Growth Hackers

This from Pauli Olavi Ojala basically sums up my feelings

The new push for services revenue feels totally off-brand for Apple. Or at least the old Apple. Maybe we’ve entered a new era for the company where growth-at-all-costs is the chief motivator for how they’re going to treat customers going forward.

There’s no way I can better sum up this attitude and the problems it creates for customers than this summary post by Michael Tsai.

In other words, the app is designed to optimize for Apple’s needs rather than the customer’s. I prefer the old strategy where Apple makes its money from hardware, so it’s free to design the software to do the right thing. “Only Apple could do” didn’t only apply to the technical aspects, but also to what it could do because of its business model.

Apple Push Spam

That’s not the best screenshot. The push notification banner kinda blends in with the light background, but OH MY DEAR FUCKING GOD APPLE FUCK THE FUCK OFF.

The entire internet is damn well aware that today, November The First In The Year Of Our Lord Two-Thousand And Nineteen, you have bestowed upon us mere mortals your “vision for TV”.

It is your entire damn homepage.

It’s advertised every five tweets.

It’s all over “regular” TV. I must have seen commercials about it during every game of the recent MLB playoffs.

It’s also practically lighting up and blinking like a shitty 2000’s-era HTML <marquee> tag on Apple TV (the hardware device, not the watered-down, also-ran HBO according to Variety.)

So, yes. WE KNOW.

So please stop breaking your own fucking App Store guidelines and cut this shit with the spam push notifications.

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…

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.

Severe side-eye for Apple’s podcast “URL”s

Dave Verwer, of iOS Dev Weekly fame, tweeted this helpful iOS interaction

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?