Mac OS X El Capitan: Split View

OS X has let the concept of window management evolve at a snail’s pace compared to other features, but it is an idea so fundamental to the desktop OS that messing it up can cause huge drawbacks in the user experience. In El Capitan, Split View seeks to aid the productivity of its users by allowing two apps to coexist in a full-screen space, though it’s pretty clear that Apple blatantly took this feature from another popular OS.

At some point in your product’s life, you have to sacrifice intuition in order to implement a feature that can prove to be beneficial without being an accidental burden. Split View is an amusing example of this. While testing this feature in the beta, it took me a solid couple of minutes to initially figure out how to get this feature to work, since nothing had changed in the interface to clue me in to what I was supposed to do. I’ll explain the process later in this post, but for now, let’s examine the benefit of hiding the feature by comparing it to the ease of Windows’s Snap View implementation:

If you want to make a window full screen, all you have to do is grab the title bar and drag it to the top of the screen. If you want to split the screen with the window, move it to a side or a corner. This is a really simple, quick process. Unfortunately, it’s too quick. For the power user, this method is no big deal. It’s easy to discover, and on discovery you figure, “eh, that’s ok, I’ll just remember not to move the window all the way to the top.”

If that’s what you think, and you scoff others for not being able to handle this, I have three words for you: good for you.

For the rest of you, I know all too well how easy it is to take a window and move it to the top just so you can reveal something hiding on the bottom, and then all of a sudden have that window take over everything when that wasn’t your intention. I know people who do this more often by accident than intentionally, and that’s a problem for the software designers, not the user. You can turn off this feature in the settings, but there’s no option to make it “less easy.” By the way, it’s also the mark of a lazy designer when they don’t consider the possibility of some interfaces not being practical to use as a result of their windows becoming too small or too large.

OS X is much more responsible with this feature, though it does come at the cost of not being as intuitive, or as original. The green full-screen button can now be held down, and after a second, half the screen becomes highlighted, signaling where this window can be placed. You then get a choice of what other open app you can split with. Using the green button to take an app out of Split View will result in the window going to back its original size on the desktop while the other app is converted to full-screen.

It’s certainly true that this looks exactly like the Snap View feature of Windows 7, so credit where credit’s due, but there is attention paid to limitations: some apps can’t use this feature, content-heavy apps such as iTunes and Safari won’t stretch to be as small as Messages or Dictionary, and treating apps in Split View as their own space feels nowhere near as flimsy as the integration of Snap View and the desktop in Windows 10.

We’ve had the “tile windows” command since Windows 3.1, is this really all that much different?

The real hero of OS X’s Split View, however, is Mission Control. If it’s not in your dock or accessible via keyboard shortcut or gesture, you might want to set it up if you find yourself customizing your spaces often. Putting apps in Split View and taking them out is as simple as drag-and-drop, and it’s way more intuitive.

Now, this could be the end of this tip, but let’s talk about some of the powerful combinations this enables on the Mac:

Pages & Dictionary

This is what I used to write this post. Perfect for writing resumes and cover letters, too. It would be nice to see this integrated into the “look up” feature (accessible by right-clicking on a word or phrase), but in the meantime I appreciate the cleanliness of this process.

Mail & Messages

It works so well, it’s stupid, and it’s stupid because it’s the exact same mode of communication via text, but with two barely different methods.

Safari & Notes

Now that Notes has been upgraded to include all sorts of attachments, this seems like a no-brainer, especially if you’re doing research or making plans.

iTunes & Safari

For the record, I am very upset with iTunes for losing the ability to drag-and-drop album art onto albums with missing covers, since all content dragged from Safari is considered a podcast URL (seriously!?!?). In the meantime, what you don’t see is me using command-i to bring up the info panel and command-v to paste the album art in the Artwork tab.

Finder & Keynote

This is a really good combo if you have to make a presentation on the quick and you have all your reference in a folder.

I’d love to know if you have any combinations you’ve tried that are successful for various tasks, feel free to share them in the comments section below. More features coming soon.

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