Mac apps don’t have to look like Mac apps
October 30, 2009
A common misconception is that Mac apps must look like Apple’s own apps. A lot of developers misinterpret Mac users’ high visual standards as a call for plain Cocoa apps only, with no visual innovation or interpretation. What Mac users are really saying, is:
Give me an app that looks at least as good as what Apple produces
In fact, Apple is the first to break from using standard Cocoa (think iTunes). Do users let this slide only because it’s Apple? I don’t think so. Here are a number of applications (including iTunes) that don’t look like standard apps, and are well received by the Mac community.
Lightroom 3 (beta)
Lightroom 3 has a completely non-standard UI and interaction model, and I love it! The UI is dark and stays out of your way. The “links” in the top right of the window (e.g. Library, Develop etc.) let you quickly adjust your workflow to the task at hand. Overall, the UI is polished, snappy and a pleasure to use.
Panic’s Coda may look like a Mac app at first, but it was one of the first apps to successfully embrace the one-window paradigm, which was very non-standard for Mac apps when it was released (more recently, Adobe has adopted this concept). Coda also helps you switch workflows by changing the active “tab” (the buttons above the document area). This concept was, and still is, something very unique to Coda. Coda won an Apple Design Award, and is lauded as a truly fantastic Mac app.
Pixelmator offers a clean, crisp UI for editing photos. They’ve played off Apple’s Heads Up Display (HUD) concept, but pushed it throughout the app to everything including the document window’s chrome. I think their UI is gorgeous and unobtrusive — it makes me want to use it just so I can look at it.
iTunes, though one of Apple’s own products, is consistently different from the core platform. Even though it’s not consistent with other apps, I’m happy with it because it looks good. I enjoy being able to see what UI changes are in the pipeline, as iTunes has been a proving ground for more general user interface changes across the platform.
I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. User interface innovation is widely accepted by Mac users so long as it is an innovation and not sloppiness.