So, Apple had a pretty bad week. Rather than rehashing that, I’ll point out a couple of issues that have been plaguing me as of late, that make me slightly worried with the direction things are heading. It’s the little things that erode the core value prop of the Apple ecosystem, which was that everything just works.
I used to build my own computer, fiddle with autoexec.bat and config.sys and himem.sys and RAM doubling and IRQs and changing PCI slots and all that fun stuff. My friends and I used to talk about all the ways we’d stretch more power out of our computers to play the latest games, or run the new fangled Windows 3.11. Or, later, when we got more experimental, playing with Linux.
Then I grew up and had other stuff I needed to do. And Macs, with OS X and the move to Intel, became a really viable alternative. Shit just worked. Then the iPhone came out. And it just worked. And I didn’t have to worry about any of that stuff any more. The time I used to spend fiddling to get things working was now spent fiddling to make my life easier (or actually doing other stuff).
The last year or two has seen an erosion of that value prop. It’s tied almost entirely to Apple’s move to cloud services and it’s on device machine learning. Now, I still find that most of what I need to work works well enough that I’m still bought into the Apple ecosystem. But when stuff goes wrong, there’s just no way to diagnose it or fix it, as Apple has hidden that away (particularly on iOS). And their inability to make small changes server side, or even ship delta updates that don’t require a full OS upgrade, are problematic. They either leave things broken for weeks until they can ship an OS upgrade, or they ship small patches that still require minutes to upgrade and reboot a device that many folks depend on as part of their daily life.
This sounds really bad. It’s not that bad. But it’s worrying.
For example, there are two features in iOS Mail that are just killing me right now.
- The suggested folder to move messages to works really well. Until it doesn’t. And when it stops working the way you think it should, there’s no way to fix it. For example, any time I get a message from a couple of people, it suggests I move that message to the Sent Items folder. Because I often reply to messages from them. That’s just dumb. I would never move messages to the Sent folder. Another example: I changed email addresses and setup some newsletters to go to the new address. iOS Mail suggests I move the messages to the folder in the old address. Or at least I think it does—it’s hard to tell which folder it means because there’s no info other than folder name. I know that, for a while, it was moving them to the old folder. Which, again, would never be something I want to do.
- There’s one person who sends me mail and when I look at his messages, iOS pulls in every message (literally) I have as part of a thread. I have no idea why that’s the case. It only happens with this one person. I can turn off the option that pulls messages in from filed messages (i.e. rather than only showing what’s in the inbox) and it fixes it. But that sucks, because that feature is actually useful.
In both cases, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t look at logs or files or debug databases. At least not in any meaningful way. My only recourse is to file a bug and hope that some day it gets looked at.
Similarly, in iOS Safari, when I upgraded to my new iPhone X, I somehow lost half of the “top sites” that Safari displays on a new tab. Not a big deal, but something I use reasonably frequently. I’m not sure why the four sites that are still there are there, how to get others added, or what the threshold is. Is it frequency over a time period? Most visits all time? Most visits all time to a page that’s not in your bookmarks?
It’s not that big a deal, but it’d be great if there was any way for me to figure out the logic behind why some sites show up and some don’t.
These are just small nuisances that make using iOS slightly more friction-filled than it should be. Add these little nuisances to the bigger issues, and the “it just works” ethos starts eroding.
We’re nowhere near me using something fiddly like Android, or going back to Linux or Windows on the desktop. But I could see how that might happen now.
I’m hoping that Apple takes the recent spate of issues, both hardware and software, to heart and puts some dollars and people behind fixing this. From the outside, it feels very fixable, but we’ll see how Apple responds.