iTunes stream browsing, nested playlists

An interface for Internet audio streams more like the Library and Music Store browsing interfaces is one of the few things I would change about iTunes.

Two panes spanning the full height of the window – genre in the left, station in the right. This would allow for easier categorical browsing.

The downside would be that you couldn’t view multiple stream categories at once. That capability doesn’t seem all that useful, so I don’t think it would be missed.

Also among my few feature requests is nested playlists. Having a sizable collection of music , I have several playlists of one genre, divided based on year. I’d like to be able to shove them into a top-level container labeled with the genre name, allowing me to keep them together without being constantly displayed. I understand the desire to keep things simple, but we don’t all have the luxury of monitors running at 1600×1200.

Another drag

I would like to be able to drag the address bar link/icon from Safari to the Mail Dock icon to open a new message with that URL in the body. This sounds reasonable to me. Some of my other ideas may be wacky or impractical, but I don’t think that is the case with this one.

MT vs. iBlog

Apple is giving away a registered copy of iBlog to all .Mac subscribers, but I don’t think most MovableType users will find it of much use. While the interface is nice and it integrates decently with several of Apple’s iApps, it is missing too many great features. I’ll be sticking with Kung-Log + MT.

Pros:

  • The built-in stylesheet editor is far better for those who aren’t comfortable writing their CSS by hand.
  • Navigating your postings using the calendar in the lower left of the main window is quick and easy.
  • No database configuration required.

Cons:

  • No database to store things in!
  • No web interface for posting or management.
  • No web posted comments.
  • No TrackBack or similar feature.

Cross tab dragging

Safari has a real usability problem: trying to drag an address bar link from one tab to another that is open to your Bookmarks library is impossible. This is rather irritating.

I have no idea if this is possible, but how about making the tab open to Bookmarks spring-loaded? If I drag an address from the location bar to the tab, that tab should become active. Problem solved.

Item and selection count display methods

Rather than use the status bar display dependent method currently implemented in OS X, how about using some of the Quartz engine’s compositing features to display an overlay graphic of the number of items currently selected in a window?

My idea is this:

As a user moves through a window selecting items, a counter would appear inside the window, dynamically displaying the number of items selected. Ideally, this would include both the number of total items in a content area and the number currently selected by the user.

This would have to be rendered one of two ways, based on continuity of selection:

  • If the selection was contiguous, the counter would appear beneath the highlighted items. This would make the meaning of the counter more obvious.
  • For non-contiguous selections, the counter would be rendered in an appropriately contrasting color scheme against the background of the window.

In both instances, the counter graphic would have to be transparent enough to allow the user to read all text (file names, list-view column information) below it with ease.

Advantages over current implementation:

  • Not dependent on the user enabling the status bar in the Finder (which is off by default, at least in Jaguar). This appears to have changed in Panther due to the new design of the Finder.
  • Directly related to that, this method does not use additional screen space, using the window as its display canvas.
  • Maintains user focus on the selection area and the actual task of selecting; does not force their eyes to move to the status bar, a rather small target, then back to the items they are selecting.
  • Looks spiffy!

Potential problems:

  • Counter could become obscured in very small windows.
  • Potential visibility problems for Finder windows in which the user has set a custom background color or picture.
  • Placement of the counter in the Finder’s column view.

Ultimately, I think this sort of thing could replace the status bars of a number of applications. The status bar in Mail is particularly wasteful – it uses the entire width of the main window simply to display “xxx messages (xxx KB).” While it does also display the information related to sending and receiving mail, this could be displayed in a status bar such as that used in OmniWeb, only appearing when information needs to be displayed. The persistent information could be displayed in a floating counter/status item.

Random thoughts:

  • Should the counter float on top of the window’s content for a moment, then fade into the background? It would stay in the foreground while selecting items.
  • How would the desktop be handled? Currently, there is no counter for the desktop unless it is viewed as a window. Perhaps a counter should appear only when selecting multiple items?
  • Would it make sense for the counter to follow the mouse as long as it remained within a selection area?

A mock up of this idea would illustrate the concept far better than any written description. I should learn how to use Interface Builder anyway.

In the interim, I’d appreciate it if iTunes would display the number of selected items rather than just the total.

Don't put that there!

Why do so many OS X applications place data files that are not directly user-modifiable in the “Documents” folder rather than in “~/Library/Application Support” where they belong? This is annoying clutter. The Documents folder is for things that I WANT in there, things that I can edit, things I have created. This is not the place for files which are only meant to be manipulated by the application (itself) that created them.

Sadly, AppleWorks is guilty of this violation. It also appears that F10 Launch Studio is guilty of this. Bad.

F10 Launch Studio

I’ve been using F10 Launch Studio a bit. While I think the concept is very solid, there are some issues with the interface that prevent me from using it full time.

1. The order of the groups cannot be rearranged. Why?

2. Items cannot be sorted into rows – they can be ordered, but that order is used for a continuous left-right, top-bottom layout. This makes it hard to subdivide a group. For example, the Internet pane would much more useful if I could create several rows (or columns) in which similar items were placed.

Row A: Browsers – OmniWeb | Mozilla | Safari | iCab | Opera
Row B: Chat clients – iChat AV | Proteus | AIM | Fire
Row C: FTP/SSH – RBrowser | Transmit
Row D: P2P – Poisoned | XNap | mlMac
Row E: Misc. Utilities – URL Manager Pro | Safari Bookmark Exporter

I imagine one of the problems the designers encountered was with icon sizing and horizontal scrolling – the app is designed to offer scalable icon sizes and ONLY vertical scrolling, a la iPhoto. This would create a problem if a group of icons were confined to one row. The solution: limit the maximum icon size when using grouped rows!

One of the features I’ve found very useful is the hot-corner activation – I’d like to see the corner be used to both show AND hide the launch window, saving a bit of mousing if it is accidentally activated.

I think these changes would make a good product great. Then again, what do I know?

File copying UI

Having used Gnome a bit, one of the features I found much to my liking was the method used to show the progress of file copying. Rather than using a chunky, clutterific progress window, the file’s icon label updates (in real-time) the filesize until the copy is complete. On completion, the filename is displayed as normal.

I think this would be a welcome addition to OS X. A number of the Eazel people who created Nautilus are (back, in some cases) at Apple. They may well have ideas about how to improve this feature, possibly taking advantage of the graphical features of Quartz to give the user additional visual feedback. Perhaps a gradual fade-in of the icon?

I would not advocate using this method in all cases – it is best used ONLY for file copies initiated in the actual file manager. Downloads started from FTP clients or browsers would have no easy way to indicate that a download has begun as requested. This is how it works in Nautilus/Gnome.