Archive for August 13, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Learning From Apple’s Failures

Rick Tetzeli (via John Gruber):

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has come to seem quite fallible to many people. Its recent products have seemed far less than perfect, at least compared to the collective memory of its astonishing iPod–iPhone–iPad run from 2001 to 2010. There are the public embarrassments, like its 2012 introduction of Maps, or those 2014 videos of reviewers bending, and breaking, an iPhone 6 Plus. Apple Pay hasn’t become the standard for a cashless society, and the Apple Watch “is not the watch we expect from Apple,” according to John Gruber, editor of Daring Fireball, the preeminent Apple-centric website. Then there are the design flaws: Apple Music has been saddled with too many features, as if it were something designed by, God forbid, Microsoft; the lens on the back of the iPhone 6 extrudes; the new Apple TV has an illogical interface and confusing remote control.

Perhaps, say the worriers, Apple is doing too many things at once, cranking out multiple editions of the watch, endless varieties of watchbands, iPhones, and iPads in numerous sizes, proprietary earbuds alongside headphones from Beats. Credible reports that the company is spending billions of dollars in R&D to explore the possibility of designing a car only heighten the fear that Apple is spread too thin. Steve Jobs had been the company’s editor, proud of saying no to features, products, business ideas, and new hires far more often than he said yes. Apple’s seemingly diffuse product line reinforces the argument that Cook is not as rigorous.

Eddy Cue on Apple Maps:

The advantage of us coming to this later in the game is that, yeah, we have to do some of that, but in order to stay updated we’re trying to use the iPhone itself, and the data it’s giving us. Let me give you a good example: a golf course. How do we know when a new golf course opens up? We’re not exactly driving around looking for golf courses. But we know it’s there, because there are all these golf apps that get used at a golf course. If we see that all these golf apps are being used at a particular location, and we don’t show that as a golf course, we probably have a problem. You can discover that pretty quickly.

This is a cute example, but is that really how Apple updates Maps? It doesn’t seem like this technique really scales.

Eddy Cue:

And look, we made some significant changes to all of our development processes because of it. For example, the reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS is because of Maps. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. So, to all of us living in Cupertino, Maps seemed pretty darn good. Right? The problems weren’t obvious to us. Now we do a lot more betas.

Todd Ditchendorf:

I lived on a major thoroughfare < 5mi from Apple Campus when Maps was released - it misplaced my address by ~3mi.

The “It worked for us near campus. How could we know it was crap elsewhere?” narrative is useful for recounting in interviews but it’s false

Jeremiah Lee:

And Apple Maps still sucks. It doesn’t have the newer streets in Mission Bay that have been there for over a year. I keep reporting…

Craig Federighi:

A world where people do not care about the quality of their experience is not a good world for Apple. A world where people care about those details and want to complain about them is the world where our values shine. That is our obsession.

He’s saying the right things, but I’m not seeing this consistently come through in the products. Apple seems too unfocused, spread too thin, still in denial of how buggy their software has become. The iOS 9.3.4 update still hasn’t fixed the Camera audio bug, and it made my iPhone stop charging, at a very inconvenient time, so that I thought its Lightning port was damaged. Preview, long a reliable app, now regularly has drawing glitches and hangs. One of my apps hasn’t been up-to-date in the Mac App Store since May, and it is currently removed from sale, because of multiple backend store bugs. True or not, the perception is that the reality TV show and the car are distracting the company from working on the aging Mac lineup. Schiller’s triumphant “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass” line has become a punchline. The removal of the iPhone’s headphone jack seems like a parody of an Apple design decision. I want a new MacBook Pro, but at this point I’m more worried about the new keyboard and that Apple might do something more to make it less Pro, like remove Thunderbolt or the SD slot, than I am excited about what new features it might offer.

Benjamin Mayo:

What I think is interesting is how much Federighi and Cue play up the benefits of data collection elements, I’ve never seen them emphasise it like this before. Usually, it’s very quaint with endless assurances about privacy and anonymity. In this interview, though, they admit that the data they do collate is enough to accurately pinpoint new sports venues.

Mitchel Broussard:

Towards the end of the interview, Cue and Federighi mentioned the largely similar work relationship seen with both Tim Cook and former CEO Steve Jobs. Although the approach each took in tackling the job has been “completely different,” Cue said there’s one common factor he’s had with both: “I never wanted to disappoint Steve. I never want to disappoint Tim.”

Peter N Lewis:

Eddy Cue’s “We want to be there from when you wake up till when you decide to go to sleep” sounds disturbingly like the Microsoft of the 90s.

Update (2016-08-13): McCloud:

Regarding Todd Ditchendorf’s tweets: I once tried to use Apple Maps to go from One Infinite Loop to a UPS store, took me to Marriott.

Update (2016-08-15): Nick Heer:

It doesn’t really matter whether there’s a real decline in Apple’s software quality, or if it’s mostly an exaggeration bolstered by a larger user base and increased media coverage. What is concerning is the sentiment I perceive in Cue’s explanation — that a bug affecting 1% of users is comparable in 2016 to one affecting 1% of users in, say, 2006 or 1996. But, as he says, there’s an enormous chasm in the actual number of users affected, and that’s what’s particularly concerning. If Apple is pushing out, to be generous, one-quarter of the number of these bugs as they were ten years ago, that means that they’re still affecting orders of magnitude more users.

My perception is that it’s not just the larger user base. I personally encounter a lot more Apple bugs than I used to.

Update (2017-01-06): Dr. Drang:

I swear I’m not making this up. Today I asked Siri for directions to Midway [airport, near his location in Chicago], and she started giving me directions to Midway Island [in the Pacific].

iPad Unfinished Business

Jean-Louis Gassée:

On the surface (pun unintended), Apple proffers the iPad Pro as a computer. We don’t begrudge Apple its right to ‘performance bragging’: Witness Apple’s rightfully proud statements about its powerful homegrown Ax line of processors and the impending A10 64-bit processors that easily outperform Seymour Cray’s supercomputers. But simply promoting the iPad to ‘computer’ avoids the real issue: Is the iPad Pro a PC replacement? Can we toss out our laptops and move wholly to our iPads?

Dan Counsell:

The problem with the iPad is both hardware and software related. Anything work related you can do on an iPad can, in most cases be done faster on a Mac. No question.


This is still one of the fundamental problems with having the iPad attached to a keyboard — when you need to interact with the screen, you have to raise your arm out in front of you to interact with apps, it’s cumbersome and gets tiring very quickly.

iPads are great to use while you’re lounging on the couch. However, they are not so great to use for extended periods of time at a desk.


Remember when @tim_cook talked about android tablet apps being blown up phone apps?

Tim Oliver:

The new Apple Store app on iPad is just the iPhone version blown up to fit the screen. Come on…

Apple Said to Plan First Pro Laptop Overhaul in Four Years

Mark Gurman (Hacker News):

The most significant addition to the new MacBook Pro is a secondary display above the keyboard that replaces the standard function key row. Instead of physical keys, a strip-like screen will present functions on an as-needed basis that fit the current task or application. The smaller display will use Organic Light-Emitting Diodes, a thinner, lighter and sharper screen technology, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said earlier this year.

Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.

Nick Heer:

I think a multipurpose, adaptable function strip would be infinitely more useful than a strip of function keys. Here’s what I mean: look at your keyboard from an oblique angle and notice all the places where the original plastic texture remains, and where it has been worn down. If your keyboard is anything like mine, it’s probably mostly shiny, but the strip of function keys at the top likely looks pretty similar to the day you bought it. Those keys have valuable purposes, of course, but they’re nowhere near as oft-used as the rest of the keyboard. Why fix them in plastic?

The possibilities are intriguing, but I use Esc all the time in Terminal, as well as function keys programmed for other tasks, and this change is likely to make using those keys less convenient and comfortable. Instead of removing keys, I would rather Apple add more and restore the arrow keys to full size. For a Pro notebook, I want more storage and more screen space, not a yet thinner computer that compromises everything else.


I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the loss of the ESC key. I use Vim and touch that key all day long. Replacing that with a touch button sounds like a terrible idea for usability. Clearly nobody in charge at Apple is also a vi user.


There is also the unaddressed issue of how terrible OLED displays are for anything persistent (they burn in), consume power when idle and offer no tactile feedback.

Modern Versions of Word Can’t Open Old File Formats

John Gordon reminds that older documents don’t open in Microsoft Word 2008 and later. Microsoft recommends using Microsoft Word 2004 or TextEdit. If you still have the ability to run Office 2004, it’s probably a good idea to migrate any remaining .doc and .xls files to .docx and .xlsx soon. Microsoft supports file formats for longer than Apple, but not forever.

Clark Goble:

Yup there’s the Office Migration Manager but it’s Windows only.

There was a program called MacLinkPlus that did pretty good conversions of all formats from the 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately its PPC. I’m pretty sure I have a copy on my old G5. (Which hasn’t been booted in years)

Reportedly LibreOffice can do the conversion as well.

Seymour Papert, RIP

MIT (via Hacker News):

Papert’s career traversed a trio of influential movements: child development, artificial intelligence, and educational technologies. Based on his insights into children’s thinking and learning, Papert recognized that computers could be used not just to deliver information and instruction, but also to empower children to experiment, explore, and express themselves. The central tenet of his Constructionist theory of learning is that people build knowledge most effectively when they are actively engaged in constructing things in the world. As early as 1968, Papert introduced the idea that computer programming and debugging can provide children a way to think about their own thinking and learn about their own learning.


Papert was among the first to recognize the revolutionary potential of computers in education. In the late 1960s, at a time when computers still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Papert came up with the idea for Logo, the first programming language for children. Children used Logo to program the movements of a “turtle”–either in the form of a small mechanical robot or a graphic object on the computer screen. In his seminal book Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas (1980), Papert argued against “the computer being used to program the child.” He presented an alternative approach in which “the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.”