Wednesday, June 8, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

System Settings

Joe Rossignol:

The new System Settings app looks more similar to the Settings app on the iPhone and iPad, with settings placed in a sidebar for easy access.

[…]

System Preferences had been the app’s name for over 20 years, but System Settings is the new name going forward.

I like having the list of panes in the sidebar. The search works better than before, and I like how the matches from lower in the hierarchy are displayed. The groupings could use some work—and maybe some titles—but they’re an improvement over what we had before. I like that the list in the sidebar remains visible when you’re viewing a settings pane. Unfortunately, sometimes the keyboard shortcut for searching doesn’t work.

I don’t really understand the renaming from Preferences to Settings except for consistency with iOS. And why did iOS call it Settings in the first place? It’s going to be annoying to support multiple app versions and to change the application menu item and the window title dynamically. Documentation and scripting dictionaries will need to be updated and bifurcated, too. Some of the panes have changed name, e.g. Security & Privacy is now Privacy & Security. More documentation and alerts to update. Does it really make sense for Software Update and Time Machine to be buried inside of General, or are they just that way because of iOS?

The main part of the new Settings window is really disappointing. It uses a multi-column interface that does not feel very Mac-like. You can only see one column at a time. macOS started out with such nice column views in Finder and iTunes; these days we get a little Back button and horizontal scrolling thumbnails within a column. Sometimes the Back button disappears even when a lower level pane is being displayed. The lists of sub-panes are not keyboard navigable. Selection is buggy. Within each pane, the controls are laid out in a very uniform way in scrolling lists that remind me of nothing so much as cross-platform apps like Chrome and Discord. Did Apple do this because the new design is superior in some way (that escapes me)? To make it more like iOS? Because this sort of generic layout is easier to do with SwiftUI?

The other thing I object to is the use of iOS-style switches instead of checkboxes. Apple has specifically said:

Use a switch to toggle significant preferences, or preferences that provide access to other controls. Avoid creating lists or tables of switches; instead, for general-purpose toggles, use an instance of NSButton to display a checkbox.

and:

Avoid using a switch to control a single detail or a minor setting. A switch has more visual weight than a checkbox, so it looks better when it controls more functionality than a checkbox typically does. For example, you might use a switch to let people turn on or off a group of settings.

In general, don’t replace a checkbox with a switch. If you’re already using a checkbox in your UI, it’s probably best to keep using it.

Riccardo Mori:

Before you could see all panels at a glance. Now — welcome to scrolling.

On my 16-inch MacBook Pro, with the Dock on the side, I can resize the window to be taller and barely see all the items in the sidebar. I still see this as an improvement over the icon grid, though, as I had so much trouble finding things there. Scrolling in the right pane is required even with the enlarged window, which is a shame.

Jeff Johnson (tweet, Hacker News):

Notice first that on Monterey, the keyboard focus starts in the Search field, whereas it doesn’t on Ventura. I’ll talk more about keyboard focus later, but also notice the bizarre popup buttons on Ventura. The button doesn’t even appear until you hover over it!

[…]

On Monterey, you could customize the preference panes, hiding the ones you don’t want to see.

[…]

On Ventura, this [Full Keyboard Access] setting is more difficult to find, because it’s buried behind another button.

[…]

I honestly don’t get the appeal of switches at all, not even on touch screens. The only "point" of switches appears to be pointless animation. But otherwise, simple click or touch checkboxes are easier and quicker to toggle.

For example, with checkboxes you can click anywhere on the text.

On Ventura, the list of [Notification] apps cannot be navigated by keyboard at all, and neither can the settings for each app.

[…]

System Settings window has a fixed width. This is unfortunate, because the settings are competing with the sidebar for that width (approximately the width of an iPad, you might say).

You can’t even make it wide enough so that the “Apple ID, iCloud, Media…” at the top isn’t truncated.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The new System Settings app on macOS brings the performance, reliability, and Mac-optimization you’ve come to expect from SwiftUI to a core system app. It’s exactly as good as that sounds.

CM Harrington:

More lost sheep design.

John Siracusa:

I’m not feeling it, Ventura…

Dr. Drang:

I thought the thing people didn’t like about System Prefs was scanning through the grid of icons to get to the right panel. Not the layout of preferences within the panels.

Dan Masters:

Oh my god. macOS’ Trackpad preferences pane was one of the best examples human-centred design.

See also: Mario Guzman, Ryan Jones.

Previously:

Update (2022-06-09): Oskar Groth:

Apple is throwing their own HIG’s out the window here. Split views, panes, check boxes and modal panels are out. Instead we have a vertical UI with iOS-like grouping and tiny switches.

[…]

There has never been a NavigationController eqvivalent for macOS. We were literally told by Apple not to present UI this way. So it represents a pretty significant shift in macOS design philosophy.

Nick Heer:

I am not as much of a detractor of Apple’s current visual design themes as some, but I worry about stuff like this. They lack the visual clarity and integrity of great Mac software.

So begins another summer of filing dozens of bug reports with the words “insufficient contrast” in each of their titles.

John Siracusa:

This comparison (suggested by @gruber) is particularly harsh.

Jeff Johnson:

If the General items were included in the sidebar, it would be even more of a mess. As it is, the sidebar can only show 18 items on my screen at minimum window height, 27 at maximum window height (with bottom Dock). So the sidebar will never show all of the items, unlike in System Preferences. […] The Desktop & Dock section in System Settings is also absurdly long. It combines preferences from multiple panes on Monterey: Dock & Menu Bar, General (now named Appearance in System Settings), and Mission Control.

[…]

The Wi-Fi section in System Settings shows of full list of the available wi-fi networks. For me, this list contains more than 30 networks in my area. Even worse, you have to scroll down to the bottom of the section, below the network list to see a couple more preferences.

[…]

Spotlight Privacy has the opposite problem in System Settings. You have to click a “Spotlight Privacy…” button to show the list of folders excluded from Spotlight. In System Preferences, the list is in a tab in the Spotlight preference pane. Ventura System Settings seems to be allergic to tabs.

[…]

The “Enter password” field steals the focus when you arrow down to the Passwords section in the System Settings sidebar.

Thomas Clement:

The thing that kills me with the new System Settings design is that people like myself have spent years trying to tell people at big companies to not do iOS-like design like this for the macOS. Now they’ll just point to this, nothing more we can do.

John Gruber:

Anyway, Basic Apple Guy’s suggestion/prediction turned out to be spot-on. In MacOS 13 Ventura, System Preferences has been replaced by Settings, and it’s not merely a name change, it’s a complete redesign with an iOS-style layout. Joe Rossignol at MacRumors and William Gallagher at AppleInsider have good pieces illustrating the new design.

From what I’ve seen in Ventura developer beta 1, I wish I’d just written that short “sounds like a fine idea in theory but a bad idea in practice” post back in February. But, after bringing this up during The Talk Show Live From WWDC 2022 on Tuesday, hearing Craig Federighi’s take has me more open-minded.

Damien Petrilli:

“What’s new in SwiftUI” session shows the new macOS Settings App as an example of a great designed SwiftUI App 🙃

Mario Guzman:

OS X Mountain Lion was the last Mac OS with a good System Preferences. Multiple sections, labeled sections, consistent icons.

Christopher Grande:

Print dialogs got this treatment as well.

Some good changes, now resizable, printer/app features broken out into discreet sections instead of only being visible one at a time.

See also: MacRumors Forums.

Update (2022-06-10): Sami Fathi:

During the 90-minute conversation, Federighi addressed recent controversy that has arisen following macOS Ventura’s introduction of the redesigned System Preferences, now renamed System Settings. One aspect of the redesign that has gotten noted on Twitter is the removal of videos that demo macOS trackpad gestures. Federighi confirmed during the interview that those videos are coming back in a “new experience” in a future macOS Ventura beta.

Federighi said that despite what some may think, macOS Ventura’s redesign of System Setting was not largely inspired by iOS. Federighi instead said that team’s main goal was consistency for users, saying System Settings on macOS Ventura is a “great interface.”

Update (2022-06-16): Tony Arnold:

Check the overlapping layers of information/hierarchy below, then realise that the top layer scrolls. There are no affordances — you have to scrub for info — it’s mystery meat nav.

Mario Guzman:

Most of these Settings panes also have their Help button at the very bottom of the scroll. Oh, do you want to see what this Pane is all about? Maybe there’s a Help button with more info here somewhere but you gotta scroll to find out!

Update (2022-06-24): Paul Haddad:

Let’s assume that Sys Prefs has to be re-written in SwiftUI and needs an entire new look. Why the hell does it need to happen now? The current build feels like alpha level software, it’s not going to be ready by Fall. Just spend the year making it solid and release in 14.

If you want to use an app to prove that SwiftUI is the future (🙄) of Apple dev, go use Pages or Numbers or Keynote. Any of them would be a far more impressive feat, wouldn’t be tied to an OS release schedule and are easy to keep old versions around if it turns into a hot mess.

I’ve been running into more bugs with System Settings in Ventura Beta 2.

Update (2022-07-07): macOS 13.0 Developer Beta 3 introduces new animations in the Trackpad pane.

Update (2022-07-11): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2022-08-11): Niki Tonsky:

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

Mario Guzmán:

We must remember a lot of these are bugs that may be fixed before the final release in the fall.

But the majority of these are straight up abominations because they’re trying to retrofit Desktop UX into mobile UX. This makes me sad because the Mac used to be the shining example.

Marco Arment:

It’s FAR worse than you think.

It looks and works like a quick-and-dirty prototype that should’ve been brought to a design meeting, considered, and ultimately abandoned.

And Apple’s going to ship it.

Previously:

Update (2022-08-12): Nick Heer:

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.

[…]

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.

12 Comments

And why did iOS call it Settings in the first place?

"Preferences" was too long for the original iPhone home screen.

I don’t really understand the renaming from Preferences to Settings except for consistency with iOS...are they just that way because of iOS?...To make it more like iOS?...

Yes.

The switches with swaths of whitespace separating them from their context are also clearly less scannable than the prefixed checkboxes they replace. My eyes keep getting dragged over to the right side of the window on each line.

Benedict Cohen

I guess the iOS app is called ‘Settings’ because ‘Preferences’ would be too long and be truncated.

The first switch I remember seeing on OS X was to turn Time Machine on/off. I remember it seeming a little incongruous due to its skeuomorphic appearance but it made sense as the action was more significant than other settings.

To me, anything after the era System Preferences lost its ability to drag & drop your favorite preferences item to the toolbar, have been just a disaster. Item categorizing is also getting messed up every year and it's significant recent years. They should not be afraid to stay just classic...

"Privacy & Security"

Leave no marketing stone unturned.

Steve Harris

I'm actually horrified by how bad System Settings is, it should be a flagship UI experience. Also, if they want to announce that SwiftUI is the best way to make apps then they could at least demonstrate it. Using System Settings reminds me of Shortcuts on Mac, where maybe it looks OK at first then it feels so clunky and wrong, like it's pretending to be a native app. Jeff Johnson's excellent blog post quotes Steve Jobs -- I don't think Jobs would have let this get out of the door.

Harald Striepe

I think the new design is a disaster. I do not care whether it is caller Settings or Preferences despite the change in connotation (it's no longer about the user.)

The Portrait style is great for a portrait iPhone display, it makes little use of the landscape Mac screen. The structure of the current screen makes the experience more navigable as and accessible. And it just looks better.

The new screen is likely overwhelming to new or non-technical users.

The UX makes little sense to me except that they might have one set of app code cross platform.

Ten years ago, I would get excited for new releases of macOS.

These days, every WWDC is nothing but apprehension and worry about how they're going to make macOS even worse than it was last year, and also make my life hellish as a developer somehow. Once again they've demonstrated why these feelings are warranted.

These new settings are simply awful. Worse in every single way compared to before, maybe with the exception of not having to scan a bunch of icons. But I'd take any version of System Preferences from previous macOS releases over this monstrosity.

Old Unix Geek

@Bri, I haven't tried these new Settings, but I agree with your apprehension.

I haven't needed to use Grab.app for a while, but tried to use it. It was simple and convenient. It could have been improved. But instead they replaced it with a monstrosity called Screenshot which is much less usable. Why did they do that?

As long as the search is good enough I'm fine.

I've long since given up on clicking my way to what I need to fiddle with

Harald Striepe

I just came back from Ventura. It lacks JOY!

Especially the Settings are JOYLESS. I think that's the issue. Just look at the Trackpad panel and how instructive it can be on Monterey and the dry slider mess it it in Ventura.

> I just came back from Ventura. It lacks JOY!

Sums up current Apple pretty much exactly.

That's the secret sauce that Jobs/Ive had and the current leadership sorely lacks. They thought it was important to delight the user. Now Apple just want your eyeballs and cash...

> Mario Guzman: OS X Mountain Lion was the last Mac OS with a good System Preferences. Multiple sections, labeled sections, consistent icons.

No, Panther was, I was going to say. Then I found this article: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2003/11/macosx-10-3/4/

Quote:
[...] Yes, System Preferences has been rearranged _again_. At some point, I think someone needs to make a final decision here. Three years should be enough time to pin this down. [...]

This was published in 2003. So... well... yeah.

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