The Mac is be­com­ing more like ios—and I think I like it

IOS does many things bet­ter.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON SNELL

Ifell in love with the Mac nearly 30 years ago, in the fall of 1989. It’s been the cen­ter of my tech world ever since, and I’ve been writ­ing about it pro­fes­sion­ally for 25 years. And yet these past months, I’ve no­ticed some­thing strange creep­ing into my thoughts oc­ca­sion­ally while I sit at my desk work­ing on my imac Pro: IOS does this bet­ter.

It’s dis­con­cert­ing, af­ter three decades, to sud­denly find that ma­nip­u­la­tion of files and fold­ers in the Fin­der has gone from

be­ing busi­ness as usual to seem­ing like it’s more fuss and ef­fort than is nec­es­sary. And yet that’s where I am now, thanks to a couple of years of us­ing an ipad Pro rather than a Mac­book Air when­ever I’m away from my desk. The ipad, she has in­fected me. And I fear there is no cure.


The Fin­der has been the core of the Mac ex­pe­ri­ence since the very be­gin­ning. Vis­ually manag­ing files and fold­ers is what

has de­fined the Mac for decades. And yet, with IOS,

Ap­ple chucked all of that out for an app-cen­tric view of the world.

As a Mac user, I have strug­gled with ios’s at­tempts to prevent me from think­ing in terms of doc­u­ments rather than apps. And to a cer­tain point, this was the right thing to do. IOS started out deny­ing any pos­si­bil­ity for files and fold­ers to be rel­e­vant, and that ex­trem­ism was un­rea­son­able for a lot of use cases. But to­day’s IOS pro­vides a bit more bal­ance, thanks to the Files app and var­i­ous cloud ser­vices. I can man­age files when I need to on ios—and for­get about them when I don’t.

Con­trast that with my Mac, when I re­ceive a file that I’ve trans­ferred from an ipad via Air­drop. The file pops into the Down­loads folder. I need to copy it to the right lo­ca­tion, re­quir­ing me to open a new Fin­der win­dow, nav­i­gate to the proper folder, then go back to the Down­loads folder (or a pop-up stack in the Dock, if there aren’t mul­ti­ple files), and drag and drop. I’m of­ten open­ing mul­ti­ple Fin­der win­dows to drag things around and view projects I’m work­ing on. Some­times they over­lap and hide one an­other, so I open a new Fin­der win­dow... only to later dis­cover I’ve got five win­dows view­ing the same folder scat­tered across my desk­top.

This is the way it’s al­ways been, more or less—but all of a sud­den it’s started to feel ar­chaic. I value my Desk­top as a col­lec­tion of in-progress files, and some man­ual or­ga­ni­za­tion feels use­ful, but for the most part us­ing the Fin­der feels like fid­dly non-work, like rearrangin­g your desk or re­or­ga­niz­ing your book­shelf as a way to pro­cras­ti­nate be­fore getting back to your ac­tual work.

Us­ing IOS has made me ap­pre­ci­ate its more app-cen­tric view. To ac­cess my cur­rent story list on the Mac, I gen­er­ally go to the Fin­der, make a new win­dow, and click on a short­cut in the side­bar to view a par­tic­u­lar Drop­box folder. Yes, I could place an alias out on the desk­top, or use a tool like De­fault Folder to force the de­fault view of Bbe­dit’s File → Open com­mand to

the proper folder... and, come to think of it, I might start do­ing that, since it is closer to how IOS does things. On my ipad, I open 1Writer (my IOS text ed­i­tor of choice) and use a slid­ing pane that dis­plays the con­tents of that same Drop­box folder. Tap­ping the icon to cre­ate a new file cre­ates it, by de­fault, in that folder. I never need to leave 1Writer to open, cre­ate, re­name, or email a file.


There are, of course, nu­mer­ous ways that the Mac pro­vides more power and flex­i­bil­ity than IOS. That’s what makes the Mac so great. My Mac gives me ac­cess to pow­er­ful com­mand-line fea­tures that bub­ble be­neath the sur­face of the in­ter­face, and I can even wrap them in easy-to-use GUI shells with Au­toma­tor and Ap­ple­script.

That said, there are some places where sim­pli­fi­ca­tion can have power. To me, Short­cuts is a sec­ond take on Au­toma­tor that cor­rects most of the orig­i­nal util­ity’s fail­ings. While I rely on Au­toma­tor ev­ery day, It’s mostly for ex­e­cut­ing scripts. The prom­ise of eas­ily weld­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent apps via Au­toma­tor work­flows never re­ally came to fruition for me, largely be­cause in­di­vid­ual app-based ac­tions were few and far be­tween—and when they ex­isted, they were largely opaque.

Short­cuts is hardly an easy-to-use tool, but it’s streets ahead of Au­toma­tor. There are a dozen things I want to see im­proved about Short­cuts, but I’d take it as a re­place­ment for Au­toma­tor this fall if it also let me run Ap­ple­scripts and shell scripts.

While I don’t want the Mac to give up its power and flex­i­bil­ity, there are a lot of places where a sim­pli­fied ap­proach should be the de­fault—and is po­ten­tially bet­ter, or at least not worse, than the Mac sta­tus quo. The Mac ap­proach of an infinite num­ber of over­lap­ping win­dows of ar­bi­trary sizes is a clas­sic—but might a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to full-screen, split-view, and side-snapped win­dows be eas­ier, cleaner, and more efficient?

Us­ing so much of the ipad Pro has also con­vinced me that it’s time for the Mac to adopt touch­screens, at least as an op­tion. Be­ing able to touch my ipad’s screen, even when at­tached to a key­board, is an im­prove­ment. No, I don’t think you should be forced to touch a screen to use a Mac— just as key­boards and (hope­fully some­day) mice are not re­quired on IOS. But why not pro­vide users with more op­tions?

I’m not ex­cited about be­ing forced to change the way I’ve used my Mac for 30 years... but if I wanted to change be­cause the new method was bet­ter, I’d be ready to move. And in some ways, to my great sur­prise, my per­spec­tive seems to have al­ready shifted. ■

The app-cen­tric view of IOS pro­vides a more efficient way of­work­ing with files.

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