Tag Archives: software

What does Apple have against drag and drop?

In Seriously, Apple — hire some of your engineers from the 80s I pointed out how Apple ignores/rejects perfectly obvious use cases, especially when it comes to drag and drop. I ran into another one on Friday, so here goes the hot sauce:

I have a set of people I email regularly in OS X Mail. I want to create a group, but there doesn’t seem to be any function built-in to mail for that. I’d be curious to know what Apple’s research is on how many people use their address book for anything other than email, but setting that aside, the task at hand seems simple once you understand it must be done in the address book…

Except for the fact that the people in question aren’t in my address book. They’re coming from an Exchange server. So the use case here is: I have a bunch of qualified addresses in an email and I want to get them into the Address Book application. I started by creating a group in the address book and having it open, ready to receive the new addresses.

Failure #1: select all the addresses, drag them into the group. No. They just streak back to Mail. Whenever this happens I picture Wayne Knight in Jurassic Park saying “Ah ah ah, you didn’t say the magic word.

Failure #2: drag a single address. This was a long shot, and predictably it failed as well.

Failure #3: drag the addresses to the desktop. This works, and creates a text file with the addresses in it. But then dragging the file into the Address Book application fails: it only accepts vCard format. Gee, it’s a shame that’s not the format Mail creates when you drag to the desktop. Interestingly, you can drag a vCard into an email’s address box and it works; you just can’t go the other way.

Failure #4: I notice there is a menu item available for an address: Add to Address Book. Select all the addresses, select the menu choice, and only the email address I clicked on is added to the address book even though all the addresses are still selected.

Success? One by one I use the menu to add each address to the address book. Then I add them all to the group. I wonder what will happen if any of the people’s email addresses change in Exchange. I’m assuming they won’t update in Address Book, but it’s a low probability that any of them will change.

Drag and Drop is meant to be universal: from anywhere to anywhere. It’s defined to include as many formats as the outputting application can support to increase the likelihood of the receiving application finding a format it can accept. Receiving applications are supposed to be as tolerant as possible. The lowest common denominator is text; an application should include a text representation of the data whenever possible, and the receiving application should accept text if it can. I’ve just checked, and yes, if I create a contact in the Address Book and drag an email address to the email field for that contact, it works. So Address Book understands drag and drop of text at least, it just refuses to do the reasonable thing.

I’ve used Macs for twenty-five years now, and things like this are just disappointing.

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Seriously, Apple — hire some of your engineers from the 80s

One of the things that used to amaze me about Apple software (and Macintosh software in general) was how it seemed that the engineers anticipated my weird little use cases. Now it often seems that they can’t anticipate the obvious ones.

Here are the steps I’ve taken so far:

  • I took a picture with my iPhone.
  • I connected the iPhone to a MacBook (not the computer I normally connect it to).
  • I ran iPhoto.
  • The photos on the iPhone showed up in the iPhoto window — so far so good.
  • I drag one of the photos from the iPhoto window to the desktop. The photo snaps back to its location in the iPhoto window, without transferring a copy to the desktop.

Sigh. Okay, so I have to import the photo(s) first, then I can drag them to the desktop. But why? Isn’t the input I gave the computer clear? Is there any possible ambiguity as to what I want to happen? There’s a picture on my iPhone, I want it on the computer. Did no one at Apple ever think of this option? Did they think of it, but have some valid reason for rejecting it? Did they think of it, but they were just lazy?

Every valid input to the computer should have a response. If the meaning is ambiguous, ask for clarification. The appropriate response is never simply wagging your finger at the user and saying “Nuh-uh.”

Oh, and here’s the picture: