Disclaimer: despite pointing out something I don’t like about Mac OS X, I still think it’s a wonderful operating system. And Windows is still crap.
This annoyance concerns the Apple menu (which itself is a silly name: would be like Windows having the ‘Microsoft menu’). For reference, here’s a screenshot of the ‘mighty blue Apple’:
Happily, this button (and, in fact, the entire menu bar) was designed with some consideration of Fitts’ Law, which essentially boils down to “the bigger a target and the closer it is, the easier it is for users to get a lock on it”. The menu bar uses the “mile-high menu” corollary of this, in that if you put something at the edge of the screen it is, in practical terms, infinite in size, hence users can just slam their mouse upwards/downwards/sideways and get there. In the case of the Apple menu, this target area is infinitely high and infinitely wide, hence users can slam their pointers up and to the left with gay abandon and be sure of hitting their target. This makes them happy users.
Unfortunately, this is where we run into a problem, as shown when the menu is actually activated:
As you can see, the highlight around the menu doesn’t extend to the left-hand side of the menu, so users (such as myself) don’t know that the target area is not only mile-high, but mile-wide as well (which Google tells me is an area of 2,589,988.11 m²). This is an especially serious problem as, when the user will usually be coming at the menu from an angle closer to the horizontal than the vertical, the effective ‘size’ of the button depends more on its width than its height, more or less nullifying the mile-high–ness of the target and forcing the user to spend rather longer than they would like getting their mouse into position.
In short, uncharacteristically poor design decision from Apple, especially as they do the same thing with the Spotlight menu in the upper-right of the screen. Apologies if I’ve spent too long labouring the point, but it does raise the important issue that user interface enhancements are only useful if the user is made aware of them.
I’ll open this up to the floor now – comments?