9 years ago, the Mac gained something that has graced buildings since humans learned to write: bookshelves. The original Delicious Library featured a digital faux-wood bookshelf as its main interface — one that’s instantly familiar to anyone who’s used iBooks or Newsstand, but that was brand-new when it was released. Fast forward a few years to 2007, and Delicious Library 2 brought a fluid interface powered by Core Animation, with pop-over inspectors that look vaguely like a preview of the pop-over menus that would become so common in iOS and later on the Mac.
The Apple Design award winning app to catalogue all of your stuff seemed to be abandoned, going 6 years without a new release and over a year without an update of any kind. But the Delicious Monster team is back with the freshly released Delicious Library 3. It’s shiner – and more animated – than ever, and it’s certain to be the most fun way to catalogue all of your stuff in 2013.
Can it push the future of Apple interface design forward again this time, though?
It’s Sure Delicious
If you love natural-looking skeuomorphic interfaces, you’ll love Delicious Library 3. It’s more skeuomorphic than ever, and it’s proud of it. There’s incredibly realistic looking 3D animations on each individual item you’ve added. Music albums will look like they’re CDs, complete with a plastic cover, and movies will look so much like real plastic DVD cases you’ll think they’re real. Books look nearly as good, and will try to approximate the real length of the book with the thickness of their icon, though they oddly have more artifacting in their animations.
Now, the neatest effect: click between items and shelves, and the shadows will follow your “vision”. It’s fun and unique, though it sure would be more realistic if, you know, it could track your eyes with your Mac’s camera and move the lighting and shadows around based on where you’re really looking. One can wish.
The animations in the interface are something that’ll have to be experienced to see what is the peak of interface animation today outside of games. So watch this quick video of the animations in Delicious Library 3 to see it in action before continuing. We’ll wait.
Pretty, right? Though it does come with a penalty: Delicious Library 3 used just under 1Gb of ram on average while I was testing it, and used around 3% of my CPU time when the app was idle, spiking at around 60% when playing with the animations in the app on my 2012 13″ MacBook Air. That’s rather punishing for an app just for cataloging your stuff.
If you like pretty, skeuomorphic interfaces, you’re destined to fall in love with it. If you’re more of a fan of functional interfaces, or prefer the newer flat UI style that’s rumored to even start creeping into Apple’s own designs, you find Delicious Library 3 to be far over the top.
All of Your Stuff
Delicious Library is more than a UI showcase, though: it’s arguably the most popular app, ever, for cataloging everything you own. The sample library you’ll be able to try when you first download the app includes books, movies, video games, and power tools. And actually, it works best to track physical items; its site lists cataloging so you have a record in case of theft as one of its use cases.
There’s a number of ways to add stuff to your library. You can simply scan barcodes from your stuff with your Mac’s camera — another Delicious innovation that’s reminiscent of the sign-documents-with-your-camera feature in Preview. You can also scan barcodes with a linked USB/Bluetooth barcode scanner, though you’d have to be really dedicated to cataloging to go that far. Or, you can use your iPhone as a remote barcode scanner with the free companion app if you can get it linked; I couldn’t get my iPhone to save items to my Delicious Library no matter how much I tried.
Beyond that, there’s Amazon. Delicious Library is deeply integrated with Amazon, so adding anything that can be purchased from Amazon will only take a quick search. If it’s not in Amazon, you can add items manually: CMD+N opens the new item inspector, which you can fill out quickly and tab through info sections, or add what you know and press CMD+R to auto-fill in the rest of the info. Though do note: CMD+R again goes to Amazon for info, so the first entry for what you enter seems to be more likely to be the movie version of books, and the Android app version of Children’s books, so you’re almost just as good entering everything manually.
And if you’ve got a lot of stuff you want to track, there’s enough options to keep anyone happy. You can track just about anything you can think of: a book’s quality or rarity, theatrical debut day of a movie, audience a piece of media is aimed at, and so much more. You can then export the data to use elsewhere, in an easy to read printed list, a spreadsheet, or as bibliographical data to use in your research works.
But you might not need to export your data, since Delicious can actually do quite a bit with it itself. Tap the graph icon above your shelf, and you’ll see a breakdown of your stuff, including its value, the artists and authors you like the most, how many pages of reading material you have, and more. It’s a fun instant infographic about your stuff.
There’s more, too. You can organize your stuff in your own shelves, or have Delicious Library automatically organize based on criteria you put in place. That makes it especially useful if you’re storing info about, say, books you’re using in a research project: Delicious can automatically find them all if your criteria are selective enough, and then you can export the bibliography from that shelf. You can also add lists of things you’ve loaned to friends to make sure they get returned, and you can create an online library of all of your stuff with the web publishing option (you’ll need an FTP connection to your own hosting account or server to use this, though). And you can get recommendations from Amazon of things you might like based on what you have, and turn those into wish lists.
There’s also an interesting voice search option, which uses the built-in voice recognition in your Mac — not the new Siri-style voice recognition but local, native voice recognition. It works surprisingly good, recognizing it when I said “Wall-E”, when Siri can never figure out what I say when I say that one movie name.
Wait: What About Digital Media?
If you’re keeping up with physical stuff, all’s good so far. With digital stuff, though, Delicious Library is surprisingly anemic. You can import your iTunes library’s music and movies, but the option is practically hidden (hint: open the Library sidebar, click Edit, then switch on the faint iTunes bubble switch near the top). It’ll bring over your album art and info, but won’t find any prices to fill out your value graphs as you’d have in your normal library.
Beyond that, Delicious Library 3 feels like it’s living in the pre-digital media age. You can’t add, say, all of your PDFs and ePub eBooks to Delicious to showcase, though you could add entries for each book with data from Amazon. You can’t add software easily, if it’s not sold in a box at Amazon, and app icons look rather ridiculous in Delicious.
It’s frustrating, because it comes so close to something that could really be great for keeping up with your digital stuff, a way to give a “place” for the things you own but can’t touch. Imagine if it could scan your Applications folder (and perhaps your iPhone/iPad backups), import the apps you own and include the developer info and price automatically. Imagine if it could do the same for your Kindle library, and if it could also let you import your eBook folder of PDFs and ePubs and add their info automatically. And then, what if you could open eBooks, movies, apps, and more, right from Delicious, while also using it to keep up with the info about each of them?
That could be a very valuable tool for the digital age. For now, though, Delicious Library 3 can do part of this — manually — but it feels stuck in the era of physical stuff.
Delicious Library 3 is shiny — fun even — but ultimately feels more like a toy than an important app you’ll use all the time. If you really are serious about cataloging your stuff, you’d likely be better off with a database like Bento, or even a spreadsheet. And if you think iCal’s redesign in Mountain Lion is over the top, then you’ll recoil from the skeuomorphism in Delicious Library 3.
I wanted to love Delicious Library 3, wanted it to find a home in my Applications folder, but ultimately I don’t think it’s an app I’d really end up using. The animations bog the app down enough that it felt slow, frustrating even to use at times, and parts of the interface, such as the license section, look like dated older versions of OS X rather than Delicious’ tradition of pushing the UI forward. It’s still nice for cataloging physical items, and uncannily good at recognizing barcodes, but somehow, I can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s stuck in the past. That, and that it’s mostly a shiny wrapper for Amazon.