In the Post-PC Era, OS X Should Evolve Differently

| Editorial

Apple has always been known for putting the experience of using its products ahead of technology itself. Customers use Apple products because they want to get something done, not tinker around. Occasionally that has resulted in aspersions, like "Apple's Macs are toys." But now we're in the the Post-PC era, and it's time for a change of direction.

The subject has been discussed for years. At every turn, it seems, Apple dumbs down the User Interface (UI) of OS X. The fear, it seems, is that the larger audience, the everyday folk that Apple wants to attract, might be intimidated by excessive information or options.

That directly contradicts Apple's mantra that they only make the best of anything. Customers who can afford the best are able to pay for it, and they can do that because they're better educated. And they don't like being babied.

Times Change

This is the dawn of the Post-PC era. Mac sales are declining (for now) because a lot of what people want to do can be done with an iPad. That might mean FaceTime, shopping, texting, Twitter or browsing. Apple's iOS is perfectly designed for that.

What that means is that people who are using Macs will increasingly be using them for specific technical purposes. In the language of Steve Jobs, the Macintosh becomes the truck, not a car. A sturdy, competent tool used by a few, not the masses. The iPad is the easy-to-use car. The Mac is now the truck used by video professionals, photographers, artists, writers, developers, podcasters, and so on. These people are behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting.

So why insult them with excessive simplicity?

For example:

  • Why does the new AirPort Utility 6.x hide the generation and name of the Wi-Fi device, say, an Airport Extreme. One may need to know that in a technical environment.
  • Why does OS X now hide the "Detect Displays" option in System Preferences -> Displays?
  • Why has Apple vastly dumbed down the presentation of HTTP Cookie data in Safari?

I could go on, but these are sufficient to make the point. Apple's direction with simplification is now out of sync with the Post-PC era. The truck drivers need options plus more and better information about their OS, not less, in order to make things happen, behind the scenes, for the tablet and smartphone users. As my colleague Bryan Chaffin said, when we discussed this idea, "Yeah, Apple, it's the Post-PC Era. We're in it, you win. Since you won, it's high time you be more realistic about OS X."

A Suggestion

Now that a lot of people who were never really very comfortable with complex computers are embracing tablets, it would please me greatly if Apple were to steer away from further, gratuitous simplification of options in OS X. Preferences that can only be changed with special 3rd party utility apps or arcane terminal commands could once again be considered for inclusion instead of being hidden for fear that someone would hose up their Mac.

Even so, there are still 70 million Mac users who use their Macs profitably, and there's no need to alarm them with additional complexities. Here's an idea: why not have an expert mode that's invoked by holding down the Option key when the Apple-branded app launches? Or when a System Preference is opened. That way, the more technical users can get a better grip on their environment and the average users find that nothing much has changed. One could disable this Option+launch mode for other than the Admin user.

The high-level point I want to make here is that the continuing goal of simplification of OS X in order to attract new customers may now be pointless. The classic thinking about OS X simplicity can now be classified as "overcome by events." Customers who hate complexities and options have already headed to Tabletville. Let's give the truck drivers some flexibility, information and options so that they can make life better for themselves and their own customers.

The era of the purring cat is gone, and now we're into the roar of big time surfing.


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Hear, hear. I couldn’t agree more. Ironically making things too simple actually makes getting stuff done more complicated. For example, they’ve hidden the ~/Library folder. But, sometimes as part of debugging an app, you want the user to trash preferences. So now, there’s an extra step. The user must be instructed how to un-hide their Library folder, or must use the command line to navigate to the Preferences folder and delete the required file. And what has really been gained? This sort of incomplete simplification is a part of why I’ve stuck with Snow Leopard.


Agree fully.  An “Advanced Mode” system preference is the way to go.
Show us all the ugly stuff.  We can handle it. smile

Hopefully this doesn’t fragment things for developers, who may have to design for both standard and advanced modes.  Then again offering both UIs would’ve prevented the Final Cut Pro debacle from back when…

Mike Weasner

Totally agree.  My sister-in-law or niece won’t want to see (or even know about) “advanced user commands”  But as a Mac user who wants the “power to be my best”, I would welcome having them.  I use Aperture, not iPhoto for photo managing and editing.  I use BBEdit, not TextEdit, for text file editing.

Maybe it is time for OS X and OS X Pro?  OS X could be more like iOS for those who want that level of UI.  OS X Pro would unlock all the advanced features and advanced UI.  QuickTime and QuickTime Pro could be the model.  OS X would be free (or maybe $10); OS X Pro would be $20.  No need to install anything to get OS X Pro; just buy a registration key.


Another thought provoking piece, thanks.


It seems like prior to OS X, Macs had a mode called “simple Finder” or something like that. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that Apple could separate the OS functionality into “pro” and “consumer” modes, with the latter maybe being a little closer to iOS (no Finder, more full screen apps, etc.).

The only problem I see with this approach is that it’s essentially ON/OFF. If Apple could figure out a way to be able to mix & match the two modes and have it make sense, it could be workable. With Mac OS, there is a built-in user base that has accumulated for years, with varying degrees of software skill. They’d be sure to hear complaints from people who want to use the “pro” version with just a couple of “consumer” features, but can’t in that mode, for example.

Any way you look at it, Apple should tread extremely cautiously about dumbing down OS X. We shouldn’t forget the bold turn MS took with Windows 8, and how well that turned out for them.


Good article that is appropriate for these Mac times. This will likely get worse for the pro user and better for most consumers. In other words more simplification is coming our way.

Report a site bug?
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this taking place. On the iPad every once in awhile the main page opens the App Store highlighting a certain app (I think it is a game that is at times in the site banner heading ad) and I have to quit App Store to come back to MacObserver.

Alex Curylo

Er, the advanced mode’s right there, dudes.

It’s called “”.


Great article and very timely.

Now…  How do we get Apple to listen?  They apparently know better what I want than I do!

If they continue on the simplification route, they run the risk of losing even more business in the Mac environment.

Perhaps they don’t care, considering the relative revenue streams, but it would be a damned shame.

Lee Dronick

  Report a site bug?
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this taking place. On the iPad every once in awhile the main page opens the App Store highlighting a certain app (I think it is a game that is at times in the site banner heading ad) and I have to quit App Store

That just happened to me while visiting with my iPad. It took me to Candy Crush Saga, yuck! I am assuming that it is a rogue javascript in an advertisement.



John, you know full well that holding down option while launching an app already does something different than just launching it. In the old days it automatically hid all other applications. Today apps like iTunes and iPhoto use option launching to change libraries.
You also know that virtually no Mac user launches an app by double clicking its icon. Almost everyone uses the Dock, Sherlock, Quicksilver, etc. It would be a royal pain to have to find an app in Finder so you could hold down the option key while double clicking it.
So absolutely bring in an “experienced Mac user” mode, but it needs a preference pane not a keyboard combination.
And yes Alex, the expert mode is, but there is now an entire generation of power users who don’t know the difference between chmod and grep because they’ve never used a command line interface.


Thanks for confirming that for me. It takes me to the same game.

Bob Faulkner

Uh, I don’t think so. I don’t think Apple wants to turn the Mac into a PC. That’s essentially what is being advocated here. Maybe some type of compromise would be in order, if you and others feel so strongly about this: something that could turn on the under-the-hood stuff for technical geeks. But for me, a lonely graphic designer, I like the Mac just fine as it is, now.


I agree with John and others (especially graxspoo, d’monder, Weasner, & Bregalad) that there needs to be a way to do advanced user things without the high-wire act in Terminal. And I like the idea of the admin user controlling access. Does Apple scan these comments?


John,  I disagree with the direction that your suggestions are going in here.
There is no need for a special “Expert Mode” (and all of the programming complexity and extra work/delay that that would involve for each upgrade).
Having a separate mode—with separate presentation windows/pages—is an unnecessary complexity.

Simply give us ALL the information and choices on the same page and then simply:

1)  place a WARNING LABEL beside any option that is considered dangerous—can screw up the machine—or too complex, confusing, or overly detailed. 
Something like (“Expert Options” or “Advanced Users Only—Caution”).  And have the label be a roll-over to give additional information about the technical danger when necessary.
Some people (who don’t want to dig deep) will learn to ignore and easliy glance past the settings labeled “Advanced”.  Those settings don’t have to be completely hidden from them.
But it is very advantageous to have the “Advanced” settings be in the same place/page/window as the “Normal” or “Novice” settings.  It is more clear logic to have all the settings of the same type be in the same place. 

2)  supply ROLL OVERS for the technical words to bring up dialog boxes that give additional descriptions/explanations of words/phrases considered too confusing for novices (so we have the choice to LEARN as we go).

3)  for some options/settings that are considered so dangerous (and you don’t want to let children innocently have access to them), then just PADLOCK them and require an ADMIN access and unlock code.
This is much easier than having to go into Terminal.
It is better to be able to SEE all the options and know that they are there and where they are. 

It is infuriating how Apple has removed, moved, hidden, or shifted to the Terminal so many commands, settings, and info presentations.
It is infuriating how Apple has dumbed down our machines, catered to the lowest common denominator, and treated us all like children.
It is infuriating how Apple has actually TAKEN AWAY a lot of functionality and features that it took years to provide us with and gave us more power and more options in how to do our work.
Macs were the machine “for the rest of us.”  We choose Apple because it allowed us TO DO MORE FOR OURSELVES AND ON OUR OWN (without having to call in an IT person).  Now they have been steadily withdrawing the very thing that made them great.
All those years of long-fought for and innovation invention of features and controls that are now being taken away, eliminated, or hidden and made annoyingly difficult to find.

Carsten Legaard

Maybe a bit short, but anyway: John! I just totally agree

Paul Goodwin

Certainly an Options button as a standard interface device in every app to provide the user with a more complete set of functions would be a plus. Where there is already an option button, they could use the standard “More” popup. Seems like the full technical user interface could be just a layer down from a top simple user interface. And if the functions on the detailed UI screen could be detrimental, a suitable short warning comment could be provided as a popup that provided the needed warning.

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