Thursday, October 1, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Priorities

John Gruber:

“Well, what do you expect from a company run by a penny-pinching beancounter like Tim Cook?” I.e. that Apple, under Cook’s leadership, has gotten cheap, and the reason for Problem X is that Apple refuses to spend money to fix it.

[…]

Apple is not cheap. A miserly penny-wise/pound-foolish company does not design and build architectural marvels like this new store in Singapore. Apple spends lavishly on what they care about and consider important.

There are glaring problems with Apple’s platforms that could be greatly improved by spending money. Apple is willing to do so for architecture and TV shows. And for the environment and accessibility, despite the “bloody ROI.” But not for the App Store (500 reviewers for 100,000 submissions per week), documentation, QA, user data, or repairing defective products that it sold. Either Apple disagrees that larger budgets could improve these areas or it does not consider them important.

Bean counting can also be a convenient faux justification. Despite having 28 million developers paying annual membership fees, Apple recently cried poverty to the court, stating that, without the 30% IAP commission, it would “be unable to continue its on-going investment in” the App Store. The billions of iPhones sold, largely on the basis of the available apps, are counted in a different bucket.

Previously:

18 Comments

Gruber is correct about "miserly," but "penny-wise/pound-foolish" sounds like a pretty apt description of a company that builds physical architectural marvels while the virtual architecture of its software is being eaten alive by termites. It's not great that external image is now the only thing Apple is still competent at.

Lanny Heidbreder

I think Gruber's last sentence, "Apple spends lavishly on what they care about and consider important", is meant to imply that they fail to consider many things important that they should.

@Lanny I didn’t read it that way because that would mean that Apple is penny-wise/pound-foolish, which the previous sentence says they’re not.

I took the “penny-wise” comment to be a rose-coloured proposition that Gruber summarily disproves in the next sentence: Apple proudly views itself as being pound-wise, but it's plain to see that its priorities are misplaced.

Personally I'm tired of the sterile dystopia theme of Apple stores and buildings.

I'm glad someone said it. Thanks Michael. It's crazy that Apple spends so much on things that are "for show" compared to spending on basic things that improve the quality and reliability of their products. I don't know what's with Gruber lately -- he's always been a bit of an Apple apologist, but a lot of his comments about them this year seem to gloss over the very real institutional problems within Apple and the problems which, in particular, seem to point directly to Tim Cook.

I couldn't care less about Apple Stores anymore. Other than to pick up an online order when I got my new iPhone in January, I haven't been in an Apple Store in 4+ years. And the last time I went there for tech support it was a disaster, with crazy wait time, staff that were distracted and insanely busy, Geniuses that didn't seem as knowledgeable as in the past, etc. The Apple Store was great 10-15 years ago when you could just walk in, people wanted to help you, and you could almost immediately get effective assistance at the Genius Bar.

Old Unix Geek

It seems to me that Apple is putting its money precisely where it wants it: appearance instead of engineering. Slick new buildings, wafer thin computers whose keyboards don't work, the appearance of a healthy App store, security theatre, bad documentation, O.S.' full of bugs, and APIs that barely work. They develop less technology themselves, but buy more and more other companies to innovate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Apple

I literally think they only care if a third party App they publish is any good if it's something they decide to buy (coverflow, rosetta, iTunes, Siri, darksky, etc). Engineering has become a commodity, a don't care. Apple is basically devolving towards concentrating on branding, content production, and rent-seeking rather than excelling in technology.

Professor Plasma

It isn’t clear to me who is in a position of power who would make something like documentation a priority. It of course is clear who’s responsibility it is, and this is all Tim’s responsibility, but what incentive financial or otherwise is there to do anything about those issues? It wouldn’t surprise me to think that there is simply a lot of ignorance in leadership surrounding many of these problems. If the App Store appears to be working why would you invest more in it? And if you are a mid level manager, why would you direct your team to work on what is being implicitly communicated as low level priorities? Cloud services got better only because Steve used it and saw it was garbage. Who in current leadership has ever had to deal with submitting an app?

A lot of the Apple's success is attributed to the Apple's unique culture,
and that culture is pretty old, and along with good things, like attention to design and esthetic details, there is resentment to modern methods of software development, like TDD, AUT, and most likely most of the agile methodologies. It looks like they are still struggling with growing too fast issue.

Old Unix Geek

@Dmitri: "Modern methods of software development" don't seem to me to have improved software quality anywhere. Software velocity has increased, but not quality. The old stuff worked. The new stuff, not so much. The notion that it can be updated over the internet, rather than burned for all eternity into a ROM makes bugs "things we can live with". It's a management problem, and no "methodology" will change that. The only panacea is to go slower and think harder to write less code and make fewer bugs. Employ people who know how computers actually work. Quite rare these days.

Yep. It just seems so wrong to me how we've completely normalized it being totally fine for Spotify or Facebook or Uber to update their apps once or twice a week (despite no obvious user-facing improvements). How is this acceptable to ship software that's so buggy that it needs updating several times a month, forever? And as an aside, why the hell does Apple feel the need to point this out with blue dots next to each app icon? I've never understood the purpose of it.

I’m not sure the environment aspect is up there in terms of cost, I think all of their environment policies probably make/save Apple money.

If Apple cared for the environment they’d make computers/phones/AirPods that could be serviced and upgraded...

@Adrian The environmental stuff is definitely a cost in the short term, which is why the shareholders were complaining about it. Maybe over the long term it will save them money (in addition to the branding benefits). Anyway, the point is that Cook said Apple is doing it because it’s the right thing to do and therefore doesn’t evaluate it in terms of ROI. Apple happy to spend money in the areas it cares about, but fixing defective keyboards is apparently not an area of concern or the right thing to do.

I thought Gruber’s comment was a bit short-sighted.

But also, success hides problems, and most problems can’t be solved just by throwing money at them anyway.

But not for the App Store (500 reviewers for 100,000 submissions per week), documentation, QA, user data, or repairing defective products that it sold.

Right, but the thing is, scaling teams is really hard. App Review doesn’t automatically become twice as good by doubling the review staff. It might actually become worse, as scaling too quickly won’t convey culture and (unwritten) norms adequately.

I would agree that some of those aspects currently aren’t good enough (it seems way too easy to run into an Apple API that is barely explained at all, or only in some WWDC video), but solving that goes beyond just allocating money differently.

Apple recently cried poverty to the court, stating that, without the 30% IAP commission, it would “be unable to continue its on-going investment in” the App Store.

Yeah, those comments are disappointingly disingenuous.

@Sören No one’s saying scaling people is easy, but it’s been 12 years and there obviously aren’t enough reviewers to give a reasonable amount of time to each submission. So they should either be scaling it or redefining what the store is. Most bug reports never even get a reply. They could have more staff investigating those. Fixing the base iCloud storage (so people don't lose their photos) is amount entirely a money problem. Same with repairs.

No one’s saying scaling people is easy, but it’s been 12 years and there obviously aren’t enough reviewers to give a reasonable amount of time to each submission. So they should either be scaling it or redefining what the store is. Most bug reports never even get a reply. They could have more staff investigating those.

Yes.

I’m only saying it doesn’t follow that they don’t care, or don’t regard it as a problem.

Fixing the base iCloud storage (so people don’t lose their photos) is amount entirely a money problem. Same with repairs.

True enough.

(And FWIW, as I recall, Gruber has been criticizing the iCloud storage for years.)

John Gruber has made a career out of being an Apple-supporting pundit, and I suspect he now finds himself in a very difficult position where I’m sure he knows what is right, but has to try to defend this company that has been the ultimate source of his income all these years (not to belittle John in any way, his body of work is tremendous). Arguing that iOS is an app-console completely denies the fact how that *only* benefits Apple (and as argued in other comments, probably not in the long run). Arguing iOS is an app-console denies the *expectations* of the billion-plus owners of iOS devices, namely that that they own a device that should enable them to do the maximum amount of things they could possibly want to do, even though every iOS developer on the planet knows that what is possible is restricted more and more, and that every decision, every idea, every minute of time spent developing something new could very well end in rejection, without the hope of a transparent appeal process.

Gruber has always been even-handed; primarily a supporter and a cheerleader of Apple, but indeed a critic when needed, and his followers admired and respected him for this approach. Now for the first time I feel a complete disconnect between how I feel about Apple, and how Gruber continues to frame everything we can all see going on at Apple. I have been using Apple products since the early 1980s --an Apple IIe was the first computer we owned-- so I have an emotional connection to the brand. But the Apple of today has strayed so far from “let’s build amazing products and people will want to buy them”, that even though I shouldn’t care about the most valued company in the world, I find that each day I resent Apple more for breaking my heart.

Old Unix Geek

Another interesting priority: surveil which devices are on wireless carriers to find devices which Apple wanted recycled instead of reused.

https://www.iphoneincanada.ca/news/apple-sues-canadian-recycling-firm-for-reselling-100000-devices-instead-of-destroying-them/

This is quite ridiculous: recycling is more energy intensive than reuse. Apple could have been content that it was harming the environment even less than it intended, but instead it is suing for loss of revenue. Money and perception all the new Apple cares about: not reality.

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