OS X Yosemite:
I went back to Mavericks.

Today I went back from apples latest OS X Yosemite to the former one Mavericks. Here’s why.

UPDATE 1: I finally gave OS X 10.10.2 another try after test driving it on an external usb drive. I did a clean install and it seems that the main performance regressions are fixed for me. So now I’m using Yosemite as my production OS X.

UPDATE 2: After spending three days on Yosemite I had to go back again. FPS are so much higher using Mavericks. I compared the Framerate using an Apple Developer Tool called: Quartz Debug. More in a separate blogpost later…

UPDATE 3: El Capitan to the Rescue. Apple is absolutely on the right track with El Capitan and its focus on performance. Yosemites OpenGL layer was to slow to handle the new UI requirements that came with the redesign. Glad they did this step into the right direction! Let’s wait and see ☺

Personal Taste

Lets start with personal taste. Having used OS X for many years I somehow got used to the aqua look and feel. Some months ago I went through the pain to build an open source Bootstrap theme and AngularJS boilerplate for creating OS X desktop applications with web technologies Maverix. While building this theme I had a very close look at all the OS X interface elements.

Buttons

I am a big fan of improving the contrast between elements by having doubled borders and a more crisp approach than in Yosemite. I’m also a fan of grouping the action buttons that belong together visually. I prefer the back and forth buttons in Mavericks UI because they are easier on the eye even though more compact. I’m also having mixed feelings for the close-, min- and max-buttons. I would expect a bit more love to the details. The normals buttons have a subtile shadow. Why not adding a light inset shadow to the window buttons? It doesn’t have to be as strong as in Mavericks but it would IMHO better fit into the picture.

Another nice window decoration design was presented a few days ago called DWD for KDE Desktops. The design looks inspired by OS X Yosemite but the designer here only used outlines for the close min max window actions. Looks sleak too me.

Searchboxes

Everyone using OS X for a while got accustomed to identify search boxes instantly. The were always characterized by a strong border-radius (speaking in css). Now they use almost the same border radius as a button making it harder to distinguish between a button and a search box until you click it.

Time Machine

Time Machine always had one of the cooles UIs ever and they replaced it with a boring version with absolutely standard buttons and no background. Well done Jony Ive and friends: you successfully squeezed out the last bit of fun in the user experience. Why details when we can look on plain white?

Icons

Some icons look quite good but what the hell were they thinking when designing Mail, Calendar, Reminder, Contacts and Notes? Why not simply use the iOS counterparts? Those left-shifted icons look way to thin and in smaller sizes they just don’t work because of their too thin lines and not bold enough details.

Colors

The colors on Yosemite too bright and saturated compared to the low contrast used for interface elements. Interface elements use different shades of grey. This results in a lack of contrast that is needed to fast scan elements like buttons with the eye. To add complete chaos to the mix the primary action elements come in a very bright blueish mode that is too much contrast for my eyes.

Fonts

Apple changed the system font from Lucida Grande to a thin variant of Helvetica Neue. The combination of lacking contrast and this thin font plus very bright colors like the blue of folder icons is perfect for nice headaches.

I wonder why they didn’t choose Comic Sans as new system font. Comic Sans also offers bad readability but matches the candyworld ui colors a bit better then Helvetica Neue. I made a UI mockup using Comic Sans (beautiful, hah?):

Mockup: Yosemite with Comic Sans

I could go on with ui comparison for hours but instead I recommend reading this article: https://bold.pixelapse.com/minming/mac-os-x-yosemite-under-the-magnifying-glass

Productivity

All the iOS integration in Yosemite is really nice, no question about that. Having the possibility to answer phone calls directly from your Mac is a comfortable thing and you don’t have to manage two devices at the same time when making business calls that require you to be on your Mac. So this is a really good improvement in favor of Yosemite. What really hurts is the switch from Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue on a non retina display. When working for hours on my 27" LED Cinema Screen (which by the way is not available as a 5k version yet) my eyes really start to hurt. Why is that? Well I generally agree with this guy here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw0syzCeH4Q

He basically says that the light variant of Helvetica Neue looks nice on retina screens but is very uncomfortable to read in small font sizes. And this is also my personal experience. It takes way more time for me to fast-scan for example menu items of an app because the font is so narrow.

Okay apple set the direction towards every display going retina. Therefore they make sure that everything looks pretty “shitty” on non-retina displays to boost sales of new hardware… But if they have this strategy they better make sure that their product portfolio supports their strategy. Macbook Air is still non-retina. There is no 5k LED Cinema Screen available.

Performance

Here comes the part that hurts me the most: UI Performance. The focus on Mavericks was to speed things up and to speedboost the internals. That is the kind of update I really love: An update that makes things faster and better. What about the Yosemite OS X Update? Well, on my i7 retina Macbook Pro with 16GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 1024 MB and SSD things like browsing through the menu bar items or opening folders from the dock lag. The framerate seems to drop brutally when connecting the rMBP to my 27" LED Cinema Screen (even when having the internal display closed). The lagging is also felt when scrolling through long files like source code. For example in Sublime Text on Mavericks I thought it was totally crazy how fast and fluid this app behaves. In Yosemite it sometimes gets stuck.

One trick to speed things up a little is to “reduce transparency” (see screenshot).

But try to turn the brightness up or down. You will see a graphics error that shows black borders around the round edges. I hope this will be fixed with the next update.

Overall it takes longer to start my Mac and the UI has serious framerate drops when displaying animations like using expose. It fails where Mavericks absolutely had no problems.

Popularity

Discussion Boards

“Yosemite looks terrible!” thread has way more views than the “Yosemite is Beautiful” thread on macrumors. As of writing 161k views vs 41k views. See here: http://forums.macrumors.com/forumdisplay.php?f=171

App Store Ratings

The top most useful German App Store ratings are negative towards UI and Performance:

Statistics

Update adoption rate seems to be slightly higher than Mavericks.

But be aware that today more people are used to getting and installing updates through the app store than when Mavericks came out. Also once installed getting back to 10.9 is way harder than updating to 10.10.

Conclusion

I do not like the direction Ive and his team took iOS and now OS X. Okay Forstall overexaggerated some skeuomorphism parts but the Aqua OS X look definitely feels more refined than this “we replace every button with Helvetica Neue Thin only superflat extasy bright candy wonderland world” look at least in my opinion.

To sum the main pain points up:

  • Helvetica Neue is harder to read then Lucida Grande on non-retina
  • UI lags (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8791370)
  • Skewed Icons look terrible (e.g. Mail, Calendar etc.)
  • Min Max Close Buttons look too unadjusted (flatness doesn’t correspond to the same level than the window gradient)
  • Colors are way too bright compared to the low contrast used for interface elements
  • Window transparency leads to performance drops. Fast scrolling a colorful website flickers on the eye.
  • Reducing window transparency on leads to 3d glitches (e.g. try to adjust the volume and you will see black borders around the bevels)

Am I willing to give OS X Yosemite another chance? I guess. But I need at least GUI performance to be fixed. The aesthetic aspects are always dependent on personal taste but we all agree that performance shouldn’t suffer.

Some Links:

For those of you who are not satisfied with the redesign I found this funny page: http://jonyiveredesignsthings.tumblr.com

Here is a link to a site that discusses dimension vs flat in interface design: http://humanistinterface.com