User Interface 101: Snap

A lot of applications have little overlay windows that control the application’s behavior when in fullscreen mode. Take, for instance, QuickTime Player’s fullscreen playback controls or the Finder’s slideshow controls. By default, they pop up at the lower center of your screen, but you can move them with your mouse.

The odd thing is: Once you’ve moved them (e.g., by accident), there’s virtually no way to re-center them. And you can move them off screen, at least partially. Sure, there are a lot of reasons that justify moving a standard window partially off screen, and I won’t even discuss them here, because I’m lazy. But I don’t think these reasons apply to little overlay windows with just a few controls — windows that are typically the only visible window of their kind, displayed in front of some kind of fullscreen content.

I may be more obsessive than most users in this respect, but if I want to center a window, I want it centered, not just approximately centered. So to me, it has always been obvious that said overlay windows should snap to the screen’s center (or at least the center of the screen’s abscissa) when moved near there. And it’s equally obvious that they should snap to the screen’s edges. If you do it that way, there’s an additonal benefit: Most of these overlay windows have rounded corners; and if you snap them to the screen edges (or corners, for that matter), you can adjust the window’s corners according to the window’s position, because a rounded lower right window corner doesn’t make much sense if it’s snug against the screen’s lower right corner.

That’s how yFlicks behaves. And Butler‘s little status window — the one you see when pressing a hot key, for instance — has been snapping to certain screen positions for years as well. But the thought that I may be overlooking the elephant in the room keeps haunting me, because I can’t find the answer to one simple question:

Why doesn’t Apple do it?

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