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].

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Sadly, "still in denial" is a good way of putting it, and accurately describes the takeaway I got from the interview.

>"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"

Yep. It used to be that updates to Apple's products were exciting. Now, all they make me think is "I wonder if *this* is the time that Apple finally forces me to switch to Windows or Linux full-time."

Also, related to software quality: a few months ago, both of the MacBook Pros that I use actively (and regularly update to the latest version of macOS) have started throwing up the "Your system has run out of application memory" message about twice a week, at which point I have to try to manually unpause all apps, save any data if apps still unpause for long enough, and restart the computer. Subjectively, at least for me, my Macs are now reaching Mac OS 9 levels of crazy behavior.

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