Now that the official 10.5 Leopard preview is approaching, various people are starting to post their wish lists and fake screenshots (which are kind of wish lists in disguise). So here’s mine.
Like everyone else, I hope to see improved UIs for the Finder and Spotlight, but since everyone else has already covered that I’ll skip it. So I’ll shorten my list to two closely related things, both inspired mainly by developments in Tiger.
1. Consistent, less fragmented UI
The number of different button types in OS X is getting ridiculous. For Cocoa buttons, Interface Builder lists 11 button types: (deep breath) Rounded Bevel Button, Square Button, Small Square Button, Square Textured Button, Round Textured Button, Push Button, Check Box, Radio Button, Round Button, Disclosure, and Help Button.
My favorite thing in that list (in a “love to hate” kind of way) is that the “square” and “rounded” textured buttons are actually the same shape: rectangular with rounded corners. In other words, neither square nor round. The “square” style is the gray button style sort of (but not exactly) like what you see at the bottom of the iTunes window. The “round” style is the shiny plastic style seen in the Safari toolbar buttons. The difference between the two, as far as intended use, is unclear and undocumented. Both appear in the Address Book toolbar, shooting down my initial theory that the “round” style was for toolbars and the “square” style was for other places.
I also was initially confused by the word “textured” there, since both styles look smooth, but really it means that both button styles are supposed to be used with the “textured” (or metal) window style… which, if iTunes is any indication, isn’t going to be textured anymore. At least they’re still buttons.
Then there are the button styles that are not available as standard controls, which developers must reproduce manually if they want to use them:
• The flat, round-ended “More Info…” button in the Finder column view
• The square popup buttons in Mail for selecting your account, signature, etc.
• The search location buttons in the Finder and Mail (which are also different between those two apps)
And so on. You get the idea. So at the very least, I hope Apple doesn’t further increase the number of button styles we see in 10.5. Ideally I’d like to see that number decrease, but I’ll be honestly surprised if it does.
2. Documentation for new UI elements
Documentation is, I think, more important than providing developers with standardized controls. I can easily create an imitation of, say, the “more info” button style, but I’m on my own when it comes to deciding when I should actually use it. So is everyone else, and we all might have different opinions on that subject. It’s a good thing these new button styles didn’t become trendy like metal windows did. That was one ugly trend. At least I think it’s relatively safe to talk about it in the past tense.
Apple’s interface guidelines are in pretty good shape right now. My only complaint is that they are incomplete. Well, that and Apple keeps releasing applications of their own with experimental new interface features. If it’s in an Apple application, it’s effectively the standard, even if it isn’t documented. Third party developers want to follow that standard, but when there are no real guidelines, and especially when not even Apple seems to know what they’re doing, that can really go downhill. This appearance of a “do as we say, not as we do” attitude makes a lot of people unhappy, including me.