If there is one thing I dislike about my Mac OSX experience, it is UI inconsistencies. The OS is rife with them. One that happens to stand out is that certain applications have absolutely microscopic toolbars — the formatting toolbar in a Mail message or most of the toolbars in TextEdit are shining examples of this. I do not have a gigantic monitor here — these UI elements were nearly impossible for me to read on a 21″ monitor. Not only is that a glaring problem, but it is emphasized when you look at other portions of the UI — other menus and icons and such — that are of a ‘proper’ or fairly uniform size and style.
I won’t say Windows pulls very far ahead in this category, as I’ve seen some absolutely ancient hold-overs from the Windows 2000 (and earlier!) days, hidden away in some of the seldom-used utility windows. Even in the latest Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the Disk Management window features some horribly antiquated icons. And I’ve never liked the whole ‘Aero’ styling of semi-transparent windows with a ‘glow’ effect around the window’s titlebar text — that glow is there simply so that the text isn’t lost against the colors of whatever may be showing through the transparent titlebar, and it looks cheesy. Yet, for the most part, I’ve seen Microsoft keep on top of their UI usability — I’ve never seen a formatting toolbar in Wordpad that is 2x smaller than other UI elements in the same application, for example.
Another area where these conflicting UI elements are apparent is in some of OSX’s utility windows. Disk Utility is one of them (what is it about disk managers and geriatric UI presentation?). Here, you see these strange, colored icons on the toolbar, whereas most other OSX system apps have a much more minimalistic approach. Fire up an iWork app like Pages and you see some of the same. And the colors on these icons are drab, uninteresting — they look nothing like what you’ll see sitting in your Dock at the bottom of your screen. They feel like we’ve flashed back to OS9.
Some of OSX’s improvements aren’t perfect. The “relief” style of “brushed aluminum” UI presentation also gets under my skin. Let’s be clear here: having a dark color against a lighter background is fine for uncomplicated logos or icons. See: the Apple logo sitting on top of the exterior of the Mac Mini hardware. But when you’re pumping text through the same styling (I’m looking at you, Safari bookmarks bar and tabs) it is simply too much. It’s ‘gray’ with ‘slightly darker gray’ as the differentiating color and it’s ugly. At least the iPad features many Apple apps with toolbars that are solid black in color, with the contrasting icons/text more easily readable as a lighter color, altogether set apart from the ‘brushed metal’ look on other UI bars and the like.
I would love to see a UI revamp in OSX. Bring everything up to the same level. Get iOS on board with this as well. Ditch the faux styling, especially that kitschy stuff in iCal and Address book. Focus on readability and a consistent experience. Look at some of your competitor’s offerings and see where they went wrong, and what they’ve done right — the Microsoft Office-style “Ribbon” is a little of both, for example. Keep textures to a minimum — a UI should look clean and functional, and through this style can come about, but do not put style first. If I want a wealth of brushed aluminum filling my gaze, I’ll look at the back side of my iPad.