OS X El Capitan's Split View Is Just Plain Silly

Apple customers have been begging for a major release of OS X that returns us to the legendary theme of "It just works." By and large, I think Apple is doing that with OS X (10.11) El Capitan.

The refinements can take several forms. More refined security, networking, and user interface elements combined with code tweaking foster a better experience and performance. From what I've seen so far on my MacBook (with a 10.11 beta), El Capitan will be great. See: "Important New Features Make OS X El Capitan Not Just a Tune-up."

Even so, Apple couldn't resist the temptation to introduce some welcome new interface features. For example, wriggle the mouse to magnify the cursor and make it easy to locate. Nice. Finally!

One of the new features that I am less enthusiastic about is the Split View mode. Apple says:

Running lots of apps at the same time is one of the great things about using a Mac. Focusing on just one app in full-screen view is another. With Split View, you get the best of both. It automatically fills your screen with the two apps you choose. So you can make dinner plans with a friend in Messages while finding the restaurant in Maps. Or work on a document in Pages while doing your research in Safari. All without the distraction of your other open apps, and without having to manually resize and drag windows around.

I'm not following the logic here. If one of the great things about using the Mac is running multiple apps, then why is having just two displayed a good thing? The notion of overlapping windows belonging to multitasking apps is one of the great innovations of computer science, and, from the beginning of "Mac time" we've developed techniques to work with those multiple windows.

Could it be part of a ill-advised program to make El Capitan and iOS 9 look more alike?

How Split View Works

Let's back up a second and see how Split View works. There are at least two ways to activate it. The first is to click and hold the green sizing button of an app's window. You'll see a blue rectangle, a visual cue that this is one of the places you can drop the window. You can drag the window to the right or left side and the blue rectangle will follow. Repeat for the second app of interest.

Drag the app toright or left; blue rectangle will follow.

Essentially a new (Mission Control) space is created with just these two apps in Split View. You can see that by activating Mission Control (F3). To exit, click the green sizing button on each of the two apps.

Two selected apps, side by side, using all the display available.

A second technique is to activate Mission Control first, then drag an app to a new space, creating a new full screen view of that app. Then drag a second app to that same space, select the side you want, and release. Again, two apps are in Split View in that space.

Drag two apps to a new space in Mission Control.

Split View, Split Personality

I get the decided feeling that this feature is the result of attention to smaller displays on 11, 12 and 13-inch MacBooks of some model. Unlike the expansive 27-inch desktop displays that we've come to love, where many windows can reside, small MacBooks often require a lot of fuss to get the windows set up just right. Plus, tasks may be simpler and fewer on a MacBook. It's a mobility thing.

And yet, over the years, we've developed many ways to bring a window of interest to focus, that is, to the forefront.

  1. Click on a visible portion of the desired window.
  2. Click on the running app's icon (or alias).
  3. Click on its icon in the dock.
  4. Hold down the Cmd key and then press the Tab key repeatedly until you've highlighted the app of interest. Let go.

Activate with Cmd + Tab keys

Optionally, click on the app in the Menu bar list in Path Finder, if you use that essential, fabulous app.

What remains is the case where one just can't have overlapping windows because they both must be fully visible at the same time for, say, debugging or design work. That seems like a stretch to me for the average user. Is resizing a pair of windows just too tedious for us these days?

Open and Shut

As nifty as this feature appears, I just can't see that it's the kind of sparkling, satisfying functionality that we've come to expect from each new version of OS X. Or that it's worth the time to implement when so many other fundamental things need attending to in OS X.

I can't say I'm annoyed by a nice new interface feature, but neither do I see myself using Split View much. It's just another doodad that, I predict, we'll talk about then forget about.