Chris Kaminski


The Movie Blurb Dialogue

14 August 2015


— Ralph Stuffyshirt, The Daily Bungle

Consider the movie blurb: a fragment of text splashed across an ad for a mediocre film. It gives the impression of clarity without actually offering any. What is ‘astonishing’? The quality of the special effects? The director’s incompetence? The blurb lacks the context you need to understand it.

So too with Apple’s iCloud Password dialogue.

iCloud sign-in dialogue from OS X Yosemite

This dialogue popped up as the result of a bug in OS X. Putting aside the annoyance of the bug, this dialogue still has a problem: it lacks context. Why do I need to enter my password? More importantly, which app is asking for my password? The movie blurb at least states the source. The dialogue does not, nor is it a sheet attached to an application window. And it just interrupted my work at random, not in response to anything I did. There is know way of knowing which app spawned it or why.

That’s a problem. Just as the movie blurb tries to convince you to spend your money on a crappy film, this dialogue could be asking me to give my iCloud password to a malware author. Training users to enter their password whenever asked makes them likelier targets for phishing attacks. That’s crossing-the-streams level Bad.

There’s a better way.

Adding the name of the source application to the dialogue won’t cut it, as the dialogue would still be easy to spoof. Launching the app isn’t the answer either: doing so without the user’s permission interrupts their work for something that doesn’t necessarily need immediate attention. Enter the notification banner.

OS X Yosemite banner notification asking the user to sign-in to iCloud

Notification banners let the user know something is amiss without interrupting their work. This banner also tells the user it’s OS X that needs my iCloud password. And if I click on ‘Enter’, the banner can give me proof:

OS X Yosemite System Preferences sheet for entering an iCloud password

Moving the password request to a sheet attached to the iCloud preference pane gives reassures me that it is, in fact, OS X asking for their password and not some dodgy application or website.

Like unwanted cameos in movies, software bugs happen. But software shouldn’t subject us to the movie blurb treatment when they do. Always give the user as much context as you can, regardless of the situation.