Friday, December 7, 2018

Electron and the Decline of Native Apps

John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

In some ways, the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac is that it got so much more popular a decade ago. In theory, that should have been nothing but good news for the platform — more users means more attention from developers. The more Mac users there are, the more Mac apps we should see. The problem is, the users who really care about good native apps — users who know HIG violations when they see them, who care about performance, who care about Mac apps being right — were mostly already on the Mac. A lot of newer Mac users either don’t know or don’t care about what makes for a good Mac app.

One could also argue that the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac was the iPhone.

As un-Mac-like as Word 6 was, it was far more Mac-like then than Google Docs running inside a Chrome tab is today. Google Docs on Chrome is an un-Mac-like word processor running inside an ever-more-un-Mac-like web browser. What the Mac market flatly rejected as un-Mac-like in 1996 was better than what the Mac market tolerates, seemingly happily, today. Software no longer needs to be Mac-like to succeed on the Mac today. That’s a tragedy.

Don’t miss his rant about Finder keyboard shortcuts in Mojave.

Previously: The Mojave Marzipan Apps, Is There Hope for the Mac App Store?.

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"One could also argue that the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac was the iPhone."

Johny Ive. Over a period of around a decade, starting under Jobs and ending under Cook, Apple shifted their guidestar from usability to design.

The real problem is that they don't think this is a problem, partly because they had a huge lead in usability which has not yet been fully erased, partly because their competitors are so cargo cultish about copying whatever Apple does, even if what they are doing is wrong - so as Apple has backslid everyone else has followed their lead in some areas, which has prevented anyone else from fully pulling out ahead of Apple in usability.

1) The other effect of this is that there are becoming fewer and fewer reasons to stick with the Mac, as many "apps" that regular people use these days are either web-based or cross-platform (usually with the exact same interface) — the only big exception I see is true Pros like video editors and graphic designers, but Apple isn't catering to them so much anymore either. Looking at my own usage, the only Mac app that I would really be upset to lose is Fantastical. But I don't do /that/ much stuff with my calendars, so I'm sure I would be happy enough with Google Calendar (even though I hate Google's privacy policies). And iMessage, but even on the Mac it's treated like an afterthought by Apple.

As a Mac user since 1991, I don't like where the future of the Mac is heading... I'm not one to say "But Steve Jobs would never..." though it is an interesting thought experiment to wonder if we'd be in this predicament had he not died.

2) One of the only reasons I stay on the Mac is because of the ease of use from using the platform for so long, but if they keep taking out key features and rearranging key commands and such so that apps don't work "like the are supposed to" (see Photos, News, Mail... all TERRIBLE Mac apps)... then why don't I switch to Linux which will at least give me the option to do things my way? Not to mention the crazy prices of Macs these days (I haven't bought a brand new one since 2009).

3) The quality of software from Apple nowadays is atrocious. I come across bugs on iPhone almost daily. I file them in Bug Reporter. They never get fixed. Basic stuff like Siri not working reliably even for simple things like creating Reminders, AirPlay constantly dropping on my home network (to my stereo via Airport Express) for no apparent reason, and iOS just generally being difficult and time-consuming to use for tasks that are EASY to do on a Mac (like attaching several files to an email at once).

And I feel like that's not even scratching the surface... for a trillion dollar company with many thousands of employees, they sure can't multi-task AT ALL. So many parts of MacOS and iOS seem abandoned, not updated in years, totally forgotten or completely unrealized or royally borked (like iTunes). Yet they have time to do dumb shit like Memoji and iMessage Sticker Store? What. The. F.

Two thoughts:

Sure, the kinds of apps Mac users use nowadays are less Mac-like than they used to be. But are they really worse? I'd rather use Gmail on my Mac than Eudora every day of the week, even though Gmail is as un-Mac-like as you can get.

Is it really a bad thing that we now have a common app development platform? It means that a lot of apps are available on the Mac that would otherwise not have been available. It also means that I can use a Mac for work, a Razer laptop for personal stuff, and an Acer Chromebook for checking my mail and reading feeds, a Samsung tablet for watching Netflix while I'm working out, and a random Android phone for social stuff, and all of these devices use the same apps, have synchronized data, and synchronized files. That's unbelievably cool. In their heart of hearts, does anyone really want to go back to the 90s where most stuff just wasn't available on Macs, and moving anything between different devices was a huge pita?

Lukas: I mostly agree with you, in theory. But if the web is becoming the lowest common denominator, and we can't even trust that apps on a Mac will behave like we've come to expect (e.g. even for something as simple as buttery smooth scrolling) — then what reason is there to buy a Mac, if a Chromebook will run web / Electron apps just as well (or should that be... just as poorly?).

It's a pretty sad state of affairs that even Apple can't produce a world-class email client on either the Mac or the iPhone. As someone who has been trying to get away from Gmail and GCal for the past few months — after using it since 2005, I think? – I have found IMAP (I have my own domain) within the Mail apps on both Mac and iPhone to be frustratingly inconsistent. And this is EMAIL. EMAIL!!!

Like seriously... can't even do real attachments. Everything is in-line. WHY?!? This is so stupid. I have NEVER in my life wanted to send or receive an email with in-line attachments. Dumbest idea ever. And on Mac has Rules, but Mail on iPhone doesn't. WHY??? Even though current iPhones are probably more powerful than the 2014 MBP I'm typing this on.

Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but I really get the feeling that computer users who are, say, under 25 years old really have no idea what they are missing. Everything is so goddamn dumbed down these days. Apple's new walled garden with iOS is like a dictatorship, treating everyone like children with stupid arbitrary rules of what can and can't be done (that has nothing to do with privacy or security).

It seems Apple has moved from caring about Quality to caring only about Quantity.

Since the introduction of swift I’ve been asking people for good Getting Started resources for developing Mac apps. There’s plenty for iOS but a drought for the Mac. Nearly all existing information not from Apple is made for objective c. Not enough to consider learning it.

The natural result is a new generation of developers that hasn’t picked up what makes a good Mac app because they never used the tools that creates them.

Bad Uncle Leo

(3am rant) I said it before and I'll say it again: Apple has added something to the "Iron Triangle" of Speed - Quality - Cost: call it "agenda" or "politics", you cannot declare half of the world "hateful" and (now) say that there is "no room on your platform" for them. "Them" being users and developers who were previously encouraged to "think different", and who until now didn't have to notice or care otherwise.

Steve would never have done that. I don't think Scott Forstall would have either. The point is if you add this "agenda" you can only pick ONE from the Iron Triangle, Along with this "agenda" Apple has chosen speed now. Speed without focus or quality. Add to this treating developers with contempt and "banning" Apps due to politics or capricious "rules". And then later reversing some of these "decisions." They're beginning to look and behave like old Microsoft.

Why would new (or even older) devs learn Apple's technologies in depth? Why, when someone inside Apple can "taketh away" on a whim? With almost no recourse or even transparency? Apple's walled garden doesn't even serve security or privacy anymore, scam apps abound, truly SECURE apps like AdGuard Pro are "discouraged" while useless features like "animoji" and Apple doing TV shows no one will watch take precedence,

They make computers I don't want & solder ram like Sun Microsystems used to do. People hated Sun for that. Worse, they "ban" apps I want to run, and my reasons for doing so should be NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS. I won't get into broken automation in Mojave or the almost useless "unified log". That's another rant.

Apple USED to be a hardware company. Now they're "everything BUT a hardware company. They banned Gab for no reason at all, because some NGO "said so". They "made an example" of a minor nutty Texan (Alex Jones) by "banning" him. Now Gab and Jones used progressive web apps and Apple (via that "agenda" again) made themselves irrelevant. And they will still devote cycles to "combatting hate" at the expense of product quality and focus. Caligula "declaring war on the sea" comes to mind.

Current_Year "thought criminals" migrated to Android and web apps, and other developers followed suit. I wonder if Apple will end up hiring any remaining Swift developers just to work at Apple like they did with the Workflow kids, or that nice lady who made Hibari back in the day? Does it matter now that Apple is in the business of "curation?" Or, by its other name, censorship?

Apple used to have thought criminals who fueled innovation by pushing the envelope. Now that doesn't matter to them, and reformed "fans" like me have to go reactionary. And hedge bets by slowly moving away from Apple's incompatible monoculture to systems that don't explicitly "curate" our user experience. ( /3am rant)

> then what reason is there to buy a Mac

There is none, and that's good, because it means we're no longer locked into the abysmal, overpriced selection of Macs Apple currently offers. This is a feature, not a bug.

The problem is, the users who really care about good native apps — users who know HIG violations when they see them, who care about performance, who care about Mac apps being right — were mostly already *left* the Mac.

@Ben Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with Siri, but entering reminders with it has been terrible the last month or so, least accurate it’s ever been.

Gruber is half right. Apple didn't just attract users with no sense of usability, aesthetics, or Apple's standards. Apple also filled its ranks with those same people. Once the iPhone went public, the iOS group grew like cancer. Not only weren't there enough good people with the relevant Mac experience, but Scott didn't want them. Scott wasn't Apple, he was NeXT, and he was building his own platform. So the inexperienced and tasteless hired the inexperienced and tasteless. Standards fell by the wayside and in the end there aren't enough enough people left to make a dent by complaining about the bullshit flaws like arrow keys not working anymore.

iOS poisoned Apple, and Tim pushed it off a cliff with his bean-counter singlemindedness on margins. The company people loved has beend destroyed from within even as it reached its greatest commercial success. From the outside, all people can see is the towering, marvelous tree. It won't be until the next storm comes that the hollowed out trunk is split open and people realize it had been a dying shell for a long time.

Troughton-Smith using this subject as a springboard for trolling finally got insufferable. "Marzipan apps are better than Mac-like apps [1] which all suck [2] because macOS is old and not iOS [3]."


>Scott wasn't Apple, he was NeXT

Yeah. iOS may have been the death blow, but the end of good Mac UI and app design started much earlier.

Rumor is that one of the drives behind Marzipan was to have a unified iMessage app on both macOS and iOS. I don't know if that's true, but to the degree that iMessage has it's own App Store it makes sense. The current Marzipan apps kind of suck, as Gruber noted. I'd imagine the ones at WWDC next year will be much improved. So I wouldn't judge too much by what's clearly a demonstration of technology rather than mature apps.

The reality is that at some point Apple's going to unify the experience. Despite all the please against it, it's coming. More than likely what will happen is a new Swift framework that replaces both the aged AppKit and aging UIKit. Full screen mode will be an iOS like UI and windowed mode will be more like Mac. Marzipan is an intermediate step to get the ported UIKit stuff working on Mac so they can build off it. iPad Pros will eventually just run macOS behind the scenes but with no ability to go to windowed mode. I've no idea when that will happen - probably not until well after Macs go ARM - but it seems inevitable.

@Michael - Siri has been super unreliable for me since iOS 12 (I guess?), where I will dictate something to it and it will pretend like I didn't say anything at all, even though the "waveform" at the bottom of the screen clearly animates with my voice. Then it will give me the screen that shows a bunch of example tasks and says something like "Here are some things you can ask me" at the top. Sometimes I have to try 3+ times (including locking and unlocking my phone) to get it to recognize that I'm giving it voice input. That's just one example.

Overall, my experience using an iPhone in 2018 isn't a lot different than 2014. Things are faster, and the camera is better.... but if you would have told me 4 years ago that my 2018 iPhone would be basically the same, I probably wouldn't have believed you. I thought that surely in 4 years Siri would be a LOT smarter/intuitive, Apple Maps wouldn't still suck, that iOS would be more powerful and less annoying... oh and that the huge Siri bug that I reported several times (via many different methods) in 2014 would finally be fixed. It's not.

Will Notbepublished

@Ben G

And the iPhone without a case is still like a soap bar in one's hand. Also taking screenshots is now very difficult.

Yeah, I left years back because the trend of highers prices, less ability to upgrade, and all the apps I use are cross platform anyway…

Apps don't have to be Mac like per se but they still need to be good. There needs to be an advantage to using the Mac that's not "Well you need an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch and Mac to experience ecosystem advantages." No thanks

It is kind of funny watching Gruber flounder as Apple itself pulls the rug out from under him.

[…] Previously: The Mojave Marzipan Apps, Electron and the Decline of Native Apps. […]

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