Archive for February 7, 2022

Monday, February 7, 2022

2021 Six Colors Apple Report Card

Jason Snell (tweet, Hacker News):

It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.


John Siracusa said, “Every new Mac Apple introduced in 2021 was a hit. The new MacBook Pros have rescued that product line after years of decline and dysfunction. The multi-colored 24-inch iMac is a breath of fresh air after nearly two decades of white and gray models. Though the transition is not yet complete, all the new and existing Apple silicon Macs are great: quiet, cool, reasonably priced, and fast, fast, fast.”


Adam Engst said, “The big hole in Apple’s Mac lineup is an affordable high-resolution display to give the laptops something to connect to and to let iMac users expand to a second large screen.”


Rich Siegel said, “Many of the ill-conceived UI and visual design decisions that were introduced in Big Sur are still in Monterey, although fortunately things haven’t really gotten much worse.


Guilherme Rambo said, “I think there’s still a lot of work to be done on Mac software. I’ve had numerous issues with macOS Monterey, especially related to Bluetooth, which keeps breaking with every major OS update. Not to mention the awful state of the Shortcuts app, which has been improving with the new point releases, but is still far from what I would call production-quality.”


Brent Simmons said, “I always believed Apple would draw a line at outright lying — but they continue to lie about what selling software was like before the App Store. They lie about what the review process does and about how developers are treated equally. As a developer, I find this profoundly disillusioning.”


Paul Kafasis said, “I think Apple’s App Store policies are having a real, negative impact on the world. It may not matter to most consumers, but it matters to me as a developer, and as a user who can see that we’re surely losing things due to their heavy-handedness.”

Federico Viticci:

The greatest compliment I can pay to Apple’s renewed approach to the Mac is that, for the first time in a decade, they got an iPad user like myself interested in the Mac again.


Speaking of software holding back hardware, there’s no better example of this predicament than the latest generation iPad Pro with an M1 chip.


If you were to ask me to recall what’s new in tvOS 15 off the top of my head, I don’t think I’d be able to answer that. The ability to see HomeKit cameras on the big screen maybe? The redesigned video player?

None of this matters for me because Apple did the one thing I wanted to see in TV hardware, and they did it extremely well: they redesigned the Siri remote and brought back physical buttons.


At this point, it’s fair to say that Apple is merely the maker of a HomeKit API and aggregation dashboard (the Home app). If Apple wants to compete with Amazon and take back control of the home from the Echos of the world, they need to make more hardware, and they need to make it fast. And that’s not even to mention the clunky and outdated design of the Home app, the lack of interactive HomeKit widgets on iOS, or absence of Home complications on the Watch.


Update (2022-02-08): Matt Birchler:

This graph really stood out to me, too. For a company who very much sees themselves as a group trying to do good in the world, this narrative feels like it’s getting away from them.

Nick Heer:

There were big problems: MacOS Monterey bricked some Macs, a software update overheated some HomePod models to the point where they stopped working, Siri is still Siri, and Shortcuts shipped in an unusable state across all platforms. But there are little things that also do not work correctly that are as aggressively grating. On my Mac, every Quick Look preview flashes bright red. When I use CarPlay, audio sometimes does not initiate and I have to reconnect my phone. Nine of the bugs I filed in 2021 were about scroll position not being maintained in several high-profile applications. Searching Maps still returns locations thousands of kilometres away, even when there is a matching result around the corner. Apple’s Podcasts service became a mess. Mail does not return accurate search results for my inbox, let alone any other folder. Album artwork does not sync properly to my iPhone. If I resume playing music I have paused on my Mac, it will sometimes play with no audio, and I have to change tracks to force it to re-download. iOS’ autocorrect changes “can” to “can’t”, which is an open problem with “more than 10” reports. Media keys do unexpected things in MacOS. Dragging tracks to the bottom of the play queue in Music reverses their play order. There are a hundred more problems like these which I have reported in the last year.

I am sometimes running beta releases, but my main Mac is almost always on the latest public release. Right now, Music often crashes when switching between Apple Music, local library, and search views — on the very latest released version. A common response is that Apple needs time to fix bugs after release but, even if these operating systems mostly stabilize by about February, it is not fair that even typical users on the public release track have four or five months of frustrating bugs every year.

Even then, stability is not a given because of major new bugs introduced in maintenance releases.

Dan Masters:

What’s even the point of using macOS anymore? I recently switched to a Mac for work, and I’m astonished at just how unreliable it’s become.

My MBP kernel panics at least daily while sleeping. Other times I can’t even wake it, as many report here.

Tom Bridge:

We need better relationships between MDM developers and Apple, with more give and take, more conversations, more impactful input, and a better cadence for partnerships. I know that my take is different than many, but I’m a different sort of developer in my day job than most. When it comes to the App Store, Apple has some hard choices to make, lest they risk having the whole thing slip right through their fingers in the form of federal regulation of their spaces.

See also: Josh Centers and TidBITS Talk.

Update (2022-02-16): Jason Snell:

This year I’m happy to present a few charts from Six Colors member, Duke University professor, and data-visualization expert Kieran Healy that take the initial Report Card scores and slice them in a few interesting ways.

Nick Heer:

One reason I gave Apple’s software quality a score of two out of five in the Six Colors report card is because every time my partner wants to open the same PDF in Books on her iPad, it “cannot be opened” until various incantations are performed. Maddening.

John Gruber:

Resentment over App Store policies continues to build. Rip-off apps continue to appear in App Store.

See also: The Talk Show (tweet), Upgrade, Jeff Johnson, Kieran Healy, Steve Troughton-Smith.

Update (2022-03-09): Matt Birchler:

I wanted to add my takes, so consider this a write-in ballot.

The Danger of Sideloading Chromium

Peter Ammon:

The sideloading debate is really about Chrome. Sideloading Fortnite is about money, but sideloaded Chrome is an existential risk, threatening to do to iOS what it has done to Windows and Mac.

Peter Ammon:

So many users live in Chrome and use nothing else. You may think that development is good or bad, but it’s obviously undesirable from Apple’s perspective, since it gives Google extra leverage over Apple’s products.

If your users live in Chrome, then you are at Google’s mercy. You are dependent on Google to make any changes. Apple can add features like Do Not Disturb, but they’re borderline useless if Chrome doesn’t use native notifications, which for many years they did not.

It’s hard to find examples on the Mac side. But on iOS, it would be bad (from Apple’s perspective) if features like Face/TouchID web auth, Apple Pay, Pencil, iPad trackpad, etc. required Chrome support before any users saw them. That’s the existential risk to Apple.

Jen Simmons, Apple Evangelist:

Gosh. Catching up with tech Twitter this morning and there seems to be an angry pocket of men who really want Safari to just go away.

Do we really want to live in a 95% Chromium browser world? That would be a horrible future for the web. We need more voices, not fewer.

Ironically, Apple believes that the way to ensure this is by only allowing one voice on iOS. In the short term, that probably is slowing the advance of Chrome, albeit by preventing Apple’s customers from accessing certain sites and features. But this is depressing as a long-term strategy.

Safari should not merely be good enough to keep iOS users from abandoning the platform in order to switch browsers. It should be good enough that Apple doesn’t fear Chromium browsers taking over if users were allowed to choose. Exclusive features help, but they alone are not the answer. Users and developers both need better compatibility with the Web as it is, not as Apple wishes it were. I prefer Safari, but I can’t always use it. If macOS restricted browsers the way iOS does, I would have to get a PC or run an emulator or something.

Similar logic applies to the debate around Web apps vs. native apps on the desktop. The way to avoid a monoculture and get more native apps is not to ban Web apps. It’s to make it so that native apps can do more and work better, so that developing, distributing, and selling them is easier—so that users and developers choose them.

To bring this full circle, I’m not sure I want to know the percentage of people who buy Macs to essentially use them as really nice Chromebooks. Here the dominance of Chromium works to Apple’s advantage, in a way, because currently Apple makes the best notebook hardware for running Chrome. But in terms of what’s best for the Web and for macOS as vibrant platforms, I hope it’s not satisfied with this outcome.


Update (2022-02-08): Lea Verou:

That is so awfully dismissive and tone deaf. No, people don’t want Safari to “just go away”. People (of all genders!) want Apple to respect user choice and stop forcing everyone to use Safari on iOS whether they want to or not. It’s pretty simple, really.

Damien Petrilli:

If [sideloading Chrome being an existential risk vs. Fortnite being about money] was the case, Apple would have lessen the grip on the App Store to remove the pressure while keeping the “only webkit engine” rule on iOS.

That would have been a lot easier to win in court. Instead, they fight to keep all the money and the 27% in NL is a hint to it

“Games account for approximately 70 percent of the entire App Store’s revenue, and 98 percent of in-app purchase revenue.”

If an alternative game store opened and made them lose all this money—as the App Store isn’t competitive enough-pretty sure Apple would be pissed

Peter Ammon:

I think this is exactly what will happen. We already see it somewhat with the drop to 15% commission. Of course Apple will fight court rulings, but if my theory is right, side-loading is the hill they’ll die on. We’ll see!

Jonathan Deutsch:

Apple had serious insecurities what opening up might mean.

They didn’t want iOS to become the Mac, and they didn’t want the Mac to become Windows.

Control is in Apple’s DNA.


Flash scarred Apple as a 3rd party causing the top system instability.

There used to be openness voices that could push back before the EPMs took over. Now their worst instincts are forefront.

Jeff Johnson:

Everyone whines about Chrome “taking over”, but nobody talks about how Safari had literally a 6 year head start over Chrome (January 2003 vs. late 2008/early 2009) but was surpassed nonetheless on the desktop.

How did Apple let that happen? Looks like gross incompetence to me.

And Chrome used WebKit until 2013. However, Google was able to massively promote Chrome using its own Web properties, and there’s not much Apple could have done about that other than stop funneling users to Google Search.

Why did Apple drop Safari for Windows? They ceded that whole market both for users and for web developers. Massive mistake.

Where’s Safari for Android?

Google bothered to write a web browser for iOS. Apple did not bother, and then Apple whines about losing?


The irony is that Apple aided and abetted Google’s dominance in a number of ways.

Apple happily took Google money to make it the default web browser in Safari. Still does!

Apple was a ringleader in the WHATWG coup to overthrow the W3C. Now a few browser vendors control the web.

I would argue that iOS lockdown actually hurt Firefox the worst of the major browsers[…]

Alex Riviere:

There is no way to debug mobile safari on anything other than a Mac. This is a very high barrier of entry to debug slight rendering differences on safari.

Michael Love:

It’s not just about web. App developers are subject to our own monoculture because Apple intentionally limits Safari to prevent web apps from competing with native + force us to the App Store.

It’s literally the Same. Exact. Thing. that Microsoft did with IE 20 years ago.

If we’re going to be stuck with a monoculture either way, I’d prefer a monoculture built around open-source Chrome over one built around a proprietary app store and closed-source frameworks.

See also: Jen Simmons, Ryan Christian.

Update (2022-02-11): Hartley Charlton:

Apple has also been criticized for demanding apps that browse the web to use the WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript on iOS and iPadOS, a policy that effectively bans non-WebKit based browsers. This has caught the attention of regulatory agencies, including the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which said that “due to the WebKit restriction, Apple makes decisions on whether to support features not only for its own browser, but for all browsers on iOS.”


Following consultation with developers, the CMA is considering forcing Apple to reverse the ban on non-WebKit based browsers to allow for more competition. It is unclear if Apple’s latest push for feedback is related to the growing regulatory pressures around Safari.

Bruce Lawson:

The interesting predicate of this argument is that Apple intend to keep Safari as the sad, buggy app that they’ve allowed it to wither to, because it has no competition. I emphatically do not want Chromium to win. Quite the opposite: I want Apple to allow the WebKit team to raise its game so there is an excellent competitor to Chromium.

WebKit is available on Windows, Linux and more. Safari was once available on Windows, but Apple silently withdrew it. SVP of software Eddy Cue, who reports directly to Tim Cook, wrote in 2013

The reason we lost Safari on Windows is the same reason we are losing Safari on Mac. We didn’t innovate or enhance Safari….We had an amazing start and then stopped innovating… Look at Chrome. They put out releases at least every month while we basically do it once a year.

There is browser choice on MacOS, and 63% of MacOS users remain with Safari (24% use Chrome, 5.6% use Firefox). As everyone who works on browsers knows, a capable browser made by the Operating System’s manufacturer and pre-installed greatly deters users from seeking and installing another.

Update (2022-03-09): Jack Wellborn:

By going all in on JavaScript-based cross platform development, Microsoft has clearly decided to become Google before Google becomes Microsoft.

So why doesn’t Apple want to support progressive web apps? People assume it’s just because progressive web apps would hurt App Store revenue. While I am sure that’s certainly a factor, I suspect the App Store is the least of Apple’s concerns. Like Microsoft, I suspect Apple sees progressive web apps as an existential threat. Unlike Microsoft however, Apple can’t address this threat by completely embracing progressive web apps. At the end of the day, Microsoft can become Google because they are both software and services companies.

See also: Hartley Charlton.

Update (2022-06-24): Alex Russell (via Hacker News):

Contrary to claims of Apple partisans, iOS engine restrictions are not preventing a “takeover” by Chromium — at least that’s not the primary effect. Apple uses its power over browsers to strip-mine and sabotage the web, hurting all engine projects and draining the web of future potential.