 Big Sur was seen by some as laying UI groundwork for future touch screen support in MacOS, but it now seems clear it was redesigned to more elegantly fit with the notch. You’ll notice that most of Apple’s product photography for these new MacBooks shows them with dark desktop pictures. With default translucency settings, a dark desktop gives you a dark menu bar, and a dark menu bar disguises the notch.

D. Hardawar:

Upon first glance, it’s almost laughable that Apple is leaning even more into a design element that everyone hates. But, honestly, the notch isn’t a big deal.

Stephen Hackett:

A week in, I’ve mostly forgotten it’s there.

Nilay Patel and Monica Chin:

But to me, rather than thinking of the notch eating into the display, I think of the display getting larger except in that one spot. The MacBook Pro effectively has a 16:10 display with a little extra bit at the top where the menu bar and the notch live. You stop noticing it after just a few minutes, just like you stopped noticing the iPhone notch.

Riccardo Mori:

On the Mac, the notch visually splits the menu bar, a UI element you interact with all the time. The notch covers, occupies a part of the menu bar that could be devoted to displaying menu items and menu extras. This isn’t a real problem when you have apps with just a few menus. But with more sophisticated and professional apps, with many menus on the menu bar reaching and even surpassing the middle point, then yes, the notch is definitely in your way and you can’t tell me you’re not going to notice it. When you launch an app with lots of menus on one of the new MacBook Pros, all the ‘excess menus’ will get moved on the right, and the notch will of course be a sort of gap between them. So, according to Linda Dong (Apple Design Evangelist), developers now need to take the notch into account when designing their apps (more unnecessary work for them, but who cares, right Apple?)

Fred McCann:

It’s tempting to call this bad design, but this looks more to me like someone who was responsible for making a product level decision refused to make a decision about what was the most important thing and shipped a broken compromise.

[…]

What’s not evident from this screenshot is that menu items are under the hole, inaccessible. Unlike menus which wrap around the hole, menubar items simply disappear. This isn’t some Bartender behavior, this is the default behavior in the operating system.

[…]

What were the product people at Apple thinking? I can’t know for sure but I suspect they thought thin bezels, a better webcam, and a nicer screen were all equally important. This is another way of saying is no one at Apple actually decided what the most important thing was. They punted.

[…]

The one thing the product people at Apple thought wasn’t important was a working menubar.

Previously:

11 Comments

> This is another way of saying is no one at Apple actually decided what the most important thing was. They punted.

Fred listed out the probable competing product goals very well. And then drew the wrong conclusion.

They did not punt on a decision. They simply prioritized differently than Fred.

The one thing the product people at Apple thought wasn’t important was a working menubar.

I find it hard to come to that conclusion. I’m with Oakley: they could have picked different tradeoffs, such as a bigger bezel, bigger case, or smaller camera sensor.

I don’t think they would have increased the menu bar height to make it line up exactly such that the remainder of the display is 16:10, or to apparently give it a dedicated row of LEDs, if they didn’t think of the menu bar as “important”. They clearly felt it was a key design element of a Mac. (It seems they did, however, feel that it wasn’t important to leave it contiguous.)

I also find it silly to conflate the hiding behavior. One is a long-standing macOS behavior since 10.1 (which introduced status items/menu extras in today’s form, replacing 10.0’s Docklings): if both menus and status items don’t fit, start removing status items until menus do fit. That approach is arguably a hack, but getting UI overflow right is a stupidly hard problem. (Do you add a chevron? A second row? Do you shrink the text? Do you make the menu bar scrollable? All these options suck.) This behavior is nothing new; it’s just exacerbated because these new MBPs have slightly less horizontal room.

The other is a bug. We can quibble over whether Apple should have caught it before shipping these, or why there apparently hasn’t been a bugfix release yet (is it fixed in the 12.1 betas?), but I find “I kept adding status items to my menu bar until this looked and behaved poorly” to be a rather contrived scenario. I’m a long-time iStat Menus user, but who wants that many icons in their status area?

I am inclined to agree that the notch is slightly more annoying just to look at than on an iPhone. To that end, I installed a notch simulator on my Mac, and just used it that way for a while. Yep, I notice it. No, it doesn’t seem to affect me much.

It's a big nothing in my experience. Sure, I see it at times, and I find myself sliding the mouse pointer behind it for fun, but it's yet to bother me.

I guess I'd prefer a smaller cutout, but I've only seen a menu stretch beyond it once so yeah.

All the other lovely bits about the MBP more than make up for it.

The notch is the worst design decision Apple ever made. There is no good reason for it.

It is absolutely garbage on the iPhone and maybe worse on the laptop. Just make the bezel bigger! It's fine! Don't add this ugly thing that gets in the way.

Ugh I really hate the notch.

"The notch is the worst design decision Apple ever made. There is no good reason for it. "

The reason for it is that webcams on notebooks suck, particularly in comparison to phones, because a lot less space is dedicated to them. This was kind of okay a few years ago, but having a bad webcam on your laptop now sucks a lot, because lots of people are working from home, are in lots of calls, and have poor lighting, which makes them hard to see. Which is bad, particularly if you're working with people who don't hear well, for example, and depend on being able to see people's lips properly.

Apple made the decision to both decrease the bezel size, but also not put in an even shittier webcam. Both of these seem like fine decisions, and the notch is a reasonable tradeoff, in my opinion. Maybe it could have been implemented better, maybe it should have been moved to the right a bit. But overall, this is a reasonable decision, and much less of an issue than on the iPhone.

I love my new MBP but indeed I have been hit with the status menu items overflowing under the notch. I do have quite a few of those and use them all, but they barely fit even on the 16" (main culprit is the fairly wide Tyme item when running a task).

I found a surprising way to make those items narrower, so that more of them can fit. Initially the "trick" did not do anything, but somehow yesterday after trying more things the status bar did "reload" itself (I force quit Dock, which should not have affected the menu bar, but that's what I did) and suddenly they were all narrower and the right side of the menu bar was compacted, which means all items now fit easily, far away from the notch.

I did not see that tip in your entry Michael, but maybe it's there, sorry if I missed it. In any case, I read about it last week, not sure where, so here it is. For applications not updated yet to account for the notch (if even the devs can do that!?), you quit the app, go in the Finder, get the Info window for the application and check the box "Scale to fit below built-in camera", then restart the app. To be honest, not even sure that's how the status menu items eventually got more compact, but I don't see any other explanation for the sudden improvement.

I don't have many status icons in the menu bar, but it sounds as if that UI bit is broken to begin with if people can overload it to the point where it cover nearly 50% of the screen.

What happens if an application needs a lot of space for its menu, and the top area is overcrowded by statuses?

"I don't have many status icons in the menu bar, but it sounds as if that UI bit is broken to begin with if people can overload it to the point where it cover nearly 50% of the screen."

Yeah, Mac OS probably needs something like Window's task bar menu, where most of the status icons are in a popup, but you can drag the ones you want to see all the time out into the task bar.

Agreed. macOS should have something like https://www.macbartender.com or https://matthewpalmer.net/vanilla/ built right in.

Big Sur's Control Center is a move in that direction, but only applies to first-party icons.

The obvious solution is to have a system preference that allows the user to restrict the screen size to just below the notch.

@plume

> The reason for it is that webcams on notebooks suck, particularly in comparison to phones, because a lot less space is dedicated to them.

But adding a notch doesn't change that. They can have a better camera without a stupid notch.

> Apple made the decision to both decrease the bezel size, but also not put in an even shittier webcam.

Right, instead of doing the better thing which is don't decrease the bezel size and put in a better web camera.

> Both of these seem like fine decisions, and the notch is a reasonable tradeoff, in my opinion.

No the notch is not a reasonable trade off. Its a garbage trade off. It is not reasonable at all.

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