posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 7th Jan 2011 18:00 UTC
IconRemember the good old days? The good old days when people cried loads of foul over the inconsistency in the Windows user interface? You know, applications deviating from the norm - with even Microsoft seemingly doing whatever pleased them? This was considered a huge problem, especially by those from the Macintosh and Apple camp. Oh, how the times have changed.

Yesterday, Apple unleashed the Mac App Store upon us as part of the Mac OS X 10.6.6 update. When I updated my cute MacBook Air 11.6" and launched the App Store after the mandatory reboot, and laid my eyes to rest on the interface, my eyes exploded. It felt like they hired Neville Page to design the darn thing.

I originally planned to verbally slap the UI to Neverland and back, but luckily, Tim Morgan beat me to it. The most glaring act of professional UI murder is the placement of the titlebar widgets, which have been centred vertically with what I would reluctantly call the toolbar. Instead of the perfectly fine and universally used '4pix from the top', Apple decided to move them down considerably, giving the window a severe case of obesity.

As if the act of merely brutally murdering the UI wasn't enough, Apple also felt the need to desecrate the corpse some more. The back and forward buttons are non-standard, using the same colour as the frame - whereas everywhere else in Mac OS X they use a slightly different colour to make them easier to spot.

In addition, the 'search' field is also non-standard; it has a different shape, and lacks the blue halo effect of other search fields. Heck, any text input field in Mac OS X gets that same blue halo when active. This is done to properly highlight the field currently active. It's one of the things I miss in Windows 7. They cherry on top is the weird toolbar buttons, which look completely out of place in Mac OS X, as they sport this weird neon-blue highlight when selected.

The reason as to why this UI feels so horrendously out of place is simple: it seems as if Apple was too lazy to code a proper Mac OS X UI, instead opting to simply drag and drop the code from the iPad version of the App Store, make some minor changes to the UI, and leave it at that.

It's nothing new, of course. Mas OS X has been a consistency nightmare for years now, with boatloads of different themes, and functionally identical UI elements that look entirely different from one another. Where Apple once stood at the forefront of consistent, sensible UI design (Platinum, I salute you!), the company took a left turn to bananas a few years ago.

Coincidentally, the amount of inconsistency in Mac OS X's user interface seems directly correlated to the amount of success of the iOS. It's no secret that Steve Jobs likes to focus on the latest and greatest, and it seems that the traditional operating system has fallen from his grace. The result has been a glacially slow development pace in Mac OS X and a user interface that gets increasingly messy. This is further illustrated by the fact that just about everything unveiled about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion are things taken straight from iOS.

Apple taught us not to try and cram a traditional desktop interface onto a mobile device, yet now, it seems as if they are trying to cram a mobile interface onto a desktop. How delightfully ironic.

So, this leaves us with the crazy situation where Microsoft has really been cleaning up its act when it comes to user interfaces; the amount of clean-up between Vista and Windows 7 is astounding, and it seems that they're going to take it further in Windows 8 (they appear to be working on centred titlebar text, bringing it in line with Office where this is already the case). At the same time, however, Apple seems to be making a mess out of Mac OS X's user interface.

What really made my day was Jon Gruber's response to all this. When Apple still stood for consistency, Gruber was a proud member of the 'konsistenz muss sein'-team. Now that Apple seems to have abandoned this mantra, Gruber follows, using increasingly silly reasons to justify this shift.

Once, concistency was an integral part of good UI design - now that Apple has decided to intercourse the pooch on this, Gruber tries to justify this by surgically removing consistency from good UI design, claiming it is somehow "conservative" - a word with a decidedly negative connotation. This allows him to label consistency in UI design as, and I quote, "boring, old-fashioned, stodgy".

In other words, if you are an advocate of consistency - what Apple and Gruber once were - you are now a curmudgeon, a whiner, not hip. And yes, I take offence to this. While I believe there is some merit in allowing developers and UI designers to experiment with the contents of an application, some elements ought to be consistent, with the titlebar being on top of the list of things not to mess with.

I dislike the inconsistent mess that is my iPhone, and I'm sad that Mac OS X is starting to look just as inconsistent as the iOS. It's disturbing to see a company that developed one of the best interfaces in history (Platinum, I salute you!) - in my opinion - go down this path.

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