Attention to detail

From Peter N Lewis (author of my beloved Keyboard Maestro):

Upgraded to iOS 13.2 on my iPhone SE – practically the first experience is it asking for Light or Dark Appearance, with the text of “Light” and “Dark” partially cutoff by the “Continue” button at the bottom. It was attention to details like that that attracted me to Apple…

You can’t even tell wether Light or Dark is selected without scrolling.

I get it. My team did a complete UI rewrite (don’t ask) this Summer. And throughout the whole time building out screens I knew in the back of my head that small phones were going to be trouble because design mocked everything up for X class devices.

So I tried to build the UI with that in mind along with a modicum of testing as we sprinted towards our deadline. And, still, we had nearly a week of testing and cleanup dedicated to fixing small screen layout bugs.

But this is Apple.

On a damn onboarding screen that every iOS user has to go through. I just…

Are you listening, Apple?

The tagline of this blog is “Software is awful.” We all know that. But hardware can be equally awful as well.

David Heinemeier Hansson throwing down some truth on Apple’s deaf ears:

My great hope for the keyboard debacle is that Apple pulls a Johnson & Johnson 1982 move and recalls every single laptop they’ve sold since 2015, and gives buyers a new scissor-keyboard equipped model instead. How many billions might that cost? A quarters’ worth of buybacks?

It sounds so implausible under modern corporate ethics. Where Apple is a forerunner in deny, deflect, delay, and dismiss. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The most profitable computer company in the history of the world could choose a different way.

I know it’s institutionally almost impossible for Apple to accept that they not only fucked up the MacBook’s keyboard, but that they failed to fix their fuckup for 4 years running, with several attempts. They’re proud people, Apple. But I’d be prouder still of them if they did.

Johnson & Johnson correctly diagnosed in 1982 that the Tylenol murders had the potential to run their business and their brand for decades to come. They recalled every bottle, even if it wasn’t their fault!, and they won consumer confidence back.

Apple’s consumer confidence amongst people who’ve been stricken by the keyboard debacle is hurting. Maybe it’s not showing up in their net-promoter scores yet, but it’s there. Oh it’s there. I-FUCKING-BOUGHT-A-WINDOWS-LAPTOP it’s there.

Hey @tim_cook, I know you know the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol case study. I doubt there’s a business major who hasn’t been exposed to that one. Consider how you might turn this keyboard debacle into the next case study we’ll talk about in 30 years 🙏_

Apple sells $25B worth of Mac stuff per year. The keyboards have been fucked for four years. They sold $100B of Mac stuff in that time frame. Say half of that is laptops? $50B. Say half would do exchange program? $25B. To win the hearts and minds back? CHEAP!

Compared to the cost of losing customers forever, it’s a steal.

Are you listening, Apple?

This is neither rare nor isolated nor fixable with a program that gives you another shitty keyboard of the same design that’ll go bust again.

Apple, can you hear us now? You’re squandering two decades worth of developer goodwill with this shit.

Jared Floyd replies:

That’s where I am. This MacBook Pro is my last Apple laptop after 20 years. I’ve replaced 10 keys so far — at my own expense because AppleCare wants to take away my primary work tool for several days for warranty repairs. This is garbage.

Keyboards. Catalina. iOS 13. Bricked HomePods. Broken multitasking.

What in the actual fuck is happening?

Are they just too focused on Apple Card, Apple TV+, and selling hardware subscriptions?

A Growing Chorus

I mean, when the folks you go to for some free, developer-friendly podcast PR start turning on you…

From a conversation with another developer friend:

And then there’s this piece from Warner Crocker:

Look I get it. These are big complex systems and sometimes things need to be worked out. So, I’ll grant some leeway for that. But I also get this. Apple has more resources at its disposal than most other companies and it needs to figure this stuff out. It should be embarrassing, but apparently it isn’t embarrassing enough to martial enough of those resources to fix iCloud, which is a system that Apple is relying on more and more as the backbone for services that connect these devices.

 Apple Arcade Arcade Arcade

I’m really trying not to be too much of a jerk on this blog. Especially when it comes to picking on Apple – my most common target. I don’t like to point out small mistakes that are obviously just bugs. Rather, I hope to stick to meatier topics that follow recurring themes like Apple’s big push for services revenue, dark patterns, and other ways that I feel they (and the entire industry!) are regressing.

And so that means providing specific feedback as much as possible – instead of purely just dunking on billion dollars companies for fun. I don’t always stick to that guideline, of course, but I try.

I say all that as a preface to this: the following screenshots and thoughts about Apple Arcade aren’t particularly actionable, and so I hesitated on whether or not I should even write this post. But I decided to do so because I think they represent the general lack of care, attention to detail and polish, and quality that has permeated this entire new season of software.

Is it too many features? A rushed schedule? Poor management? I don’t know. But everything feels sloppy lately.

Look at this screenshot from the Apple Arcade section in the iOS App Store:

The word “Arcade” appears eleven times on that one screen. If this were a website, it would reek of poor SEO keyword stuffing. But it’s not a web page. There’s no search engine to appease. It’s the damn App Store. Either some whiz-bang Marketing genius thinks peppering the store with “arcade” will increase subscription conversions, or the designers just didn’t think through that every app cell saying “Apple Arcade” along with the tab and navigation bar might look silly. Whatever the reason, it’s sloppy and certainly not up to Apple’s typical (historical?) design and copywriting standards.

Here’s another screen:

Eight more times. And don’t get me started on how desperate the repeating “TRY IT FREE” buttons appear.

But let’s take it another step. Apple – famously and meticulously protective of every aspect of their brand – can’t even consistently market a major new services offering like Apple Arcade. Or is it Arcade?

“Apple Arcade” vs “Arcade”

The website doesn’t know either.

Again, everything about these new releases – from the too-soon Catalina public beta, to iOS 13.1 seeding to developers before 13.0 was released, to Catalina itself, to bricked HomePods, to watchOS 6 being delayed on older hardware – I could go on. It all feels rushed.

This isn’t an indictment of engineering. I just think Apple has too many plans rolling out at once via an outdated software development cycle that simply isn’t scaling anymore. Remember, Leopard was delayed for months because they couldn’t handle OS X and iPhone OS simultaneously. And the botched MobileMe rollout? Jobs outright said it was because they tried to do too much at once:

It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store. We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence.

Steve Jobs

And now how many OSes and hardware products do they have?

iOS Scrollbars and Discoverability

First of all, Michael Gubik says

Just discovered you can drag scroll bars on iOS (you have to hold for half a second)

And, oh my god, it works.

I’ve been using an iPhone since June 29, 2007 – twelve years! – and I never knew this was a thing. To quote Hannes Oud

Is this a new feature? I guess it is, according to Jared Sinclair

@steipete I would keep the custom handle. I’m a developer and an Apple nerd and even I didn’t discover the new feature until someone showed me, and at this moment I can’t even remember how to do it.

If developers as tuned-in to the Apple ecosystem as myself and those quoted above had no idea about this feature, how on earth are normal users ever going to figure this stuff out? Do we just accept that scrolling quickly (by dragging) is only for power-users – like keyboard shortcuts on a desktop? (Well, to be fair, at least keyboard shortcuts are discoverable since they’re listed next to each menu item.)

This all goes back to discoverability and flat design and UI affordances. Back to when a button looked like something you could click or tap (or lick). Matej Bukovinski, of fantastic PSPDFKit fame, writes:

We were considering dropping our custom drag handle in favor of the new draggable scroll bars. However, discoverability is simply not good enough. I’m sure everybody tried it when fist getting an iPhone and then made peace with the previous behavior.

It’s great to see 3rd party developers trying to improve the situation for their customers. It just sucks that they need to.

I’ll leave you with this.

Deceptive FOMO from OneTravel

Just to prove I’m not a jerk who only calls-out Apple and that all software really is becoming universally awful, here’s a fun one about OneTravel that Ophir Harpaz pointed out:

All of those urgent “XX people are looking at this item!” warnings that litter the web? We all know they’re likely bullshit. Well, she took the time to verify that claim by taking a peek at the underlying JavaScript. And for OneTravel specifically, this FUD is literally a random number between 28 and 45.

So, shoutout to the web developer (née, engineer) who carried out middle management’s instructions to implement this lovely piece of software.

The new Catalina TV app and forced advertisements

Benjamin Mayo tweets:

Also the TV app on the Mac is a web view in a (very) thin wrapper and lacks key functionality like the ability to open a context menu. You can’t right click or long press on anything.

If you Force Touch on something, you get this wonderful artefact of it being a web view.

I don’t pretend to know the timeline the Apple engineers who built these shoddy new apps were under. Maybe there simply wasn’t enough time or resources available to make a native app versus a hastily constructed web view. Lord knows, I’ve fallen back to using a web view for complex layouts in my own apps when up against a deadline. But not for the whole damn app.

His entire thread is a good critique worth reading – particularly this bit:

The Apple TV+ experience will also suffer from the ‘advertisements of stuff to buy everywhere’ design of the TV app — something which I think will sadly never change — that I first described back in April.

As I’ve mentioned before, this goes hand-in-hand with Apple’s new push for services revenue at the expense of UX and what customers actually want. The Catalina and iOS 13 App Stores feature new Apple Arcade sections that you can’t get rid of. And the latest Apple TV update includes a dedicated, non-removable Arcade app that Apple helpfully places in the top row of your apps when you upgrade.

(Side note: Even the Mac App Store on Mojave is running a giant ad about Apple Arcade, which isn’t even available for those who haven’t upgraded to Catalina. Further, they can’t even be bothered to take the time to do it right. Just look at how the headlines are truncated when the window isn’t fullscreen.)

I get it. They want their services to be successful. And part of ensuring that is making certain everyone knows these new offerings are available. It’s called advertising and I’m totally fine with that. I’m even all in favor of Apple Arcade as a way for quality developers to get paid for making quality games without resorting to dirty in-app purchase shenanigans.

So, please, Apple. Tell me all about Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ and your “vision for television“. Sell me on their immense value and benefits. But then let me dismiss your advertisements and get the fuck on with using the hardware I paid for.