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More...

The new iTunes nano ... or whatever

Ooo... lots of Apple swag yesterday. The new iPod nano looks like exactly the MP3 player I wanted. Flash-based so I don't have to worry about any moving parts giving in, 2GB and 4GB storage (the minimum for a sensible player is, IMHO 1GB), and a nice big display so you can easily locate your music (my iBeat.joy shows only three lines, and two are permanently taken up ... makes you feel like a bat when looking for a song ... even though it's a nice machine otherwise).

iTunes 5 is a revelation. When MacOS X 10.4 ("Tiger") came out, it felt as if Apple was in the middle of a transition in UI design. Put a regular Aqua app, Mail.app and Safari next to each other, and you'll notice how those looks so don't go together. Brushed Metal is a design that started with MacOS 9's QuickTime Player, and it shows. And Mail's Unified Toolbar look is missing something.

And then we get iTunes 5: Which takes the best of the two and combines them. The source list's header doubles as the split bar's drag handle, analogous to the status bar in Mail. The list is reverted back to Aqua, and like Safari, those huge borders at the sides have been retired. The dark grey gradient finally completes the marriage of Brushed Metal and the unified look, while making it more like the other Aqua windows. I dare not hope that this is actually a move back to a more consistent GUI, though it could be. Consistency by no means means everything has to look exactly the same:

Up until the System 6 days, screens still had such low resolution that there wasn't much room for fancy textures. Everything had to be made up of simple shapes and color-coded like a crayon box so people would recognize the elements. Just like the icons, OS X's windows introduced the use of texture to mainstream GUI design (RISC-OS and the Amiga may have had them before, heck, even MagiC and Motif had them before, and lots of Director-based Kiosk systems, but they had so few colors it looked just a tad on the gaudy side).

So, just like in the real world, where we have flannel shirts and cotton shirts but we still manage to recognize them all as shirts, it's perfectly okay to allow for some variations in the UI. But there needs to be rhyme and reason to it, and we can't let the designers roam free here. No matter whether graphics designer, interaction designer or programmer, let them run unchecked and you get too much of their (our?) pet technique.

Yes, usability-wise that split view grab handle is a little hard to pick out, but it has the traditional Mac-split-view indicator, our old friend the three vertical bars. We have them in a diagonal variant in the lower right of almost every window, and after a while people will get used to being able to resize parts of a window. It's an arbitrary restriction we've lived with long enough, and it's about time we un-learned it. After all, Doug McKenna's Resourcerer had resizing of window parts back in ... System 7, I think. Maybe even earlier.

And if they finish support for dragging windows by the toolbar background (dragging a window, after all, is non-destructive, so if I move a window when I miss a toolbar icon's hit area, it's not that big a problem -- not counting beginners moving a window partially offscreen and wondering where part of it went), this might actually make Mr. Fitt(s?) happy.

And the greyish-blue used for source lists? It's a secondary highlight color. Source lists always need to be active, because like tab controls, they modify what you see in their subordinate list (e.g. in the song list). This new color is a good compromise. Not strong enough to be mixed up with the regular selection too easily, while still stronger than the inactive grey. After all, it needs to stand out a little to remind people: You're only seeing this part of the window.

Now all Apple have to do is add this stuff to the HIToolbox and (on a more selfish note) AppKit, and fix Safari and iChat already. And then they can address my next pet-peeve: Address Book. Can anyone imagine how I'm struggling to explain to my Mom how to use this piece of the Emperor's New Text Fields???

PS - Forgot to mention a nice detail: The little bars/stripes in the "time elapsed" progress bar making it more obvious what's already been played and what hasn't. Good work there, Apple.

Reader Comments: (RSS Feed)
Jesper writes:
"And then we get QuickTime 5". I don't suppose you mean iTunes 5? :)
Uli Kusterer replies:
*bonk* You're right, Jesper, silly typo. Fixed it.
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Created: 2005-09-08 @299 Last change: 2014-10-24 @518 | Home | Admin | Edit
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