From a usability perspective, every single thing about Safari 15’s tabs is a regression. Everything. It’s a tab design that can only please users who do not use tabs heavily; whereas the old tab design scaled gracefully from “I only open a few tabs at a time” all the way to “I have hundreds of tabs open across multiple windows”. That’s a disgrace. The Safari team literally invented the standard for how tabs work on MacOS. The tabs that are now available in the Finder, Terminal, and optionally in all document-based Mac apps are derived from the design and implementation of Safari’s tabs. Now, Apple has thrown away Safari’s tab design — a tab design that was not just best-of-platform, but arguably best-in-the-whole-damn-world — and replaced it with a design that is both inferior in the abstract, and utterly inconsistent with the standard tabs across the rest of MacOS.
The skin-deep “looks cool, ship it” nature of Safari 15’s tab design is like a fictional UI from a movie or TV show, like Westworld’s foldable tablets or Tony Stark’s systems from Iron Man, where looking cool is the entirety of the design spec. Something designed not by UI designers but by graphic designers, with no thought whatsoever to the affordances, consistencies, and visual hierarchies essential to actual usability. Just what looks cool. This new tab design shows a complete disregard for the familiarity users have with Safari’s existing tab design. Apple never has been and should not be a company that avoids change at all cost. But proper change — change that breaks users’ habits and expectations — is only justifiable when it’s an improvement. Change for change’s sake alone is masturbatory. That with Safari 15 it actually makes usability worse, solely for flamboyant cosmetic reasons, is downright perverse.
Gruber is absolutely right about this, and right to be angry about it. It’s a frustrating time to be an Apple user, because while the company’s hardware is getting better and better its software is getting worse and worse. Indeed, the whole software side needs a fundamental reorganization and an even more fundamental rebooting of priorities.
Apple’s operating systems get more and more bells & whistles but have elementary functionality issues — for instance, Bluetooth has never worked reliably on MacOS; window management on iPadOS is an incoherent mess, though even so, it handles split-screening apps better than MacOS does. (I could extend that list for quite some time.) And Apple makes it very hard to sort out your sound inputs and outputs — which makes room for wonderful Mac apps like SoundSource, but come on: an easily-discoverable way of interacting with the computer’s sound should be built in to the system. (Because of the way that iOS and iPadOS are locked down, you can’t even have an app like SoundSource there. Your only option is to play search-and-guess in the Preferences app until, on a lucky day, you discover what you need.)
Moreover, with just a few exceptions aside — Keynote for instance — Apple’s preinstalled apps are consistently bad.
- Mail is feature-deficient and has been unstable and crash-prone for years. (I generally have a strong aversion to Microsoft software, but Outlook, though poorly integrated into MacOS, has the features I need and is rock-solid. So that’s what I use.)
- Calendar is likewise feature-limited, painfully tedious to enter data into, totally un-integrated with Reminders. (I use Fantastical instead.)
- Pages and Numbers are good apps, but the people who make them have never figured out how they are supposed to deal with the dominance of Word and Outlook (and their file types).
- Preview on the Mac is fine for what it does, but again it’s feature-limited; though not as limited as the barely-functional built-in PDF viewer on iOS and iPadOS. (I use PDF Expert instead, on all platforms.)
- And then there are the places where Apple clearly is not even trying. I mean, TextEdit — are you kidding me?
And so on. What makes this situation more alarming is the dysfunctional and sometimes abusive relationship Apple has with its best developers. Hey Apple: Those are the people who make your computers worth using.
UPDATE: You know what doesn’t work on my Mac? Dark mode. I click to enable it — nothing happens. Hasn’t worked for months. You know what else doesn’t work? Using AirPlay to play music on HomePods. A song plays for five seconds and then falls silent for the remainder of the song. When a new song begins, it also plays for five seconds before falling silent. People have been reporting this problem on various support sites for two years, but no fixes yet. Here’s another thing: One more: clicking on an app in the Dock doesn’t open the app but rather opens a Finder window. It seems to me that with every release the OS gets buggier.