When I first saw Time Machine, demoed at WWDC ‘06, words failed me. I was truly astonished that Apple would come up with such a tasteless user interface concept. Don’t get me wrong, I think that representing the historic state of an application window in 3D space as a metaphor for tracking archived changes is truly inspired (albeit some alternative methods of navigating Time Machine wouldn’t go amiss). No, I have no problem with the basic premise of Time Machine – my problem was with the Star Trek-style background visuals. I haven’t seen a user interface concept that intrusive and inappropriate since Microsoft saw fit to introduce a cartoon dog into Window XP’s search functionality.
At WWDC ’06, I wrongly assumed that since it was a sneak preview, the concept would be refined before final release and the stars would be toned down at the very least. Far from it. Instead, Apple saw fit to really go to town with the whole Star Trek motif. Not only is it on the Mac OS X product packaging, it’s even the default desktop pattern. That may not be such a big deal for Windows users, who are quite used to their default desktop “wallpaper” being polluted with intrusive marketing messages, but Apple used to have a tasteful default desktop image – so much so that I always used to stick to it.
As if the stars in themselves weren’t enough, Apple saw fit to include a gaudy pink nebulae – which oddly highlights the problem that MacBook Pros have with displaying millions of colours (check out that banding!)
The trekkies at Apple have come a long way from Time Machine and Leopard. Their work can now also be seen on marketing for Time Capsule and Final Cut Studio. There’s even a suggestion of a space theme on Apple TV (don’t even get me started on lens-flares). What happened to form following function; to Zen-like simplicity; to design being about how things work, not how things look? Please Steve, scrap the stars!