Intuitive by proxy

In a post published today, Ben Brooks argues that the reason certain workflows on iOS seem more clumsy than their equivalent on a Mac is because we just haven’t been using iOS long enough to get used to its ways. Even though I’m very much a Mac user, I’m sympathetic to his argument. It is, in fact, in keeping with the reasoning used by Jef Raskin in his famous “Intuitive Equals Familiar” paper. But the example he uses to help make his point isn’t a good one.

Here’s the example:

Let me pose this question: Is it actually easier to find a physical file in Finder (praying you know the file name, location, type, etc), then drag it out of Finder, across a huge display (all while holding down the mouse button) and then dropping that file where you want it? Is that actually easier than invoking the share sheet and moving the file you already have open, to the app that you want to have the file? Which is easier? Likely, if we measure the scale of ease, they basically come out to being the same level of ease.

The only reason the Mac half of this comparison sounds onerous is because Ben has put his thumb on the scale to help out iOS.

First, if Ben wants us to starts with a file open in an app on iOS, the only fair comparison is to start with a file open on the Mac. So we won’t have to pray for the file name—it’ll be right there in the title bar. And we won’t have to rummage around in the Finder. Just right-click on the icon in the title bar, and we get a popup menu showing the whole folder hierarchy of the file’s location. Better yet, selecting one of the items in the menu will open that folder in the Finder.

Popup title bar menu

But we really don’t have to use the Finder at all. Following Ben’s example, let’s say we have an image file open in Preview and we want to edit it in Acorn. That same icon in the title bar, known formally as a proxy icon, is our ticket, because if we click on it and drag it out of the title bar, it behaves just like a Finder icon.

Proxy drag

All we have to do is click on icon in the title bar and drag it over to Acorn in the Dock, and it’ll open.


Now it is true that we have to drag that proxy icon “across a huge display (all while holding down the mouse button),” and that may be a daunting task for someone whose stamina has been depleted by using 9″ screens. Luckily, I come from hardy pioneer stock and can drag all the way across a 27″ screen while barely getting winded.

You might argue that I’m stacking the deck here by putting Acorn in the Dock. If Acorn weren’t in the Dock, there’d be no place to drag the proxy icon to. That’s true, but on the iOS side, your Share Sheet has to be pre-populated with the app you want to open the document in or you have to go through a couple of extra steps. I think it’s a fair comparison.

And if Acorn weren’t in my Dock, I could still open the image via the proxy icon because I use LaunchBar. Just bring up Acorn in LaunchBar and drag the proxy icon to it.

Proxy icon with LaunchBar

This, I suppose, is unfair, as most people don’t use LaunchBar (or Butler or Alfred, which I’m sure have similar features). But on the other hand, the Mac does allow you to install these interface-enhancing utilities, while iOS does not.

I wonder if Ben’s so heavily into iOS that he’s forgotten about the little proxy icon. He shouldn’t have—it’s one of a power user’s best friends.