Big Sur Makes Changes to Many Apple Apps and Basic Features

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Apple unveiled macOS 11.0 Big Sur during the WWDC keynote, showing off overhauls of Messages and Maps, while improving Safari, Photos, and other apps. Mail was conspicuously absent for now.

Too bad they didn’t talk about Mail. Possibly because it’s the most frustrating Apple app to use and it’s the one I use the most. I don’t care what else they do, as long as they get rid of the damn hide-and-seek interface (not just in Mail, but that’s where I notice it the most). As a Mac consultant, I find myself having to explain to clients that they must magically know to hover the mouse in a certain area to see a control they know must be somewhere.

I long for the days of Jef Raskin. We are deep in the territory of form over function.

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They may not have been ready. I expect it’ll look like iPad Mail, which was demoed and I was not that big a fan of the new look.

Like you, Colleen, I would have also liked to hear and see more about Mail. Ironically, it’s Mail they chose to show the refreshed UI. But just very little detail, unfortunately.


Thank you for sharing your clients’ problems with hidden controls, Colleen.

As Don Norman said:

Does the user perceive that clicking on that location [on the screen] is a meaningful, useful action to perform?

If an indicator of such a “meaningful, useful action” is hidden unless the pointer is close to it, you obviously cannot easily answer that question. Especially in highly complex applications, there can be good reasons to hide some less-commonly used controls to reduce the perceived complexity of the overall UI (“progressive disclosure” is the technical term).

That typically applies to applications for expert, and well-trained, users, but not for something as mundane and widely-used as a mail client. Or a browser. Or a to-do list. Etc.

In other words, the ubiquity of such hover-only controls across all kinds of applications just isn’t justified. It’s simply bad design.

That’s why I appreciate hearing first-hand from people who disagree that “everybody knows how this works these days,” as so many designers claim these days.

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Actually, my complaint goes back to the beginning of the hide-and-seek interface, which has been around for lo these many years now, and I’m not any fonder of it, not one bit. Jonny Ive was brilliant at hardware, but as I said before, the software is now so form-over-function that it’s really hard for a lot of people to figure out. Apple’s user interface is just not so friendly anymore. My first Mac was a 512K Macintosh, so I guess I’m getting old and cranky.

I read this on my iPad, with the large blank area on the bottom, and the cryptic curved arrow that brings up a dozen options. Let me put some of those options on that blank space rather than having to click on the arrow, then click on…

Here’s a very nice collection of macOS and app windows. Catalina on the left, Big Sur on the right. (Unfortunately, Mail is missing).

And if you want to see a comparison of just icons, that’s here.

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