Screenshots in Mojave
MacOS Design Review
With Mojave, Apple attempted to improve the MacOS screenshot feature.

The venerable Cmd+Shift+3 and Cmd+Shift+4 shortcuts still work, but they’ve gained a new “floating thumbnail” feature. There’s also a new Cmd+Shift+5 shortcut, which presents you with a GUI, so you can choose what kind of screenshot you want without remembering lots of key commands. This is good.

The floating thumbnail, though... we have to talk about the floating thumbnail.

The floating thumbnail

Since Mojave, whenever you take a screenshot, a thumbnail of it shows up in the corner of your screen.

It lasts for four seconds. If you don’t interact with it within four seconds, it’s gone forever, but if you’re quick, you can catch it and drag it to a folder of your choice, which saves the screenshot there.

(When Apple introduced notifications, they knew users would want a way to get at them once they timed out and disappeared from the screen, so they added the notifications sidebar. As an auto-disappearing popup that you might want to see again, I would have liked to see the floating thumbnail appear in there too. But it doesn’t.)

The four-second delay

That’s not even the major problem, though. The major problem is this: the screenshot is not actually saved until the four seconds runs out and the thumbnail disappears. This means that if you take the screenshot, then switch to your screenshots folder to do something with it, you have to sit there and twiddle your thumbs for four seconds before it appears.

So, to do something with the screenshot within four seconds of taking it, you need to drag it from the thumbnail; it won’t be in your screenshots folder yet. But to do something more than four seconds after taking it, you can’t use the thumbnail; you need to navigate to your screenshots folder in Finder and find the file in there. You can’t do the former in the latter situation, or vice-versa. Your required workflow is completely different, depending on whether or not it takes you more than four seconds to decide what to do.

The nameless image editor

Now, what if, instead of dragging the thumbnail, you just click on it? Maybe you just want to buy more time, or maybe you want to open the file. Well, you won’t achieve either of those things. Instead, this new screenshot-editing app pops up. It doesn’t have a name. It is not a general purpose image editor. It cannot open files. Its sole task is to edit screenshots, and it can only do so right after they are taken. It doesn’t matter if you’ve set another default app to open PNG files. This is the app that will open.

A baffling problem with this app, although not its worst problem, is that it doesn’t have a menu bar. The mystery-meat icons in the toolbar are its only controls. This is bad. Menu bars exist so that you can find your way in a new app. It’s an index of all the things the app can do, and strong conventions help you know where to look. You know saving will be in the File menu. You know preferences will be in the app menu. You can even search everything from the Help menu. This app, which is guaranteed to be unfamiliar to all users, throws all of that away, for no discernible reason.

But that’s not the worst thing about the app. The worst thing about the app is that you can’t get at the file at all. In most apps there’s a little icon of the file that you’re working on in the titlebar, and you can drag it somewhere to move the file, or right-click to see it in context. But this screenshot app doesn’t have a titlebar either!

So, you can’t “Save As” because there’s no menu bar. You can’t drag the file icon anywhere because there’s no title bar. There isn’t even an “open in another app” button. All you have is that iOS-style “share” button. You can “share” the file, but you are prevented from interacting with it as a file in your filesystem.

Implement standard menus and submenus. People generally expect most standard menus and menu items to exist unless they’re irrelevant to your app.
Human Interface Guidelines

So what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to press “Done” in the toolbar. This closes the nameless app and saves the file in your default screenshots folder. It offers no indication that it has done this. It does not open Finder and show you the file in its folder. It was not at all obvious to me that this was the “save” feature. This is not how you save a file on MacOS. In fact, what a “Done” button usually means is “close and don’t do anything else”! But with this app, as with many of Apple’s recent offerings, convention is broken and each app has its own idiosyncratic logic to learn.

Comparison to Quick Look

This app is a little reminiscent of Quick Look. Quick Look doesn’t have a menubar or titlebar either, because it isn’t really an app in its own right, it’s part of Finder. That’s good, and useful. Quick Look doesn’t accept focus. You can use the keyboard to flip through your files in a Finder window, and the Quick Look window will update to show you each one as it’s selected. It makes sense for Quick Look to work like this.

Maybe the screenshot app is part of Finder too, I don’t know. It’s not clear. In any case, this behaviour makes no sense for this app. It doesn’t gain anything by not accepting focus. It is not improved by lacking a title bar. It’s an image editor. It has no reason to behave like anything else.

Context menu

The floating thumbnail has a context menu.

It offers a fixed choice of apps. Mail, Messages, Preview, Photos. This is not configurable. Want to use a professional image-editing app? Tough. And here, again, if you’ve set a system-wide app for opening PNG files, it’s nowhere to be seen.

If you could at least pick one of these options to be the default action, that alone would improve this feature. But you can’t. Left-click always opens the weird iOS app.


Here’s the setup I’ve settled on to route around Mojave’s new screenshot features.

1. Press Cmd+Shift+5.

2. In the Options menu, turn off “Show Floating Thumbnail”.

3. In the same menu, set “Save To” to “Other Location” and pick a folder that you’ll only use for screenshots.

4. Put this folder on your dock and set it to display as a stack. This folder’s dock icon is now your screenshot thumbnail. It doesn’t expire after four seconds, and screenshots are saved instantly.