Last year, Apple’s Safari update was an embarrassing disaster. This year, it’s the Mac’s System Settings app.
In the next version of macOS—Ventura—Apple has updated the Mac’s System Preferences app to resemble the Settings app on the iPhone and iPad. It’s called System Settings, and right there we see the problem—why not just keep the old name or use ‘Settings?’ According to everyone who has commented on it, the new design is an utter mess. And it might be too late to do anything about it.
“Even after five betas, MacOSVentura’s System Settings are still causing headaches,” software product manager Daivat Dholakia told Lifewire via email. “Apple prides itself on its sleekness, user-friendliness, and dependability. To roll this out with cut-off buttons, menu titles, and misaligned texts, subtracts from that clean, polished image. If Apple wants to maintain its glossy image, it shouldn’t be rolling out new things—even as beta—that are still so far from consumer-ready.”
Same Story New Feature
Last summer, the iPad OS 15 and macOS Monterey betas introduced a new look for Safari. Apple redesigned Safari’s tabs so that each one contained its own address bar, and they all moved and jiggled around as you switched between them. It then took all the useful controls, the ones you need pretty much all the time—reload, forward and back, share—and hid them behind an ellipsis button.
The reaction was so strong that Apple slowly toned things down before deciding to ditch the new design altogether and go back to the old one, which continues to work just great.
This year, Apple has messed with the System Preferences app. This is where all the non-app-specific settings for your Mac live. Settings for the displays, Bluetooth, sound, security, how the Mac sleeps, and connects to networks, and lots more. It has also recently been the place to find your saved passwords and manage your iCloud account.
And to be honest, the existing version is an utter mess. Sections have been added over the years as they were needed. Often, they follow the UI conventions or fashions of the era in which they were added. The whole thing is like a house that started as a garden shed, and has been extended, remodeled, and added to until it’s the size of a mansion. And it’s equally hard to navigate.
But, incredibly, the new version looks even worse and is harder to use.
The new design could have fixed this, but it’s made everything even weirder. Buttons are cut off or don’t line up. Drop-down menus appear slightly misaligned, or over on the other side of the window. Text-input fields look like fixed elements that cannot be edited.
For a company that prides itself on its clean design and on the slogan that its products “just work,” this is unprecedented. And it seems to be down to another one of Apple products, SwiftUI.
“[T]he basic fit and finish of Ventura’s new System Settings is just bad. It feels like there’s something deeply wrong with SwiftUI that, even while in-progress, so many little layout details are apparently hard to get right,” Apple pundit and former programmer John Gruber said on his Daring Fireball blog.
SwiftUI is a part of Apple’s Swift programming language. It’s the part that lets you design the user-interface, and is built so that you can design your app once, and it should work—and look good—across the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. But as we can see, using it isn’t easy, partly because it is a lot newer than the previous, mature platforms used for the Mac and iOS, UIKit and AppKit, respectively.
“Whatever process and tools Apple is using to create the new System Settings—again, I think it’s all SwiftUI, but it doesn’t really matter—it’s seemingly very difficult for them to get basic UI elements to align and lay out in a way that’s even close to elegant,” says Gruber.
MacOS updates usually ship later in the fall than the iOS updates, but even so, this update looks pretty janky for mid-August. Perhaps Apple can still pull this version and revert to the old one. And if it doesn’t? Well it turns out that you can copy the System Preferences across from another Mac and it runs just fine. It’s not ideal, but at least there’s an option, even though Apple will probably hate it.