Secret Sonoma design lead: Barbie

macOS Sonoma is in so many ways a dumpster fire. It’s the worst Apple OS update I can remember (although admittedly there’s been some real stinkers over the years, so maybe I’m overlooking some repressed memories).

There was of course the bug whereby encrypted external drives no longer mounted automatically. That was pretty special, because it reveals that Apple doesn’t test encrypted external drives anywhere in their QA process – possibly not even ad-hoc internally, since it’s hard to image that an Apple employee stumbling on this bug by accident would not bother to report it. Or maybe they did but even Apple’s own employees’ bug reports are ignored. Consistent, at least.

Since virtually every external drive should be encrypted, this suggests Apple either believes nobody actually uses external drives, or that they don’t care. At least that bug was mostly fixed in 14.1, although it took Apple a full month to get around to it.

Radical pink redesign

But perhaps the most glaring bug, in a very literal sense, was the rampant pinkification of the GUI.

Screenshot of Safari's website thumbnails view showing inconsistent pink tinting of some thumbnails
Safari website thumbnails
Small screenshot of a section of the Amazon website toolbar showing pink tinting of the gear "settings" icon
Random GUI controls in web pages
Screenshot of a section of the DPReview homepage showing pink tinting of an article hero image
…not to mention many actual images on web pages.
Even Apple’s own apps – and most poetically of all Quartz Debug – are afflicted.

As you can see, Sonoma brought with it a penchant for tinting things a gross light pink colour, including the rectangular extents of images that are otherwise invisible because they’re transparent.


Screenshot of Quartz Debug's settings window

I spent a lot of time debugging this. Over days, weeks, and months. Trying out new avenues as they came to me, even repeating some web & forum searches over and over again in frustrated desperation.

I only just today figured out what’s going on. 84 days later.

One of my first instincts – right on day 0 – was that it was some Quartz Debug thing, because it looks a lot like some of the tinting options Quartz Debug has for things like flashing screen updates or showing opaque regions. But the Quartz Debug app insisted everything was disabled. I enabled everything anyway, and then disabled it all again, in case that would jog something free. No bueno.

I then spent the better part of three months trying every superstition, every rumour or snippet of hearsay online, that might in any way related to this problem or conceivably fix it. Nothing helped.


It was last night, when I was fiddling with some images in a gallery here on my website, that I discovered that adjusting the CSS dimensions of an image by just a single pixel could pinkify them. Most importantly, restoring the dimensions to the actual image dimensions would fix them. I’d already observed something similar to that, in various apps and websites, but it felt different to be directly triggering the problem myself.

That kept me up half the night, tossing and turning in bed, highly suspicious that this was a pivotal clue, but unsure what it pointed to.

Eventually, it led me right back to my very first instinct – Quartz Debug – and the tentative conclusion that this was in fact a Quartz Debug problem even if Quartz Debug claimed otherwise. I become suspicious that the app was either not showing me the full range of settings, or just plain wrong about them.

And that was the insight I needed – right on the very first page of search results for “quartz debug defaults” was a link to Testing and Troubleshooting High-Resolution Content. Buried behind a disclosure triangle near the bottom is the magic string:


That was set to YES, on my system.

Deleting it fixes the issue once affected apps are restarted (something Apple’s own documentation fails to mention – kind of an important step, Apple!).

defaults delete -g CGContextHighlight2xScaledImages

The magic incantation to exorcise Barbie

In theory you can also disable this from the Quartz Debug app itself, it’s just hidden – in the Tools menu, not the actual settings window, is an item labelled “Color 1x Artwork”. Note how the setting applies even when Quartz Debugging is disabled.

So, wait, how did this come about?

I have no idea why this only cropped up when Sonoma was installed. Either Sonoma turned this on (unlikely…?) or it was already on yet wasn’t having any effect in prior OS releases (from 2017 onwards, at least, since my iMac Pro never exhibited this issue before Sonoma).

I know for sure that this setting did work at least going back over a decade, as I remember using this – on a different computer – for doing then-new-fangled Retina development… but I’m pretty sure I’ve never set this on my iMac Pro since it way post-dates the introduction of Retina. Conceivably it was pulled across by Apple’s Migration Assistant. Though, again, why did no earlier version of the OS, going back over a decade, exhibit this behaviour if it was supposedly enabled the whole time?

I know it’s not just me that’s been afflicted by this to date, as I found a sporadic few reports of this going back years, e.g. Highly abnormal graphic glitch on yosemite / retina: all white backgrounds appear pink. It pisses me off immensely that this page has exactly the keywords I was searching for right from the start – right in its title! – yet neither Bing nor Google can find it.

Apple’s response? “Fuck you” in mime.

I actually filed a pretty detailed bug report with Apple about this, the day I discovered it (September 19th, 2023). FB13190068.

Of course, they never responded in the slightest.

I provided a bunch of example images, even a screen recording to show how the pink comes and goes in certain circumstances.

I studiously tested every new macOS update and updated the bug report to note that they each had not fixed it.

The morale of this is, as always, that filing bug reports with Apple is an infuriating waste of time. Mea culpa.

Leave a Comment