Friday, December 8, 2023

Mac Menu Bar Icons and the Notch

Jesse Squires (Mastodon):

On my 13” Intel MacBook Pro, the icons reached to about halfway across the screen. On the 14” M3 MacBook Pro, ironically a machine with a larger display, at least 3 icons get hidden.

This “design” (or lack thereof) is so dumb. It is utterly ridiculous to me that this is still how it “works” two years after the introduction of the redesigned MacBook Pro with a notch. How hard could it be to add an overflow menu with a “«” (or should it be “»”?) button that shows the remaining apps and icons that can’t be displayed? This entire situation with the notch is ironic, because the iPhone notch and “dynamic island” are so thoughtfully designed with zero compromises regarding the functionality of iOS. In fact, they actually provide a better user experience. Yet on the Mac, how the notch interacts with macOS is laughably incompetent. It is shockingly lazy regarding attention to detail, and results in an outright disruptive and confusing user experience.

Aside from the problem of the icons being hidden, there’s no API for an app to tell whether its icon is hidden. NSStatusItem.isVisible tells you whether the app or user wants the icon to be visible, but it will return true if the icon is hidden in the notch—or even if it’s hidden behind a menu title.

This has caused problems for me because in Sonoma it’s no longer possible for SpamSieve to add commands to the Message menu in Apple Mail. So SpamSieve instead offers its own menu that’s visible in Mail. If there are too many icons, I want to be able to warn the user so that they can rearrange them or access the functionality in a different way. The best workaround I’ve found is to get the coordinates of the icon and then use a pile of hacks to try to figure out whether it overlaps the notch or a menu title. The menu title positions cannot be accessed without accessibility permissions, so I have to hard-code them for each localization and hope the font metrics don’t change.


I feel a bit sad every time somebody asks me how to recover an icon that “disappeared behind the notch.” I still believe people should not have to download a third-party app to deal with Apple’s hardware and software decisions that lead to the notch and its tendency to swallow menu bar icons. macOS should at least have a way to handle an overflowing menu bar. For this reason alone, Bartender is an essential Mac utility that’s easy to recommend to anyone running a Mac.


Update (2023-12-21): Jesse Squires:

I figured it was worth making a separate post about this specific issue to list all of the workarounds and alternatives. It is clear that this is a widespread problem that users are having.


Reduce the menu bar item spacing and padding via UserDefaults. (Thanks to Oliver Busch for the tip. Also see this Reddit post.) There are two defaults settings you can configure via Terminal, NSStatusItemSpacing and NSStatusItemSelectionPadding.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

There are plenty of PC laptops with slim bezels and front-facing cameras, and no notch... are we really to believe that Dell could figure this out and Apple could not? I find the notch to be ugly to look at and frustrating to work around, with menus and icons moving or vanishing on a regular basis. It's bad design IMO.

But I will say, despite the notch, the M2 15" Air is my favorite Mac since the 2015 MBP 15".

"This entire situation with the notch is ironic, because the iPhone notch and “dynamic island” are so thoughtfully designed with zero compromises regarding the functionality of iOS."

...apart from the fact you lose the ability to have a persistent VPN status indicator in the status symbols at the top of the display, which is important for people in totalitarian information regimes like China or Australia, or corporate settings, but sure "zero compromises".

What Someone said. The "zero compromises" assertion is strange. The status bar on iPhones with a notch (or a dynamic island) are absolutely compromised, which you can easily tell when swiping down Control Center: that brings down a _different_ status bar with more information.

I have a 14-inch MBP running macOS Ventura and, indeed, I couldn’t live without Bartender.

Having said that, it’s possible to change the resolution so that the menu bar appears below the notch.

In System Settings > Displays you need to toggle on « Show all resolutions » and you’ll notice that for every screen width, there are 2 possible heights.

If you choose the smallest height (I.e. 1512x545), you’ll notice a black bezel at the top and the notch won’t be an issue anymore.

I don’t think this problem is specific to Macs with the notch. Menu bar icons on macOS that don’t fit will be clipped and there is no button to access items that overflow on any Mac. Apple should implement an item to allow users to access menu bar icons that overflow (like NSToolbar has done forever).

Steps to Reproduce:
1) Develop a menu bar app.
2) Periodically get support emails claiming that the app no longer shows up in the menu bar.
3) After some back and forth you discover it’s always because the user loves menu bar apps and has like 30 or so running and they clip.

Hard to believe that after decades of macOS they never felt the need to fix this for users.

I was wondering why I've never had any issues with this on my 14" MBP. Then I realized it's because I use it in clamshell mode 99% of the time.

@ObjC4Life Yes, it’s not new with the notch. But more people are now encountering the problem because the notch reduces the menu bar capacity.

@ObjC4Life and @Michael Tsai this is also happening because Apple decided it would be great to increase the padding around menu bar apps AND to removed the ability to move or disable some of them.

Remember when you could edit the clock? That was more than 10 years ago. Less than 5 years ago you could move it around or turn it off completely.

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