What happened to the iTunes 10 window controls?

iTunes has a long history of violating the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. In past releases, iTunes designers have removed the title bar and borrowed the brushed aluminum look from Apple hardware.

iTunes 10, released yesterday, carries on the tradition of divergence. This time, the designers have toyed with the window controls. As you can see below, the close, minimize and zoom buttons have shifted from their conventional horizontal arrangement to a vertical arrangement.

itunes_comparison.jpg

I can imagine stylistic and practical explanations for doing this. The new layout has a better visual feel to it, and it uses the space more efficiently. Still, it’s quite a bold departure from such a fundamental aspect of the Aqua interface standard. (The new volume control also violates the standards, but not quite so shockingly.)

Are we glimpsing a brave new world of window controls? What do you think?

15 Comments

Josh Clark
I suspect that we'll start seeing this button layout in more Apple apps. It's more sensible to preserve precious vertical space, and the stoplight arrangement makes the colors seem ordered instead of a vaguely random jumble. I think it's an improvement, and I figure it will start to be standardized over the coming months and, I'd bet money, in the next OS X update.
Dan McKenzie
Yes! Apple uses iTunes updates to introduce new UI standards from time to time. iTunes was the first Apple application to do away with the brushed metal effect. My guess is that Safari is next.
Mike B
The new button layout makes a bit more sense for the mini-player view -- it allows for a more compact view while keeping the button arrangement organized. The design team also played around with a 3-state toggle (full screen, user-specified window dimensions, mini-player) sometime in the iTunes 9.x release cycle but quickly reversed it in the next dot release. We'll see if this arrangement sticks around...
Dave Cronin
I like it! I'm with Josh about the vertical space. One of my favorite things about Chrome is that it doesn't hog the pixels.
Chuck Martin
If the graphics are scaled correctly, it does look like this arrangement allows more space for content and less space for navigation (a theme Edward Tufte advocates). But I'm not entirely sure it's completely a good thing, and that's because of the background contrast, or lack thereof. At least with the default theme, the green button ends up being on a much darker gray background that when the buttons were in the horizontal orientation. Not only does that make the green itself stand out less from the background, the min icons (the "+" for the green) in the buttons stand out less as well. What will be interesting here also is if someone decided to try and make the top bar even leaner and suggests squeezing the buttons together, making them harder to target individually. A challenge is going to be getting users comfortable with seeing the buttons in different places in different apps (assuming that they get used that often). For users that to use those buttons and are used to the horizontal orientation and have developed muscle memory to use them, a bit of cognitive dissonance might occur when using iTunes. True, it will be small and brief, but it will be there. The volume control is interesting. It's hard to tell if the new button is a larger target for the mouse, but I think it's a lot easier to visualize a percentage when a space is filled (the new design) that a point on a line (the old design). I disagree with Dave about Chrome though. Perhaps it's because I've never been a fan of tabs (coming from a Windows world where I prefer separate windows and cycling through them with Alt-Tab, and where I've continued that tradition in Mac OS with Cmd-Tab), I've always found tabs to waste screen real estate.
Golden Krishna
I was a fan when I first saw the old controls in OSX. Red-yellow-green buttons tapping into our understanding of traffic signals in a way that wasn't overt enough to be cheesy, but clear enough to make the visual connection. Now, awful UI inconsistencies aside, the new, more overt (and hence more cheesy) window controls alone don't actually conjure up any strong emotions. However, the vertical traffic signal window controls and the metal-looking volume control do feel in line with a trend at Apple to make things mimic the real world, which is bothersome. Certainly, those colorblind may benefit from a more typical order of red-yellow-green, but the need to add realism at Apple feels more like a page out of Microsoft Bob than the company that brought us the elegance of the iPod.
Ben Huson
Although I do think this button arrangement probably does work better in iTunes, I'm not sure how well it would apply to other arranges of OS X. Looking at a normal Finder window in OS X there is not current enough space to fit the 3 buttons vertically. In this circumstance, I think that having more vertical height for content is probably important, especially with so many widescreen laptop around - I hope they don't force all the tool bars in the Finder windows to be bigger than they need to be.
Anders Fougstedt
This looks nice and neat as a layout and does preserve space. The buttons are still visible against the gray background so the user's eyes can find them. The layout gives a nice centered horizontal lines to all controls in that area of the window. I end up asking myself several things however. Are vertical window controls really that much better that it's worth breaking a well established and universal standard to do them? What was the problem that was solved by doing this, and was it really big enough to break one of the most fundamental parts of the Mac OS interaction? Is the advantage big enough of solving whatever the problem was in this way that it outweighs the disadvantage of breaking the user's expectations of something as basic as how a window works? If we users lose the expected placement of the window controls, what did we gain? Apple doing this in something as big as iTunes will mean many other developers will start doing this in their programs as well, meaning many Mac applications in the near future will have very varied window controls regardless of whether this new layout appears in Apple's UI Guidelines or not.
dave cronin
Interestingly (at least to my small mind), it actually *doesn't* save screen real-estate, despite my first impressions above. The header chrome in OSX Chrome is (ironically) smaller than would be possible with this vertical arrangement. I still kind of like it, but I'm going to have to come down in favor of less cruft.
annemarie lock
I found that I was having a harder time hitting the target on the middle (minimize button) Although it could be learning curve, it also felt like I had to wade through the player buttons in order to get over there.
James
I'd put my money on this being a toe-dipping exercise, ahead of a potential OS wide update, ie. "Lets see what reaction this gets / lets see how this grows on our users... and us"
Adam Korman
I'm not a fan. When I just compare this arrangement to prior versions of iTunes, it's clearly a better use of space and reduces the visual competition between the window controls and the play controls. But, that's not really the right context to assess this change. I use the (middle) minimize control in apps all the time, and now I'm tripped up ever time I head for it in iTunes. I also drag windows around the screen pretty frequently, and slimming the header to drop the title bar makes that harder, because I'm used to that whole, big title bar as my target to do that. It's not so much that's it's hard to do these things now, but it's annoying that it's different. I use a bunch of different OS X apps all day, and now I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance every time I switch to iTunes because iTunes is the only one that doesn't follow some very deeply ingrained conventions. And, when I look at how this might play out in other apps, the new arrangement won't always translate well, especially in situations where windows don't have/need a tall header. This layout seems to be specifically tailored to the height of the header in iTunes, rather than dealt with in a generic way that will make sense across all applications. Also, check out what it looks like when you double click a playlist (which opens the playlist in a new window -- I know, it's weird and confusing that it opens in a new window). I don't think they thought this through completely.
Tiago Moita
I think this button shift has the only advantage of looking neater, against the fact that it breaks a convention, it doesn't fit regular window headers and and makes buttons stand out differently, because of the background gradient. In my opinion, it does more harm than good. The volume control is OK, by me. Kind of off topic, what really bothers me is the graying out of the sidebar icons (not to mention, of course, the hideous new icon of iTunes 10). I sure hope this doesn't foretell Apple's losing its sense of elegance and good design...
Jonathan Abbett
I use Windows. I'd be happy with a native interface. iTunes's highly-stylized UI is slow and the many small differences in its interactions from standard Windows apps can be frustrating. I have the same complaint about Adobe Creative Suite.
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