Making OS X Services more user-friendly

Even in OS X El Capitan, Services remain hidden gems that most users don’t bother using. That is due to low discoverability and their lack of association with installed apps.

After all, who but power users are able to figure out what services are available in the first place?

Services: Hidden in Keyboard shortcuts preferences

At least four steps are necessary to locate a list of services: Open Keyboard Preferences, click Shortcuts, click Services, scroll through a list (that is hardly usable in itself when it contains a lot of items).

Since this list can become quite long, a search function is indispensable but missing. It doesn’t help that this functionality is buried deep down in the system preferences. Therefore, it would be advisable to merge services with Action Extensions. Sure, from a technological point of view they’re different – but users don’t care about that as long as they’re usable.

App-specific functions that should be services

Let’s take a look at some contextual menus that exist in apps today.

Services: Contextual menu in SafariServices: Finder contextual menuServices: Contextual menu of text fields

  1. The URL context menu taken from Safari doesn’t show available services at all; Add Link to Bookmarks and Add Link to Reading List seem like actions that should be possible for all (selectable) URLs, regardless of the app.
  2. The file context menu in Finder is a little disorganized – why is Get Info related to Rename while Copy is in its own section? The controls for Tags take up a whole lot of space for no good reason; Compress and Burn to Disc should be generic services rather than Finder-specific actions; Show View Options should be associated with the window, not with selected files.
  3. The textual context menu (available in all Cocoa text fields) has amassed six submenus in the bottom section; Speech should be presented as a system-wide service.

Also, why do some menus show the Share submenu below Copy/Paste while in others, it’s reversed? Some inconsistency going on there…

Streamlined contextual menus

To streamline all of this, first, Actions and Services would have to be merged, so that there’s a visible connection between actions and apps. The Actions and Share submenus have to be located in the same place in all contextual menus – ideally, at the bottom.

However, a middle ground has to be found to present all available options; I’d suggest there be shown the most often used action as well as the user’s favorite sharing method with the respective submenus placed after them.

Finally, keyboard shortcuts for actions have to be easy to remember; it wouldn’t be unreasonable that all actions (that have a shortcut assigned) can be triggered with the control key in combination with another key and (at most) one other modifier key. An alternative would be to use the function key (fn) for this purpose, although I haven’t bothered to find out whether this is even technically possible.

Without further ado, here’s what those menus would look like after applying the principles above and taking into account all my criticism.

Services: Streamlined URL context menu

Services: Streamlined file context menu

Services: Streamlined text context menu

I think that would look a lot neater and could open up some new possibilities how users can work with data.