Lions, Dashboards, and Calculators (Oh My!)

This summer, Apple is planning to release their next iteration of Mac OS X, 10.7 (codenamed “Lion”). From the looks of things, their primary focus this time around is interface improvements to make the user experience more fluid and effective. In general, I’m liking what I’ve been seeing, though looking at the system requirements that have been coming out suggests that I’ll be on the hairy edge of being able to run it at all (a Core 2 Duo or higher is required, of which I’m running the first Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro they offered), so I’m not sure how much real benefit I’ll be seeing in the near future. That said, one of the design changes they’re making seems like a horrible idea: they’re moving the Dashboard into its own space, rather than continuing to work as an overlay over whatever screen you’re on.

Given that the dashboard is for quick-reach, simple widgets, this seems remarkably backwards, and more like something you’d do to get people to not use it so it can be phased out of a later release. Think about it for a second: widgets are meant to show information at a glance, i.e. without significantly interfering or distracting the user from their task at hand. While several widgets seem like simply a bad idea to be shoved into their own space, there are a few that will have their usefulness significantly reduced, most notably the calculator.

To be clear, the dashboard calculator is not especially robust. It has no history or “tape”, no special functions, just your basic arithmetic. About the extent of its bells and whistles is that it accepts numeric input instead of being forced to use the buttons. But you know what? That’s the point. It’s a simple calculator for when you want to run some numbers really quickly, without interfering with the rest of your workflow. More often than not, these numbers will be pulled off a website or email, or chat. You aren’t particularly invested in running the numbers, you just want to check them really quickly. This, specifically, is the value of the dashboard calculator: just pull up the dashboard, and you can punch in the numbers, which are still visible, into the calculator for a quick total, without going through the process of loading up a separate application. I don’t want to have to constantly page back and forth between two screens just to run a quick number check. At that point, why not just use the actual Calculator app?

I doubt I’ll ever know, but I would love to find who made this particular design decision and ask them what on earth they were thinking.