Mac flaws – hardware and software

I started this list about four years ago when I first got in touch with OSX and the hype around it. The usual claim: it’s great usability. But it’s not that difficult to spot serious usability issues. There are not that many – so it’s worth making a list (as opposed to other systems ;)), but it should show clearly: OSX has a great user experience (aka UX), which is the actual and understandable reason for the hype — but that must not be mixed up with usability.

Missing features

In general, OSX can not be controlled with the keyboard only, thus you are forced to switch between keyboard and mouse/touchpad regularly.

Using keyboard to control OS X

  • No delete key on the Apple laptop keyboard (only backspace and Fn+backspace to simulate the delete key)
  • No key to show the context menu on a currently selected item; but some functionalities are part of the context menu only. My new computer (Lenovo) does not have a context menu key either–following the example of Apple??
  • Alert boxes that are not part of a running application can not be focused using Cmd+Tab or Cmd+<>, thus, it’s not possible to send them away with the keyboard once they lost the focus.
  • When using finder in tree mode and inserting a copied file, it will always be put in the root folder instead of the folder the user has highlighted; only the context menu’s entry “paste item” does that as expected but is not accessible via keyboard.
  • When deleting an item from a list using Cmd+Backspace the cursor gets reset to the topmost position in the list instead of moving to the previous or next item, thus making it very frustrating to clean a large, distributed set of items from a long list

Thus, working with keyboard only (which is the most efficient way while coding) is almost impossible. 🙁

Point and Click Interface

  • No context menu (right click menu) in menus like “Downloads” in the launcher bar, therefore it is not possible to open a docx file in OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office)
  • Only since OSX Lion files can be dragged and dropped from the “spot light” quick start menu. Before, e.g. to use the spot light to search a document to be send via Skype it was necessary to click “Show all” first -> Finder window pops up -> drag item from there + close window afterwards.
  • When opening a folder in a finder window, there is no button to step up the folder hierarchy since OSX Lion.
  • Multiple selections aren’t supported in menus such as Downloads. Imagine you downloaded several files, now you want to move them to a particular folder. So you either drag and drop each separately or you open up an additional finder window, navigate to "Download" sort the results by date and then drag and drop the latest files.
  • When opening an image in the preview, it is not possible to forward to the next image in the same folder. Instead, the user is required to select all images in the finder window and then open them in the preview to be able to skim trough them. But multiple selection is not supported everywhere (see above).

Hardware

Despite that my Mac Book is called "Pro" it’s lacking basic pro features.

  • There is no docking station available
  • There is no way to have a back-up battery as the battery is soldered in
  • I always need to carry the display adapters because it does not have any standard socket any more (the old ones had at least DVI), only display port.
  • Just for the list: the power adapter is designed perfectly, plus every adapter fits every Mac, thus forgetting your’s at home is not such a big thing! That’s great, no doubt about it.

Usability Mistakes

  • Cmd+W closes a window (e.g. a browser tab), Cmd+Q quits the entire application… The keys for Q and W are just exactly next to each other on every keyboard and therefore it’s easy to hit Cmd+Q accidentally. Saidly it’s the same for Linux and similar for Microsoft Windows: Ctrl+F4 vs. Alt+F4.
  • The “cut-and-paste” paradigm is not supported (FYI, in an Apple user forum I read a justification as follows: "Imagine you cut a file, continue working and finally forget you cut it. Then when you shutdown your computer… the file will be lost!" :D)
  • Making a window fullscreen size can be very tedious because of two reasons: the "+" button in the upper left does not maximize the window horizontally (it gets widen to a width OSX "considers" reasonable) plus there is only a single resize grip on each window in the lower right. Thus, it requires precise moving and scaling of the window to get it fullscreen – instead of having just a button to click – or double clicking the title bar of the window to maximize it as usually supported in other OS.

One question remains: With respect to financial success, is UX more important than usability and utility?
According to this list and the success of Apple (though it seems the peak has been passed) the answer is yes.
Also, this list is not meant to badmouth Apple in general, I still consider Apple’s "computing products" (including Mac Books, iPhone, and iPad) to be some of the best hardware-software combinations available today, though, I definitely prefer my CrunchBang for being super fast and slim, efficient, highly configurable, completely controllable via the keyboard, and open source! 🙂

p.s. I stopped using OSX at version "Snow Leopard" at the end of 2012 so I might miss the latest features.

good & bad usablitythe tap example

Everyone interested in HCI and Usability saw the cover picture of The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. But there are examples about good and bad usability all around us, every day and I want to share one of mine.

I realized how much more comfortable the shower tap at my parents place is, compared to the one in my shared flat.

don't move! If you are lucky, the water gets only turned of... otherwise you get frozen or boiled...
Don't move! If you touch it and you are lucky, the water gets only turned off... otherwise you get frozen or boiled.
an good example of a water-tap for a shower
A good example of a water-tap for a shower.
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The example to the left  is a typical one – most probably following an assumption like “this tap is working for the washbowl, so it will do for a shower as well”. As it is mounted waist-high, it is easy to reach, also by mistake, which can be quite dangerous as it can easily be turned towards hot water by a slight touch. The re-engineered example on the right shows a functional and easy-to-use solution, in addition, the water temperature can be set up very precisely, but most important, there is no way to change the water temperature by accident as it is selected with a knob. Additionally, due to the knob, its almost impossible to reach the handle, which is used to set up the water amount, by accident.