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A deeper look at Apple’s Developer app

On Twitter, I've shared my distaste for Catalyst apps, as many of them just don't "feel" right to a long-term Mac user. I know that's vague, but today, the vagueness ends, thanks to a deep dive into Apple's recently-released Developer app for macOS. No, the deep dive isn't this blog post you're reading now, but rather one by Martin Pilkington.

He has written a great analysis of the numerous issues with the Developer app. (And importantly, he filed bugs on everything he listed.)

Many of the issues aren't specific to Catalyst, but reflect poor attention to the details that make a Mac app look and act as a Mac app should. Here are but a few of the examples from Martin's analysis:

The focus ring on the search field has square corners • The search field focus ring does not go away if you click elsewhere in the app • Doesn't show window title when toolbar is hidden • Content size is too small • Can't collapse groups in the sidebar • Find toolbar does not share search string across OS

I strongly encourage you to read Martin's article, as it puts into words just why I find many Catalyst apps so annoying to use. In addition, I'm going to provide a couple more examples—using the same Developer app—showing just how non-Mac-like a Catalyst app can be…

Window Resizing

Catalyst apps in general handle window resizing oddly. The Developer app, though, is absolutely horrid about how it handles window resizing. In general, if a user is making a window larger, the purpose of doing so is to see more content, or to have the existing content flow better in the available space. Resizing the Developer window doesn't really accomplish either goal.

I made a quick comparison movie, resizing both Developer and Ranchero's excellent Mac app NetNewsWire on my 16" MacBook Pro. I started with the same size window in both apps, and expanded both to fill the screen (not full screen mode, I'm not that crazy).

Resizing the Developer window from smallest to largest gains exactly seven new headlines, and you can see more of the second large tile at the top of the window. But that's it—in the video, I highlight the huge amount of wasted whitespace that results when you resize the Developer window.

Contrast that with NetNewsWire, where all the additional space is used to reveal additional content. Of particular note is the difference in the way NetNewsWire handles spacing between column edges and content: The gap remains fixed, regardless of the window's dimensions. In the Developer app, a huge amount of white space is added between the sidebar and content area as the window resizes.

Lack of visibility to scrolling

This is one of the most grating aspects of Catalyst apps on the Mac: You will often run into interface elements that were clearly designed for touch, and for which no work has been done to make them more usable with a mouse or trackpad.

In the case of the Developer app, the large tiles at the top of the window are such an area: You need to scroll to see all the tiles, but it's unclear exactly how you should scroll:

You might think you could click-and-drag on the partially visible tile to scroll across, but you'd think wrong: As soon as you mouse-down on the partial tile, it shrinks a bit, indicating that it's now the active click target. Release the mouse button without moving off the tile, and it will activate.

You might also think you could click on the small dots below the tiles, but you'd also thing wrong. These buttons are not clickable.

The only way to scroll this region is by using your mouse's scrollwheel with the Shift key held down, so it scrolls horizontally. (Trackpad users have it a bit easier, as they can use a two-finger horizontal swipe to scroll this area.)

In a well-designed Mac app, there would either be a permanently visible scroll bar (if the user has it set this way, as I usually do), or one that would appear at the first hint of scrolling, letting the user know the region is scrollable. And parts of the Developer app have this—there's a scroll bar on the sidebar, and one for the vertical content of the main window, but not for the horizontal content. And even with the General system pref set to always show scroll bars, none appears for this horizontal region.

Another option would be the approach used in the Mac App Store, with clickable navigation arrows:

But something is needed to help Mac users understand where and how to take action to scroll the content areas.

These are just two examples; I could provide many others, though Martin has covered a lot of them in his article, which is a highly-recommended read. If this is what Apple does with a Catalyst app, it doesn't bode well for others with tons less Mac experience than Apple hopefully has available in house.