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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

A picture is worth a thousand permissions requests

Last month I wrote about how Apple’s cascade of macOS alerts and warnings ruin the Mac upgrade experience.

My point wasn’t to ask Apple to make the Mac less secure. It was for Apple to find some ways to improve the user experience while keeping Mac users safe by default. It feels like there’s an imbalance where security is being prioritized but the user experience is allowed to lag, and it’s a problem.

This issue was brought home to me last week when I was reviewing the M3 iMac and the M3 MacBook Pro. As a part of reviewing those computers, I used Migration Assistant to move a backup of my Mac Studio to the new systems via a USB drive. Sometimes I try to review a computer with nothing migrated over, but it can be a real slowdown and I didn’t really have any time to spare last week.

Anyway, by migrating, I got to (twice) experience Apple’s ideal process of moving every user from one Mac to the next. You start up your new computer, migrate from a backup of the old computer, and then start using the new one. There’s a lot that’s great about this process, and it’s so much better than what we used to have to do to move files over from one Mac to another.

And yet all of Apple’s security alerts got in the way again and spoiled the whole thing. Here’s a screenshot I took right after my new Mac booted for the first time after migration:

Lots of alert windows. Lots.

What’s happening here is that Migration Assistant has migrated all my apps, and has automatically launched any of them that are listed in Login Items or are set to automatically launch in the background. They all launch, all at once, and every single one of them then prompts me for permission to do all the things they already had permission to do on my previous Mac.

In this screen shot, I’ve dragged them apart, but in reality most of these windows appeared on top of each other. They float above every other window, and most of them want to open various portions of the Settings app. In the background, a few apps have launched with their own alert prompts, requesting that I perform more tasks in order to get the system ready.

This wasn’t the end of it, of course, because after dealing with one of these windows there was a pretty good chance the app in question would then spawn an additional window asking for a different permission. For the ones that require specific changes in the Settings app, I had to slide the Settings app somewhere where it wouldn’t be covered by various other floating windows and then deal with the requests there.

Often, different apps would seemingly fight over my attention, demanding that I go to a different portion to the Settings app. They would sometimes even demand permission I had already granted, since I was in the right part of Settings and decided to save time by approving a couple of apps at once.

At some point I also triggered this cascade of alerts, which was hilarious:

I had to click OK on all of those in order to move on, too.

Asking users for approval is a good impulse, but if you ask too many times, a user’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll approve anything. It is incumbent on Apple’s designers to build a user experience for approving permissions that is clear but convenient. It needs to not distract users with a fusillade of individual pop-up requests.

Setting up a new M3 iMac should be a pleasure. When I was done, I felt like a swarm of bees was buzzing in my head. Not great.

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