Lion’s futuristic and maddening upgrades

If you still haven’t updated to Mac OS X Lion and are collecting reviews, impressions and assorted literature on the subject because you want to be… psychologically prepared for the big jump, then you should definitely add Apple OS X 10.7 Lion roars with futuristic, and maddening, upgrades, by Andy Ihnatko for the Chicago Sun-Times.

I read the whole review constantly nodding in agreement with Ihnatko, especially where he talks about the maddening aspects of Lion in the section titled The Mac as a Big Honkin’ iPad: the stuff that doesn’t work. I already expressed my perplexity regarding the changes in the scrollbars in Lion after watching the demos by Craig Federighi at the WWDC keynote. I pointed out that borrowing from iOS in this particular instance — the look and behaviour of the scrollbars — wasn’t a particularly good idea. I wrote about it in a post in the Italian section of my blog, so let me translate and summarise that part for you:

When both Schiller and Federighi said that (I’m paraphrasing) scrollbars are ugly, scrollbars are no longer needed, I immediately knew where this was going. There’s nothing wrong with the scrollbars. They’re quite useful — to instantly give you a visual clue of the length of a document, of a Web page, or an approximate estimate of the number of items in a folder when you open it in a Finder window. The new solution, borrowed from iOS, which makes the bars appear when you move the pointer and disappear when you stop, might be visually attractive, but the immediacy is lost. It’s nitpicking, I know, but if the goal of a user interface, among others, is to make things easier for the user, then by having scrollbars always in place, you can convey information the user is able to see and process without the need to take any unnecessary action. A nudge to the mouse wheel, a tap on the trackpad, a slight touch on the Magic Mouse, albeit small, are always additional actions the user must carry out to obtain information he/she could already see with the ‘old-school’ scrollbars. 

Here’s what Andy has to say:

On the iPhone and the iPad, scroll bars are only visible when you’re actually scrolling. As with the iPad’s multitouch shortcuts, that’s a great idea because there’s really no alternative. The iPhone has a teeeeeeeeny little screen and iOS can’t afford to waste a whole column or row of pixels on a scrollbar.

There’s no such limitation with a Mac screen. Even the screen of 11” MacBook Air is perfectly functional. And yet, Lion hides scrollbars unless you’ve actually scrolling.

Can’t stand that.

Even when they’re actually visible, they’re much narrower and harder to see. […]

A scrollbar isn’t decorative fribble. It’s a fundamental element of a GUI. When I’m editing a document, for example, the position of the scrollbar’s thumb and its size instantly tell me two things: that I’m about halfway through the document and that there’s probably only three or four more screenfuls of text to read. All at a glance. Why force me to expend actual effort to get that information?

And don’t forget that a scrollbar is a functional element as well. I want to zap straight to a certain section. Well, thanks, Apple: you made this tiny coin-slot of an indicator a lot harder to grab onto. 

I’m glad I’m not the only one to be annoyed by that. I didn’t want to be too vocal about it because I haven’t actually used Lion, not even a beta, so mine was just an opinion out of observation, while Andy speaks from direct experience. Same goes for certain multitouch gestures like the ‘reversed scrolling’. But I won’t spoil you further — please go read the whole review, it’s really worth your time.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!