Aug 11

The hidden message in Lion

Look a little closer at Lion and you’ll see a secret message from the highest levels of Apple:

During previous medical leaves, Steve was still running the show. This time, he’s stepped back to allow others a larger role. Get used to it.

Honestly, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion when (A) Steve has always been intimately involved in approving the design and function of OS X, and (B) a few of the more visible decisions in Lion look nothing like the Steve we know.

After using Lion for a couple of weeks, three apps in particular make me miss Steve’s touch:

1. iCal. Not to beat this dead horse (see earlier post), but the design sense of the new iCal is just totally out of character for an OS that otherwise defines elegance and simplicity. Steve is a purist. He doesn’t compromise. He sends designers back to the drawing board over and over until they get it just right. This is purely a design decision — and it looks like someone else’s decision.

2. Address Book. This app suffers a double whammy. It shares iCal’s design tackiness, then ups the ante by taking a leap backwards in functionality. We used to see everything Address Book had to offer — individuals, groups and contact info — within a single view. Now we have to jump back and forth between views to see it all. Totally unnecessary over-design. Totally not Steve.

3. Launchpad. This is a beautiful idea, only half-baked. Maybe even quarter-baked. Launchpad automatically configures itself with icons for every app and utility in your computer — including apps you’ll never use and apps you didn’t know you had. I don’t consider myself an app junkie, and my icons numbered over 200. A total mess. But it gets even worse: if you delete an icon, you delete the app itself. (Fine for apps you’ve purchased from the App Store, which can be re-downloaded — unacceptable for apps you’ve purchased elsewhere.) If you want to tidy up, good luck. You can delete icons of apps purchased from the App Store (which deletes the app as well), but Lion won’t let you delete the icons of apps you bought elsewhere. Fortunately, there’s a perfect little free utility called LaunchpadCleaner that allows you to get rid of icons without trashing your apps. I used it and deleted 179 icons that were making Launchpad unusable. How could Apple possibly offer Launchpad without this kind of functionality built in? Likely because someone else was playing the role of Steve for this performance.

Between his current medical leave and the fact that one day (hopefully far, far in the future) it is inevitable that he steps down as CEO, Steve would be irresponsible not to be transitioning certain responsibilities to others.

So this isn’t a criticism as much as it is an observation. Steve-level perfection can only be expected when Steve himself is making the decisions. Talent runs deep at Apple, but different people will see things a bit differently — and their decisions will sometimes raise our eyebrows. Lion is our sneak preview.

Put a little more Steve in your Lion: To strip iCal of its leather, go here. To do the same for Address Book, go here. To easily configure Launchpad, go here.


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  • Totally agree. Lion is a huge step backwards, in more ways than what you listed here. Not sure what Apple is thinking these days, but Steve is clearly no longer in charge.

  • ken segall

    Curious to know what else in Lion is bumming you out. These things aside, it’s working well for me.

  • Vega

    Disagree completely. Previous versions of OS X also had amazingly horrible design in some areas. The Pseudo 3D of the taskbar in Leopard for example (which is still with us). Or the useless, time consuming and work interrupting dashboard.

    Maybe the problem is that you try to project your taste onto Steve Jobs. Perhaps he likes the skeuomorphic stuff. To make it easier for non-geeks to relate to the task of the App. Just like, let’s see, a little picture of a trashcan or a paper folder on a Computer screen (Desktop, just like a real desk!) back in the 80s.

    The changes in address book are along similar lines: Reducing optical complexity. just like on an iPad.

    Oh and Launchpad? It’s not for people with 200 Apps. Again it’s for the non-geeks. It’s a first step of trying to carry the success of simplicity that is iOS to the Mac.

  • Agree with Vega.

    These changes were likely intended to increase the correspondence between iOS and OS X, and are in many ways a matter of taste. Probably Steve’s.

    Hardly evidence that Steve Jobs has “stepped back.”

  • Yeah I think Steve Jobs probably likes iCal and Address Book. As Vega said, it seems that you’re projecting universal “good” taste onto him.

    He brought us brushed metal, afterall. And talking about skeumorphic designs GarageBand’s window happened under his full watch as well.

  • ken segall

    I agree that much of this is about personal taste. Keep in mind that Steve Jobs has always taken great pride in the minimalism of OS X. Unlike Windows, OS X is designed to be quiet and unobtrusive. In fact, one of Steve’s best zingers against Microsoft was, “They have no taste.”

    Realism in icon design (trash can, app icons, folders, etc.) has always been a part of OS X. That’s how you identify function. But when you double-click the dictionary, it doesn’t look like a tattered Merriam-Webster. iPhoto doesn’t look like the family photo scrapbook. iTunes doesn’t look like an outdated Sony stereo. Mail doesn’t look like a pad of personal letter stationery.

    Consistency is a basic part of system design, and iCal/Address Book simply aren’t consistent with the rest of Lion.

    Apple has always refrained from this type of design because what’s cool to one person is godawful to the next. They’ve gone out of their way to eliminate distractions — going so far as to remove the scroll bars in Lion for a cleaner look. Yet now I have a stitched-leather, torn-paper calendar sitting next to my simple, elegant Mail.

    Re: Launchpad. My point was that I’m not a huge buyer of apps, and I still had over 200 icons in my Launchpad. Many of those I zapped were part of Lion I would rarely or never use, or everyday apps I already have in my Dock and didn’t wish to duplicate in Launchpad. How many in your Launchpad? I could be wrong, but I’m imagining that most people have well over a hundred — which would make it clumsy to use whether you’re a geek or non-geek.

  • ken segall

    Apple has been very clear about the iOS-ificaiton of OS X. It’s real, and I’m in favor of it. I love gestures, I love full-screen apps, I love Launchpad now that I found a way to cut it down to the apps I actually use — as happens naturally on iPad.

    Real-world environments work flawlessly on an iPad. The only part of the OS you ever see is the home screen (basically, Launchpad). Everything you touch becomes full-screen, so you’re fully immersed in each app, one at a time. For all practical purposes, the OS in iPad is invisible.

    Not so in the Mac desktop. We’re working in the OS all the time, often with basic apps on screen together all day — including Mail, iCal and Address Book. That’s why these apps have always been consistent with OS X itself when it comes to elegance and simplicity. Now they’re not even consistent with each other.

    I agree with you that these things are a matter of taste. But you should also be aware that things don’t happen inside Apple just because anyone says, “Well, let’s just go with it, I think it’s cool.” Design is a religion there, and Steve anguishes over these details for months and months with his software designers. Steve is an ardent student of design. He understands and appreciates design principles far more deeply than most. What I’m suggesting is that some of these design decisions are so out of the ordinary for Apple, one could easily conclude that Steve is less involved than he has previously been. When Steve starts giving up responsibilities, which is inevitable, it won’t be announced with fanfare. It will show up slowly in some small but important changes — like the ones we see in Lion.

  • ken segall

    I probably am projecting my taste onto Steve. But the taste I have today is the taste Steve projected onto me over the course of the last 15 years. It’s all his fault!

    OS X has clearly evolved with the times. Certain of its features have come and gone (“lickable” buttons, brushed aluminum), but those things were all done in the name of moving the interface forward. Some things stick, some don’t. I don’t remember any example as glaring as the new iCal, that steps outside the design sensibility established by OS X, and goes “retro” when everything else about the OS is minimalistic and modern.

  • ken segall

    Interesting article related to this conversation just appeared in SJ Mercury News: http://bit.ly/ruw1qu.

    According to analyst Tim Bajarin, who regularly speaks with Apple’s upper management, Steve is doing less micro-managing now and thinking more about big-picture issues.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Steve is doing less than he did before. The guy’s on medical leave because he has serious issues to deal with. The only real question is: in what areas is he dialing back.

  • Lex

    Launchpad ONLY allows you to delete apps from the App store. Other than that, completely agree with your observations.

  • Pingback: That old Steve Jobs touch missing in parts of Lion « The Orange View()

  • ken segall

    You’re absolutely right. Thanks for the correction.

  • Just off the top of my head, the killing of Rosetta is a real bummer for me and many of my clients. Other things were removed from Lion as well, such as SMB file sharing (which is currently used by Canon ImageRunner printers for networkable scanning) and Lion Server was completely stripped of most Mac OS X Server’s previous functionality as well. It seems like the writing is on the wall: Apple is definitively targeting consumers and not businesses.

  • Ha… actually, I’m realizing that maybe Steve is MORE in charge now. He’s always wanted to target consumers more than businesses.

  • Amy

    “I don’t remember any example as glaring as the new iCal…”

    Sherlock II and the Quicktime brushed metal interface with the THUMB DIAL for volume (which you had to operate with your mouse) are far worse Steve-era interface blunders than anything you’ve described:



    You just don’t REMEMBER them. Because they changed and because memory is a fickle thing and we always thing the terrible things today are much, much worse than the horrible things of yesterday.

    But those two were horrible, terrible crap to start with, much worse than anything Apple’s doing today.

  • ken segall

    Actually, I remember these things well. I wrote the ads that tried to sell you on them. Perhaps my memory is faulty though, because what I don’t remember is any controversy over the design of those two functions. (Sherlock bombed as an idea, but that’s a different topic.)

    Honestly, I don’t think either is in the same league as today’s iCal. Both of those things were consistent with other OS interface elements. iCal sticks out like a sore thumb within Lion — a weird retro design in a super-modern OS.

  • hoopz

    I agree. And it’s not just the cosmetics, it’s how things work. They… don’t. There is a noticeable lack of Apple-like refinement.

    The new spaces are dysfunctional. Want to rearrange your spaces? Can’t. Want to drag a bunch of windows between all your spaces easily? Can’t.

    The auto-correct refuses to learn, even if you erase its bad corrections a dozen times. You either disable it completely, or accept that you have to wait for it to suggest the wrong thing every single time, so you can press escape.

    Click “show in finder”, and your file will be obscured by scroll bars or just pushed out of the screen thanks to all the helpful animations.

    Scroll left hard enough inside a textfield on a web page, and the left-over momentum will trigger the Back gesture, possibly wiping out your text.

    Swipe between spaces, and your desktop icons fade in, drawing attention to themselves for no reason whatsoever.

    And then there’s all the subtle graphic design errors, like the misaligned QuickLook controls in fullscreen.

    Just piles and piles of annoyances that make me think that 10.8 will no longer be as nice.

  • the consistency argument is an interesting one. iCal and Address Book may not look like OSX anymore, but they do look like iPad, so there is consistency to be noted there.

    (Personally I don’t care though, I rarely use either app because the iPad versions are so nice :)

  • Channelling Steve

    Only Steve would force us to have the “realistic” UI if these apps. So, on the contrary, I think this has his fingertips all over it.

    Lion is not quite ready for prime time. I’ve run into a lot of bugs and things that don’t quite work right.

    Switching to safari seems to often switch to the wrong desktop. I quick looked a PDF and then clicked the open with preview button, got the PDF in preview, but the big quick look window stayed in the finder and wouldn’t go away. lots of visual inconsistencies…

    I’m sure it will get better, it always does, and it is a big step forward but it doesn’t have the polish most apple products do.

    THAT is what seems to be the result of not having steve around, maybe.

    Or, maybe Apple is stretched too thin. They have a relatively small engineering team and yet they are doing Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud all in one year.

    And anything having to do with the net, seems to take a lot of extra effort for apple to get right.

  • Taxi

    @hoopz: I regret installing lion on a work machine. It is truly full of bugs. But I felt the same after installing tiger and leopard, as they were full of bugs too.

    Our office is full of Macs, and I’d already told everyone not to install lion until at least the .1 update. Is wasn’t because I’d read things about lion – it was because I remember what previous versions were like.

    There are bugs, and they will be fixed. So I disagree with you – to me there is a noticeable apple-like on time delivery, along with an apple-like set of dot-zero bugs, not particularly worse than any previous release of OSX since tiger (panther was an awesome .0 releae)


  • Very nice post Ken. I bought Lion and found it really fast and interesting. Apple has derived iOS in it and made it awesome.