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With Split View in El Capitan, going full screen makes sense

Jason Snell | July 24, 2015
One of the more interesting features of OS X El Capitan is the new Split View, which lets you run two apps side by side without any distractions (other than the other app, of course). It's sort of like full-screen mode, except with two apps.

el capitan split screen macbook

One of the more interesting features of OS X El Capitan is the new Split View, which lets you run two apps side by side without any distractions (other than the other app, of course). It's sort of like full-screen mode, except with two apps.

I've never been a huge fan of Full Screen Mode, mostly because I am frequently switching between at least two apps. But adding a second app to Full Screen Mode gives the feature an extra dimension that makes it much more intriguing to me. 

It's not just that the new feature allows Full Screen Mode to now encompass all of the tasks I perform by switching between two apps, though I do spend an awful lot of time looking at webpages while writing stories. It's also that, at least on my 27-inch retina iMac, it's an awful waste of space

To bring Split View to El Capitan, Apple has modified Full Screen Mode so that it can display two apps at once. Technically it makes sense. OS X already has one weird mode where apps disappear from the normal desktop metaphor, so why not just extend the capabilities of that mode?

The problem is that some of the underlying assumptions of Full Screen Mode can't be made in Split View, and that leads to some really weird interface issues in the El Capitan public beta. (This is as good a time as any to remind you that this is just a beta, and there's plenty of time for Apple to address weird interface issues before the OS X 10.11 ships this fall.) 

Most of the issues seem to be around the concept of which app is active. On the normal Mac desktop, you can tell which app is active by shading cues (the active window usually has a shaded title bar and the "stoplight" buttons in the left corner are only colors in the active window) and by the name of the app in the left corner of the menu bar, right next to the Apple logo.

So how does an app indicate that it's active in Full Screen Mode? It's a trick question, because there's only ever one app in Full Screen Mode. In Full Screen Mode, the menu bar is hidden unless you move your cursor up to the top of the screen, but it's not necessary as a cue because there's only ever one app running. Apps tend to hide most or all of their window chrome in Full Screen Mode, but again, losing those cues doesn't matter because there's only one app to use.

 

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