I’ve been complaining to anyone who would listen about Lion’s iOS-like disappearing scrollbars since the day they were announced. I need now to take a moment to gloat. In his incredible-as-always review of the new version of the Mac OS, ArsTechnica’s John Siracusa takes my side, explaining why it’s jarring and terrible—my words—to have disappearing scrollbars on the Mac (even as it makes perfect sense on the iPhone, e.g.). (The whole 19-page review is worth reading, but if you don’t think so, then at least give the section on scrollbars a go.) Siracusa notes:
Scroll bars do more than just let us scroll. First, their state tells us whether there’s anything more to see. A window with “inactive” (usually shown as dimmed) scroll bars indicates that there is no content beyond what is currently visible in the window. Second, when a document has more content than can fit in a window, the scroll bars tell us our current position within that document. Finally, the size of the scroll thumb itself—or the amount of room the scroll thumb has to move within the scroll bar, if you want to look at it that way—gives some hint about the total size of the content.
Thankfully, as Siracusa points out, non-hiding scrollbar behavior can be restored in System Preferences. The issue persists elsewhere in the OS, however, and in fact, has been around since years before Lion’s release today. In particular, in watching video using either of Apple’s applications for doing so (QuickTime and DVD Player), you have to deal with the same kind of pretty-but-less-informative chrome-hiding that I’ve been griping about. Let’s take a moment to review the most influential video player in computing probably ever, YouTube:
Nice. I get lots of good information out of YouTube’s standard, non-full-screen player, including:
- how far along I am in the video (indicated both visually and with temporal data and useful when my patience is being tried by the content, as pictured here)
- the video’s length (useful in deciding whether to watch now or later)
- how much of the video has loaded (useful in knowing whether I should walk away for a bit to “manually” increase my buffer)
- whether I am on play or pause (occasionally useful in troubleshooting)
If all’s going well and I know I’m going to settle in and watch the rest of this video, I may not care about that information anymore. It’s not in the way in the standard player, but it would be in full-screen mode. So YouTube smartly hides it there:
Great. Well done, YouTube: I see what I want when I want it, and not when I don’t.
Let’s compare this approach to QuickTime’s (both Player and plug-in) and DVD Player’s behaviors. The full-screen versions behave much like YouTube’s, but, frustratingly, so do the standard players, hiding information:
Yes, I get that everything’s a little bit prettier this way. But I desperately miss the information more often than I would’ve expected before these changes came about—and I resent the growing influence of this aesthetic in places where I’d rather it not be. (As one otherwise smart and talented designer friend said in designing a video player, “If it’s good enough for Apple…”. It’s not good enough for Apple, I wanted to retort.) After living with these video players, of course, it seemed a no-brainer that disappearing scrollbars in Lion would be maddening. I just don’t get why Apple’s pushing so hard to make the Mac OS more like iOS. As Siracusa notes, the devices these OSes run on present users with totally different models of interaction. Why try to combine them when they serve such different purposes?