Tuesday, May 8, 2018 [Tweets] [Favorites]

What Happened to Apple’s Whimsy?

Peter Cohen:

The iMac debuted 20 years ago this week. It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s the computer that saved Apple and set the stage for Apple’s ascendance to becoming the biggest tech company in the world. All that said, Apple’s lost something in the translation – while the iMac is still a fixture in Apple’s product line, it lacks some essential qualities of that first model. Its personality has changed. The iMac has gotten harder. It’s lost the sense of whimsy, fun, and wonder that made the first iMac such a joy to use.

[…]

The original iMac was a mass-market computer designed to appeal to consumers, educators, and others that Apple saw as a ripe market. Today’s iMac is orders of magnitude faster and more capable, but as a design exercise, it’s also infinitely more severe. Severe in both form and function.

Marco Arment:

It tragically passed away in 2011.

We all really miss it.

On the other hand, now we have watch bands, Animoji, and Siri jokes.

Nick Heer:

I think that Apple’s increasingly austere take on industrial design has made them better at shipping products that feel almost invisible. I appreciate that. It reduces the hardware to a tool, but not an appliance, yet I think Apple’s products feel even more approachable than they used to because so much of what they make is entirely straightforward. They don’t need to mask the complexity of the software with a layer of gumdrop plastic; in many ways, the software has become simple enough that the hardware can reflect that.

Is the software on a 2018 iMac really simpler than on a 1998 iMac? I don’t know how you would measure this, but my gut feeling is that it’s more complex now.

Or, to take a specific example, Time Machine’s restoration interface no longer has a star field. Other than some additional colors (more complexity) it works pretty much the same as before, so I don’t see how you can make the case that the star field is no longer “needed.” It just seems like a change in fashion.

Previously: 20 Years of iMac.

18 Comments

Simply by observing little kids you can see that the interfaces got more complex, especially on iOS.
Fewer labels, fewer button-like buttons, more gestures (often non consistent) do not make it approachable.
How many screens and typed characters it take now to go from very first plug in to browser the internet?
The mac now is way more complex, and drastically less approachable by truly novice user, it's not as obvious because there way fewer of those users now.

@Dmitri Well, I would say that the installer and first run experience might be one area that’s much simpler now.

Sören Nils Kuklau

>Is the software on a 2018 iMac really simpler than on a 1998 iMac?

One counterexample:

Creating a bootable OS in 1998: copy the System suitcase to a different volume. There's no step two. The file system was crazy-simple then, as it should be, and we've regressed significantly with OS X and never recovered. (iOS sort of has, by building another layer on top — but this is a leaky abstraction!)

Creating a bootable OS in 2018: well, uh… you probably want to learn about bless and APFS preboot volumes and…

When the abstraction works, it's pretty good. But sometimes it doesn't. And it's infuriating. My most/least favorite example of this is Continuity. Copying across devices, unlocking the Mac with the Watch, continuing to write an e-mail on a different device… these are all pretty awesome. When they work. But 20% of the time, they don't. And I'll be damned if i figure out why. Apple's diagnostics are severely lacking, and the UI is based on the assumption that stuff doesn't fail.

@Sören On the other hand, the recovery partition and being able to reinstall macOS by auto-downloading it from Apple’s server is much simpler than the old way. Totally agree about Continuity.

Sören Nils Kuklau

True, Recovery in general and Internet Recovery in particular are nifty!

@Michael "I would say that the installer and first run experience might be one area that’s much simpler now."

That's both true and false. In the false section, I would put the following things:

- the Mac now needs to restart multiple times to complete an installation. It was one of the things we used to joke about Windows Installation.
- trying to perform more subtle installations has now become more complex (like wiping out the entire startup disk before installing).
- you don't have a physical backup of the installer when you purchase your Mac. Without an Internet connection, you can not install the OS from scratch.

Honestly, the part that has been deeply improved during the installation process from a user point of view is that you can now select your location for the time zone way more accurately than in the old days. I was not able to select Paris (France) on the first click in the old days.

If the default installation and setup path is exactly the one Apple chose for you, the process is simpler. If you want to make a detour, it's less reachable.

Tom Hagopian

The Migration Assistant, on a fresh Mac, will now upgrade software (e.g. iTunes) when transferring data from a Mac with newer software on it. And the Installer finally offers to move either the .pkg or the enveloping .dmg to the Trash now, finally (perhaps this is what you meant, Michael). Safari doesn't duplicate downloads anymore, which is huge for many novices who re-download attachments because that's how they know to access them.

OTOH, the Platinum interface was more expressive: macOS is filled with single-pixel "oh you can drag that?" lines, such as the one to open the preview pane in the Font Panel. There's rollover UI that causes very unexpected behavior if the user doesn't know about it: for example, the Show/Hide button in the Finder sidebar. I've had a number of users complain that their "icons disappeared". What had happened was, while dragging an icon somewhere, they had paused over it, inadvertently, and triggered the spring-loaded show/hide button. Which they didn't know was there, so they didn't know to click it to restore order.

Mac OS 9 had its quirks, too. Like you said, Michael, it's hard to measure. I'm not entirely sure what Nick was referring too, but I got the feeling it was a visual simplicity, that the software needed to be bubbly before to be inviting, so people wouldn't be afraid, the same way iMac invited use by being attractive and friendly. I always felt like the visual styling of both hardware and software was intended to evolve together: Mac OS X's initial Aqua was clearly inspired by the hardware, but the software went aluminum before the hardware. Apple has more first-party apps which do a better job at covering a wider range of users’ needs than ever — what was worse than buying a brand new iMac and having the premier *and default* browser be Microsoft Internet Explorer?

Bryan Pietrzak

Good riddance on the whimsy. Hated that period. It truly made the Mac a fisher-price toy in the eyes of many. Certainly in the corporate/enterprise world. But even in the consumer world. My father (72 yo) would never have bought the original iMac. Not his style. But he loves his current 2015 iMac and it sits proudly on his desk at home. He has probably sold 4-5 of his friends on iMacs simply because he's so proud of it and talks it up whenever someone sees it. Zero chance that would have happened with a strawberry iMac DV.

And people talking about building bootable OSes? Come on... that's like .001% of the Mac user base. My father would never in a million years even understand what you're talking about.

There are many reasons Apple sells more Macs today than they did 15 or 20 years ago. I'm inclined to think management has a better handle on this stuff than the mac elite do. We've all been using Macs since 1984 ('85 in my case) and Apple II computers before that. We all have a ton of baggage as to what we think is great about a Mac. And for us, that's true. But I think it's too easy sitting in your $1200 Herman Miller Aeron chair to forget the every day person and what they need/want/expect of a computer.

But work in an environment supporting every day folks (in my case it's K-12 teachers) and you'll quickly realize that not a single of them cares anything about all these esoteric discussions folks tend to have. It's simply above their heads. They just want computers to work. Open lid, see screen, click app, app opens, use app. And the Mac still does that exceedingly well.

Simple is good. Simple is great.

There's a reason Apple touts customer sat. Why does the Apply community seem to poo-poo that? Every day people are HAPPY with their Macs. It's only those of us with all kinds of history and specialized needs that have a different set of expectations.

@Tom "And the Installer finally offers to move either the .pkg or the enveloping .dmg to the Trash now, finally (perhaps this is what you meant, Michael)."

But at the same time, after you've finished installing the OS, the Installation application is deleted without your consent if you installed the OS on the startup disk. So, to re-install it on another computer, you have to download it again.

@Bryan "They just want computers to work. Open lid, see screen, click app, app opens, use app. And the Mac still does that exceedingly well."

Nope. They also install the wrong apps (*) and change settings and then invites the technical person in the family to solve the issues they created.

Lately, it was such a pleasure to deal with a user who decided to put a backup of a 500 GB external disk on his desktop while having the iCloud Disk sync option turned on.

As long as it works, the Mac is still a good platform for users. As soon as something gets wrong, it's becoming more and more hostile territory for both normal and advanced users.

* For instance, someone installed the CloudApp application thinking it was related to iCloud.

> Mac OS 9 had its quirks, too. Like you said, Michael, it's hard to measure

I think it's pretty self-evident that earlier versions of Mac OS (particularly 6 and 7) simply had a lot fewer features, and all of the features these versions had were surfaced in very obvious ways. It is truly refreshing to use a Mac running 6 or 7. These are just such no-nonsense, down-to-the-point operating systems. They probably wouldn't hold up in today's Internet-enabled, terrabyte-sized HDs world, but I feel like I got a lot more actual work done in these systems than I ever did in OS X.

> And people talking about building bootable OSes? Come on... that's like .001% of the Mac user base

They might not care about that directly, but they might care about the follow-up effects this has. Creating bootable backups was trivial back then. It's no so trivial anymore nowadays. So when things break, you're much less likely to be able to fix them easily. If my new MacBook Pro's SSD broke had a problem, I probably couldn't get it to boot at all.

Bryan Pietrzak

"They might not care about that directly, but they might care about the follow-up effects this has."

The masses really couldn't care less.

If it breaks they take it to the Apple Store for repair. End of story. Full Stop.

99.99% of Mac users today don't tinker, don't tweak, don't change View settings in Safari or Finder and so on. They are not us.

This is way of things today. And it's not just computers and phones. Think TVs (how many TV repairshops does your town have?), Microwaves, Cars - fewer and fewer do their own car service anymore.

Many of you rail against this. I sympathize, but I think your tilting at windmills.

"If it breaks they take it to the Apple Store for repair. End of story. Full Stop."

Actually, that's the beginning of an entire new story in too many cases. And most Mac Users do not have an Apple Store close to their home.

@someone “most” means more don’t have access than do in the context of your comment. Do you really think that’s true? It’s MAYBE true in specific regions, but certainly not in the US. and I’d argue that even globally, more mac users do in fact have access to an apple store than don’t. And that’s without including AASPs. Unless we have very different definitions of “close”.

Not to nitpick, but I just want to address this criticism because I think it's emblematic of a lot of the criticism levelled at Apple these days:

> But at the same time, after you've finished installing the OS, the Installation application is deleted without your consent if you installed the OS on the startup disk. So, to re-install it on another computer, you have to download it again.

Let's walk through this, and I'm not trying to be condescending. After an OS install is finished, there are a few different options on what to do with the installer in the applications folder:

1) Leave it in the applications folder, where it takes up 4-5 gbs of space (which can be significant on 64gb/128gb MacBook Airs, and annoying on all systems). Most users will not know what it is, and will not know that it is safe to remove if they so choose. So this large file sits in the Applications folder, and the reality is, a fraction of a percentage of users will ever require it / interact with it again (In what situations would it be useful to have an installer in the App folder? If you have OS problems, it's not going to help you. Plus, you can always download it again from the Mac App Store or use recovery mode for an install.) The only thing I can think of is someone wanting to create a installer / bootable OS on another drive, but again, they can get the OS pretty easily from the app store. So TL;DR for option 1: Leave it on the disk consuming space for no reason because only a small fraction of a percent of users will ever want it again, and even then they can download it from the App Store if they wish.

2) Ask the user what to do after the installer is complete. You may immediately think this is the most reasonable option, but I definitely disagree. After an install/installation, users have to make a bunch of necessary decisions about basic configuration for the system. Most users would be a) befuddled by this question (b) not understand the significance, and not feel confident in the decision they were making (c) annoyed they have yet another decision to make. I don't think this cost is at all worth it, especially after the points I covered in option 1.

3) Remove the installer automatically. The update is complete, you can regain disk space for the user and the user can use the MAS to download it again if they wish.

You mention that you won't be able to use it to install it on another computer, but this is such a small use case that I just can't imagine most users deal with it. Maybe some businesses confront this problem, but if they have any IT resources at all, it can be easily handled (apple even offers update caching capabilities in macOS server).

> Nope. They also install the wrong apps (*) and change settings and then invites the technical person in the family to solve the issues they created.

Yah, some users will struggle with computers. But your anecdotal evidence doesn't mean that most people don't find Macs easy to use, or that people are having more problems than they used to. More people than ever own personal computers, and I suspect your most often dealing with the late holdouts who already have a low technical competency and familiarity with computers and so are more likely to have issues (no matter what system they use).

The example you provide of the user who copied a 500gb external drive to his desktop — that's not a Mac specific problem. And it's not an iCloud specific problem either. It may have prompted messages about his iCloud storage being full, but this doesn't really seem like a situation which outlines how modern Macs fail users. If a user can make that mistake, and then is unable to fix it, they'd undoubtedly struggle with any computer system.

I don't mean to belabour the point, I just find this narrative tiresome. There are, I'm sure, some very compelling criticisms to be made for all of apple's products, both software, hardware and services (And some people do make great points!). But I also think there is a ton of groupthink and reinforcement in certain corners of the internet. I dunno, I could be wrong, and I definitely respect that our opinions may differ. I hope this doesn't come across as abrasive or harsh.

@Andy Outside of the U.S., Apple's store are only available in big cities. There are plenty of locations where the closest Apple Store is 90 miles away. Even in those cities, Apple Stores locations are not easily accessible by cars. So if you have a MacBook to repair, it's not that big an issue. If you need to get your iMac 27" repaired, it's another story. It's always "funny" to see people carrying iMac in the subways.

Regarding AASPs, I don't believe that customers will think about them unless they purchased their computers there in the first place. And AASPs are another entire story because of the issues they too often faced when dealing with Apple.

@AW

If Apple was not so cheap about disk storage (and hungry about available disk space when it comes to update/installation), solution #1 would not bother anyone.

There were not iCloud storage issues since there was a 1TB iCloud subscription. The problems were: CPU usage, bandwidth usage. I'm talking about someone who has been using a computer since the Apple IIe. So we're not in the case of a low familiarity with computers.

I don't believe that "more people than ever owning personal computers" has improved the way people deal with computers. They are less afraid of computers and doing stuff so they are breaking things even more.

I can understand your point of view too but, from where I sit, "The Little Lingdom" is getting more and more naked when it comes to the Mac platform.

>If it breaks they take it to the Apple Store for repair. End of story. Full Stop.

Not true. If it breaks, they call their friend who knows about computers, who then tell them that there's nothing they can do, and that they have to have an appointment at an Apple store, the nearest of which is two hours away.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment