Tuned for the Mac

What’s a good word for Mac apps that feel like good Mac apps?

Back in August, Brent Simmons wrote about the blurring definitions between “desktop” and “web” stating “there is no word that means what desktop used to mean — there’s no word for ‘native Mac, Windows, and Linux apps.’ It’s not a concept anymore.”

A month and change later, Panic launched its new code editor, Nova with the lede, “Nova, our next-generation, fully native, future-focused code editor — only available for macOS — is here.” On the marketing site, you’ll read the headline, “Can a native Mac code editor really be that much better?”

On the same day, Sketch wrote a 10-year anniversary treatise (couched in an absolute tour de force of web design) titled “Part of your world: Why we’re proud to build a truly native Mac app”:

Native apps bring so many benefits — from personalization and performance to familiarity and flexibility. And while we’re always working hard to make Cloud an amazing space to collaborate, we still believe the Mac is the perfect place to let your ideas and imagination flourish.

Following Sketch’s post, we find John Gruber of Daring Fireball:

I’ve taken to calling these apps “Mac-assed Mac apps” recently, but we need a better term. Je ne sais quoi means “a quality that cannot be described or named easily” – it’s no surprise it’s hard to categorize these apps with a term. Panic just introduced their splendid new programming editor Nova as “an extremely Mac-app Mac app”, which captures the sentiment (and sound) of “Mac-assed Mac app” in a purely joyous way. I like that. Whatever we call them, they’re worth embracing and celebrating, and Sketch sure as hell is one of them.

Finally, and just to round things out, here’s C.S. Lewis in his 1940 book The Problem of Pain:

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.

So there’s something here. Something exhibited by certain Mac apps but not others. A Mac-ness. What do we call it?

For a while, I’ve quietly referred to these apps as “higgy.” As in they closely follow Apple’s HIG (Human Interface Guidelines) for patterns of design and interaction. But while “higgy” is a fun word to say it’s a terrible word for marketing and writing. Nova, a higgy app for the Mac. Pass.

But turning it over in my mind the past few weeks, I keep coming back to “tuned.”

“Nova, tuned for the Mac.”

I like “tuned” for two reasons.

First, although “tuned” is primarily associated with musical qualities—side note: I don’t think that’s a bad thing given the Mac’s close association with creativity and the arts—the lesser-used definitions speak to “agreement or sense of harmony” or “to adjust for proper functioning”. To “bring into harmony with MacOS” feels very close to me.

Second, it’s not about “native” and whether the app is pure Swift/Objective-C. Who cares? It’s about the feel of the thing. Can I rearrange sidebar items? Do disclosure triangles reflect the visibility of the disclosable content? Will common keyboard shortcuts work as expected? Is there consideration given to the software’s usage of my memory, CPU, and energy?

Or, simply: is it tuned for the Mac?

Monday, 16 November 2020

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