Today, the App Store is the world’s safest and most vibrant app marketplace, with over half a billion people visiting each week. Privacy, security, quality and curation are fundamental to the App Store. Every app must meet and maintain Apple’s strict guidelines to launch and remain on the App Store.
All of the issues below are from up-to-date systems running Catalina and iOS 13 that I discovered before 11am on a normal Tuesday morning.
First, the Mac App Store.
Remember. This is the storefront Apple expects developers to base our livelihoods on and hand over 30% to use.
Let’s check in on Photos.
“10,376 Photos, 942 Videos” vs “10,773 Photos, 1,135 Videos”. No idea which one is correct. Both devices have been powered on and online for days – including overnight.
Take a photo on iOS and watch it sync to other iOS devices near-instantly. Never appears on Catalina.
Since upgrading to Catalina, I simply cannot sign in on this Mac. Restart the machine. Sign out / in of iCloud in System Preferences. Restart again. Repeat. Nothing. Just silent failures.
I know my password is correct because if I purposely enter I bad one I get this.
But exactly how fucked is Music.app overall you ask? It’s this fucked…
And also perpetually-spinning-progress-indicator fucked…
It’s also they-even-broke-the-sign-up-page fucked….
As well as can’t-display-the-price fucked…
Now, I know what you may be saying. Surely this is just the result of a bad HTTP request when Music.app fetched the template data, right? Sure. Probably. But it persists across reboots.
So, while Music.app is walking around with its pants down in this seemingly-permanent fucked state, is it displaying any real data at all? You betcha!
First off, “###!###” is not the title of a playlist I’ve ever created. Secondly, those aren’t any albums I’ve ever listened to. So, 🤷♀️
And just to round out this totally normal Catalina Tuesday morning, here’s a final surprise that actually doesn’t relate to Apple’s inability to operate a web service.
It’s just a text editor that’s been installed on my Mac since Mojave and has been working fine since upgrading to Catalina a month ago. But this morning? Nope. Just not gonna run. I should probably contact my Administrator like macOS suggests.
iCloud and services failings like this happen to myself and tons of other folks I know All. The. Time. I’ve seen wonky behavior like this for years on macOS. How can this stuff not be solid? Services revenue is literally the company’s new financial focus.
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.
And now how many OSes and hardware products do they have?
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.
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.
My sister just texted me this screenshot unprompted, out of the blue…
And then we had this conversation…
(Oh, and as for her screenshot; what kind of animal has 77 un-updated apps on their phone?)
And then in the conversation that followed…
I get that Apple is likely trying to be helpful (while also driving engagement to their first party apps), but this is purely arrogant design to “require” an HTTPS URL to open in a specific app, when that app isn’t even installed.
All other 3rd party Universal Links fall back to the browser if the companion app isn’t installed. Why don’t Apple’s first party links? The App Store marketing page says…
A store that welcomes competition. We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers.
So I guess we’ll soon see the ability to set a default 3rd party web browser or mail client?
I’ve seen App Review miss tons of shady shit, but this one is particularly vile. Granted, it comes from a ten month old reddit post, so I can’t be sure exactly whether or not this trick still works with iOS 13. But that’s not the point. It did work at one point. And it got past App Review.
Just in case it’s not clear: this scammer instructs the user to place their finger on the phone’s home button so they can scan it to provide “personalized diet” recommendations. And as soon as the user does that, they prompt for a $99.99 in-app purchase, which, of course, is instantly approved because their finger is on the home button to authorize it. It’s brilliant.
So, what’s the point of App Review again? To quote Apple’s marketing page for the App Store:
We created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps…
We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security, and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users.
The Mac App Store is rife with shoddy software that should never have passed App Review as well as outright scams. I’m looking forward to calling out the many offenders (got any tips?), but until then, let’s start with this slightly bizarre website.
(I’m not going to link to them because I refuse to send any google juice their way.)
But, basically, it’s just an auto-generated WordPress site with copy/paste instructions for installing basically any Mac app using homebrew. It nonchalantly encourages normal users to pipe a shell script as root directly from the web. What could go wrong?
Clearly this website has no real affiliation with Apple – I’m not blaming them for this scam existing. The web has always had crap like this on it.
But, the fact that it has been online and scamming consumers since 2015 and is still online hints at the neglect they’ve historically shown to the real Mac App Store. Any other company the size of Apple that actually cared would have had it taken down by an army of lawyers years ago.