I am interested in why Apple hides the vertical scroll bar. In many cases it hides the fact that there is more vertical data than what appears on a specific window. Only when you scroll up or down (via keyboard) do you then see that a vertical scroll bar exists.

Is there any data that suggests there is a benefit that outweighs the cost of this confusion?


7 Answers 7


There is a common trend emerging in interface and interaction design where you show or hide things based on user context and interaction with the website. This would be an example of hiding thing unless the need for it arises as a way to keep the design or overall look and feel 'cleaner'. In a way this is not unlike the browser scrollbar only appearing when there is too much content on the page, but it does have to make the user guess what the actual trigger is.

On a side note, it seems that they have realized the original scrollbar is far too thin and difficult to click on, so they have made it expand when you hover over it. Again this is a partial hiding of the exact behaviour or interaction until you need to know about it.

I wonder if the Apple UX guide has been updated to detail the rationale and implementation details.

  • I understand your "common trend" comment but it seems like it causes less "mastery" over the system so that is why I asked if there is any evidence that its better as its seems to me to be much worse ..
    – leora
    May 10, 2014 at 11:02
  • Depends on your perspective. Some people would argue that less is more, and that once you are used to it then it is not so much of a problem. It is certainly no worse than some of the interaction design for Windows 8.
    – Michael Lai
    May 10, 2014 at 13:51
  • "It is certainly no worse than some of the interaction design for Windows 8." Since when has being no worse than something very bad been justification for anything. Making interface components visible only when needed is very sensible for many items. It is completely bloody stupid for the scroll bar. About as stupid as your car's brake pedal disappearing when you are not actively braking. Instead of fiddling about with stuff that works and works well Microsoft, Apple and all the rest could better spend their time fixing their bugs, some of which have now been around for decades.
    – user4792
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:50
  • @user4792 I say no worse, but considering that Windows probably has to cater for a wider range of users (and deal with a much messier and larger chunk of legacy code) you would expect Apple to do better. I wonder if the designers responsible have thought enough about the differences between the desktop and mobile devices and tried to create a 'seamless' experience as their marketing teams keep talking about.
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:15

I can't speak to any particular data, nor why, specifically, Apple does it. You'd have to ask Apple.

That said, note that this is an option that can be changed:

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If I had to toss out a hunch: Most Macs are now laptops. Most Macbook users use the Apple touch pad. The touch pad makes it very easy to toggle the scrolls on and off.

Yes, you do lose the default always-in-view affordance that the page is taller than the viewport. However, scrolling webpages is now the norm, and also incredibly easy to do via the touch pad, so perhaps Apple decided that simply wasn't a major concern anymore.


I think it is a stupid decision. It is fashion or change for change's sake ... two things that are endemic in the IT world, but that it would do better to be without.

A vertical scrollbar does not only facilitate scrolling. It also shows context ... how much of an item is in view, and where it is in the whole document. As for saving space, getting rid of the amount of screen wasted by elaborate controls, annoying adverts and a variety of clickbait would save far more than the measly 17 or so px that a scrollbar takes.

A scrollbar offers "affordance" (A user interface term for some visible item that inherently indicates what is possible). If there is no scroll bar, or one that pops in and out of existence the interface is inherently less usable.

Let us be grateful that car designers have more sense than some of the people (they do not deserve to be called "designers") that create digital interfaces.

Finally, some of us do not like putting greasy fingerprints on the screens of our digital devices.

  • 2
    Your statement is correct (context, affordance), but the tone is a little rash. I like to think that even "people that create digital interfaces" try to do what they think best. Jul 15, 2018 at 12:28
  • WRT Car designers: Maybe they used to, but the move to have everything controlled by a touch screen is definitely not a good thing.
    – joeking
    Oct 11, 2022 at 23:02

I think reasons are:

  1. To use all width of a screen. Default scrollbar takes about 17px.
  2. To make width of page unchangable. Just imagine - you have page that fits to screen's height and you do something that adds some new block on the page. After that scrollbar appears and - yep, you're right - moves all content to left by it's width. It's not a big drama but I think Apple just doesn't like such behavior (me too)
  3. It just looks better!:)
  • I think this is it: especially point 2. Scrollbars, particularly overflow: auto; scrollbars, which appear only when necessary, "invade" the content area of scrolling elements (I'm thinking of HTML here). They sort of "break" the box model, by changing the content dimensions in ways that developers can't control. Apple's disappearing scrollbars are out of the content "flow", so they don't affect the dimensions of the element. I don't like Apple's decision, so I'm glad they (so far) give us the option to "Show scroll bars: Always". Others are certainly entitled to think differently.
    – Dave Land
    Nov 11, 2016 at 23:09
  • 1
    -> Dave Land. A mistake or bug in the implementation of CSS3 is not a reason to dismiss scrollbars
    – user4792
    Jul 15, 2018 at 10:42

(Probably) because they want users to use trackpad gestures to scroll

On a device that has arguably the best trackpad available, and scrolling up and down is as simple as placing a moving two finger tips, it makes little sense to start fiddling around with clicking on scrollbars.

Apple have been trying to unify the OSX and iOS experiences since iOS was released, and "encouraging" users to push/pull to scroll on the desktop by demoting scroll bars seems like likely scenario.

  • 2
    It might "make little sense" to you. It makes very good sense to others. Whay are you assuming that your opinion should prevail? As for Apple trying to "unify" OSX and iOS. That is euphemism for dumbing down a once brilliant OS so as to turn your desktop machine or laptop into a glorified, oversized iPhone.
    – user4792
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:57
  • Hello. If you don’t mind my saying, your comment comes across as overly-aggressive for such an essentially trivial matter. It belies a seeming misunderstanding of objectivity, which goes along with the obvious emotion that drives your fifth sentence.
    – dennislees
    Apr 4, 2018 at 16:27
  • Regardless of which particular version of ‘using a pointing tool to find a cursor then finding a click target somewhere on a usually-small scroll bar element, then moving, then clicking, or clicking and dragging’ you have become used to, all that is objectively more visually and cognitively complex than placing two finger tips on a large smooth surface and pushing. Objectively.
    – dennislees
    Apr 4, 2018 at 16:27
  • You may have become used to it and (in a strange case of Interaction Design Stockholm Syndrome) profess to actually liking it, but pointing and clicking at scrollbars is obviously the more laborious process regardless of what anyone thinks or likes about it. The above fact is clear if you sit and think about those interactions objectively for even a few moments.
    – dennislees
    Apr 4, 2018 at 16:28
  • It also doesn’t really matter how you *feel* about the drift together of iOS and OSX. It is a concept at very least. It’s obvious like features like Notifications, and it’s obvious from speculative articles like uxplanet.org/… . The fact that that makes you personally unhappy is irrelevant on a site like this, and doesn’t need to be included in answers and comments.
    – dennislees
    Apr 4, 2018 at 16:28

I don't think that there is an explicit link between this and the usability of your browser here. I simply think that a convergence in terms of UI elements helps both the developers and the marketing, the branding of the company.

Pretty much any mobile user has a computer, and viceversa; so there is an high probability that using 2 different environments from the same brand can destabilize the idea of the user about a given brand. Having 2 identities is like having almost none because you are confusing people, it always helps to clarify and unify the message, plus if you consider the human brain as a computer, anything that requires you to "think" is a requirements that brings you from your habits/subconscious to a more conscious status, thus ruining the "magic" of the UX of that brand . If you are forced to think or you receive any input that makes you aware of what you are doing you are using the computer with that UX as a tool, a that's really bad because that UX will have no special appeal to you and there are lot of tools on the market.

There is also another idea that I personal believe is true, at least at some extent, and is about the concept of "size".

Have you ever took a picture where there was a clear subject in the frame but no references around to get an idea about the size of your subject ? Like when you take a picture of a wheel alone on a flat background, and you just see a black circle with some metal in it, how your brain can get an idea of the approximate size ? Well the answer is simple, it can't. Unless there is something that you can track to get a reference, like a bolt or screw, or something from the environment around it, your brain is processing the image of a generic circle composed of some generic materials and that's pretty much it.

Good panels for displays are pretty expensive, at least for the customers, the Apple lineup ranges from the extremely cheap TN panel on the Macbook Air family, to the "Retina"s on ipads and macbook pro .

Probably Macbook Air don't like to be reminded of the fact that on their own machine pixels are that big, that will not help Apple for sure, plus you can't always measure everything in pixels, and you can actually benefit from removing the reference that ruins the magic about your screen resolution.

One classic example of that are videogames, and on some extent videos or content like that. If you play a game on a 13", you are probably getting the same experience no matter if your machine mounts an expensive panel or not, unless you go really low on the specs, you can maintain pretty much the same experience, the same visuals.

The web of today is filled with content that "scales" or with content that will not be much different if played on an high end or low end machine. The concept of the size is more "relative" to the content rather being strictly related to the number pixels offered by your monitor. Lucky for us the time of the Verdana at 12px is over and today scaling technologies or nice fonts expressed in pt are way more popular.

Last but not least, the scrollbar is not for input anymore, historically the scrollbar was serving at least 2 purposes:

  • output: informing the user on where he is on the page
  • input: drag the bar and move vertically or horizontally

Of course since touch devices are quicker in doing the last part, this is natural selection and scrollbar just lost 1 of the 2 functions, the modern way of packing content usually does the rest to minimize the utility of the first function too.

On mobile devices the screen is also a giant source of inputs, you probably don't want a scrollbar monopolizing the UX of both the browser and the main OS that only get in the way.


Probably because the vertical scrollbar is logically at odds with the default Mac mouse scroll wheel behaviour: scroll-wheeling "up" scrolls the page down. That's opposite to Windows, but more importantly opposite to what happens when you grab a scroll bar and push it upward. That scrolls the page up.

So Apple wants to avoid tempting people to trip over this agonizing UI discord. It's their way of admitting they're wrong with that scroll wheel thingie.

  • I don't see how the scroll wheel behavior has something to do with the scroll bar.
    – Nash
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:56

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