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Matt Wilcox

Musing

Mar 10th 2015

Apple has a software problem

I'm coming to realise Apple don't do software well. OSX's strengths are from UNIX; most iOS apps are unused; iTunes is atrocious.

NOTE: The article you're reading here was an off-the-cuff post, you may prefer to read the more considered version of this article.

I use, enjoy, and generally prefer Apple products. But that doesn't mean I think Apple are infallible - upgrading to iOS8.2 sparked of the following thoughts:

iOS

I've just installed iOS 8.2, and as part of that process I've added yet another Apple application into my 'Apple Bin' folder ('Apple Trash' for any Americans reading). There are currently 15 Apple apps in that folder, which are there because I have no use for them, and they are un-deletable.

  • Maps
  • Calendar
  • FaceTime
  • Notes
  • iBooks
  • Podcasts
  • Passbook
  • Newsstand
  • Reminders
  • Health
  • Tips
  • Game Centre
  • Apple Watch
  • Weather
  • Stocks (has to be the least used app on any mobile device)

This got me thinking, and my conclusion is that Apple just aren't very good at software.

Addressing this specific problem; I can understand why Apple offer these apps, and even pre-install them. But why restrict them from being deleted? How much space on my iOS device is being taken up by these apps I don't use? It's already a widely known issue that iOS devices at the bottom end of the scale are causing users storage problems - why add to that problem?

The fact is, of those apps, five I have replaced with third party apps more suited to me - this is how it should be. But that makes the Apple versions pointless. The rest are just useless to me because I don't care about what they do. Here's the list of Apple apps I do use:

  • Message
  • Mail
  • Clock
  • Settings
  • App Store
  • Contacts
  • Calculator
  • Camera
  • Photos
  • Safari

Conclusion: I use less than 50% of the apps Apple forces on me, and I'm being generous calling things like 'Contacts' an app. I expect I am very far from alone in this sort of statistic. This wouldn't be an issue at all if these apps were removable. But they're not, and there's no good reason why they're not.

Other problems with Apple software?

I'll just reel off some thoughts based on my experience:

Almost all of OSX's functional strengths come from its UNIX origin, and they botched some of that too (there's no Apple sanctioned package manager).

iTunes is an atrocious mess from a user perspective and has a long history of being awful in many ways. That's without looking at the Windows version.

They keep killing their pro apps and replacing them with over-simplified 'common user' targeted apps. I understand they're aiming at a wider audience, but that audience is not me and Apples move is at the expense of people like me. Less selfishly; the way they communicate these moves is disrespectful. You could buy Aperture for weeks after it was announced it was to be retired imminently in the press. That's not good. Conversely when they End of Life'd Final Cut Pro 7 they did it with no warning at all, and agencies based on that software couldn't buy new copies for new staff from that point on. Which is also not good.

The app stores are both heavily gamified, because Apple's design promotes that, and as such offer very poor experiences that hurt users and makers. Not to mention a terribly inconsistent enforcing of app store rules.

Safari on OSX: the only browser not to be on a rolling update plan in 2015. It's now one of the worst browsers there is most of the year, until they finally update it again with a full OS release. Then it's merely middle of the pack.

In conclusion

Apple are excellent at hardware, great at design, have a strong design sense and leadership. But they are seriously lagging behind the standards set in those particulars when it comes to software - and I'm seeing little improvement year over year.

Arguably the only bit of software that lives up to Apple's standards in other areas is iOS itself.

This concerns me, because software is an obvious weak point in Apple's offerings, and yet I'm not seeing it being addressed very well.