the case of the shrinking UI

Though I don’t have a developer preview of Lion, plenty of screenshots are floating around. I like what I see, for the most part. Mission Control, better Spotlight, full screen apps, autosave – all great additions to the OS.

But I have a feeling that regular users just aren’t going to use Mission Control and full screen apps very much. Most of my friends never try Exposé, and they don’t use multitouch gestures either. I haven’t met anyone who even knew Spaces existed. There is one way they manipulate windows though. Everyone does, every single day. Apple just made it a little bit harder.

I’m talking about the close and minimize buttons on the top left of any window. These buttons have been there since 10.0, and they’ve been a hallmark of Aqua ever since. Now that Aqua is on its way out, I expected revised window controls to match the disappearing scrollbars. They are still there in Lion, and they were revised, though not in the way I hoped for. Instead, Apple shrunk them significantly.

10.6 Safari 5

10.7 Safari 5

Why is this a problem you ask? After all, people reading this site probably use Command+w every time. I know I do. I also know that I’m in a tiny minority. Everyone else simply clicks on that little red bubble. Minimizing is similarly mouse-based.  And anyone can see that making a smaller target for a mouse click is a bad idea.

Windows has always had much larger controls, but then again, the window borders are also immense. I understand the utility of such large buttons, but I’m ok with Apple’s sleeker borders. What I don’t understand is why OS X’s buttons had to change in Lion.

Windows XP

Windows 7

There was a backlash against iTunes’ new vertical controls last year, but few people mentioned that the buttons were smaller than usual. I suspect that might have contributed to more frustration than the actual position. I noticed, and I hoped they would go away in the next version. I certainly didn’t want them carried over into Lion.

10.6 iTunes 10

The difference is minuscule, essentially reducing a 14X14 pixel target to 12X12. That translates to a target area that is 52 pixels smaller. No, this is not a huge difference. But in that case, why change it at all? They buttons have always worked well, and I would never say that being too large was a problem. This seems like a case of “change for change’s sake” – almost never a good idea, especially in software. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.


Side note: Twitter, WTF were you thinking? Both small and solid black? Really?

Twitter for Mac



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