Mac OS X Leopard UI Inconsistencies

When I was asked by Jim Allchin to go through Vista betas with a fine-toothed comb, I did – and I knew my feedback would be sent to the proper teams. If I knew that the right person at Apple was listening, I’d likely compile a similar (lengthy) list of Leopard UI oversights, inconsistencies, and bugaboos – and would be more than happy to do so. As it stands, however…

The lead design team can’t seem to standardize on one type of toolbar icon or another – even in the same applications (like the Finder). The Preview and Mail apps have elongated “pill” icons, whereas the Finder has silver square / rectangular icons potentially intermixed with full color icons. This seems to be an issue throughout the entire OS. If they were trying to fix inconsistencies, toolbar icon uniformity seems like it would have been a great place to start.

While Apple has certainly given us a more consistent UI throughout Leopard’s apps (eliminating Brushed Metal once and for all), seems that element spacing wasn’t considered in the upgrade. The bottom corners of the iTunes window are sharper than the bottom corners of the Finder window. Moreover, the alternating line color height is not the same between Finder’s Cover Flow List view and a similar-styled List view in iTunes. Nor are the line colors matching between iTunes and the Finder.

The Finder should work more like the Mail application, automatically adjusting the horizontal spacing of fields to fit within the space allotted. The user should never see a horizontal scrollbar unless the browsing mechanism is horizontal by nature.

When the Finder or Mail windows are background windows, their Sidebars fade to a lighter shade of grey. Not so with iTunes or Preview (their Sidebars remain light blueish). Seems like a silly thing to notice, but it contributes to the “feel” that Apple was promising. If the colors change in some of Apple’s applications, why not in all of them? I’m just asking for argument’s sake – as I’m sure the answer is much like it would be were I to pose the same question to Microsoft Windows developers.

iTunes, to me, seems like a UI holdout – more than any other app on the system. For some reason, it still contains a classic B&W stopwatch cursor – as well as a preference pane that doesn’t sport the new look in its toolbar (with slick vertical fades flanking the selected section as you might find in Finder’s, Address Book’s, Mail’s, etc. preference panes). The scrollbars are a nice deep blue, but it’s the only app I can find that has ’em.

I’m not sure which “status bar” UI is the standard to compare against, either. The iTunes status bar seems to be set at a different height than the Finder’s, and they’re both set at a different height with different icon size rules than iCal’s.

Despite numerous user interface inconsistencies, I’m still largely impressed with Leopard. OS X finally provides a much better experience for home users than does Microsoft Windows – starting with a lack of product activation all the way through to visual flourish that complements function. I’d agree that it’s an evolutionary increment for existing Mac users – but for current Windows users, it’s most certainly more than that.

Please be careful not to misconstrue my statements. It’s quite possible to love Microsoft but not one of their products. Microsoft is a different kind of company than Apple, mind you. Although both companies produce operating systems for regular ol’ users like you and me – and that’s just about where the similarity ends.

Initial Leopard reports have been overwhelmingly positive, with major upgrade hiccups potentially relegated to those who may have previously applied an unsupported system hack. You could’ve heard a pin drop in the live chat room earlier when we were stepping through OS X’s new features in real-time. You just can’t believe it until you see it, and you just can’t see it until you use it.