Apple’s Going into 2018 with More Than One PR Black Eye

Apple’s brand image has been taking hits left and right over the past six months. I’m not an Apple hater, in fact, I’ve been somewhat of a super fan for many years now. I have the iPhone X, iPad Pro 10.5”, and a MacBook Pro. I use the Apple Pencil and the AirPods. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on Apple gear, and I love it all so much. Apple’s stuff doesn’t come cheap, but to me, the experience I get is worth it. And I preach that to my friends and family (as best as I can without being obnoxious). But that’s gotten difficult as of late. Here are three things that have made Apple look really bad recently…

iPhone X Price Point

I love my iPhone X. The screen is beautiful, the cameras are amazing, and FaceID is straight magic. It’s the best phone I’ve ever owned.

But it seems like every time I pull it out, someone goes, “Didn’t that thing cost you a thousand dollars??!” Yeah, actually, it did. And I happily paid that. I couldn’t wait for preorders to open. I was so excited.

The iPhone X is an iPhone for fanboys and fangirls like me. If you don’t want to spend $1000, get the iPhone 8. It’s a great phone. Compared to any older iPhone, it’s faster, got a better camera, supports wireless charging, and is priced normally for an iPhone.

But to a lot of people, just the fact that Apple sells a phone that costs more than the entire Cracker Barrel menu makes them seem… out of touch. Bourgeoisie even. Apple has always been about premium. But they’re walking a fine line right now.

Or maybe they’re not. Everyone I know with an iPhone X loves it. If we’re all such suckers, heck, they should charge whatever we’ll pay.

Software Bugs

iOS 11 has been kinda rough. It seems to have gotten better recently, but late last year I was just having all kinds of random little bugs. I think I rebooted my iPhone more last November/December than any other month I’ve had an iPhone. These were all little things, all fixed by reboots. But that’s not like Apple.

And then there was been the ‘A [?]’ bug, where all capital letter ‘I’s were replaced with the letter A and a question mark in a box. There was also the root user security hole on the Mac.

What kills me here is that Apple’s hardware game over the last 18 months has been spot on. The new iPad Pro, iPhone X, and AirPods are all amazing, beautiful devices. But the software game just isn’t there right now. Here’s hoping Apple gets that together in 2018.

Slow Down Gate/Battery Gate

Whatever you wanna call this one, this is easily the worst thing that’s happened to Apple PR in the last few years. Before my opinions, let me first state the facts:

  • Apple admitted that they slow down older iPhones.

Wait WHAT? See that’s what you’re all thinking. “I knew it!” you say. “They ARE evil!” But wait, here’s the rest of the story:

  • As batteries get older (all batteries, not just iPhone batteries), their power output starts to get a little unstable.
  • During times of peak performance need (say, playing a 3D game), the iPhone is drawing a lot of power from the battery.
  • If the battery power output all of a sudden dips during one of these times, the iPhone could simply shut off, because it wasn’t expecting the power to cut out.
  • To fix this problem, Apple has programmed the iPhone to, well, expect this power dip. During periods of peak performance, older iPhones may intentionally slow down the processor if it believes the battery is likely to be unreliable.

The point is, Apple is trying to prevent your iPhone from just randomly shutting off right when you’re using it the heaviest. But that’s not really the point. The real point is, The conspiracy theorists were right. I’ve spent years assuring people that no, Apple doesn’t slow down your iPhone just to make you buy a new one. Even though Apple wasn’t technically doing this “to make you buy a new one,” the public perception damage has been done. Apple has done several things to address this problem, including offering battery replacements at over 60% off through all of 2018. They are also updating iOS soon to allow users to turn off this behavior in their iPhone settings. But still. Apple has a lot of ground to make up in 2018.


Link: Apple Rectangles

Mark Stanton writing on Hacker Noon:

“Ever since iOS 7, app icons went from being rounded squares to something more complex and refined. Apple has created design consistency between their hardware and software.”

This article is fascinating. Fair warning, it’s pretty nerdy, but it’s a really cool and obscure “turns out” that I had never heard before. The level of detail that Apple puts into both hardware and software is incredible. I for one didn’t even notice the app icon change in iOS 7. ••

The S-Cycle for Software

Have Apple software updates seemed a bit… rushed lately?  With both iOS and Mac OS X on yearly release cycles, we seem to be getting more quirks and bugs than I’d like.  When this topic is brought up, the solution always seems to be to just do big software releases every two years, or do small pieces throughout the year, instead of having a monolithic update every 12 months.  However, I suggest that Apple’s software team do what their hardware team does: use the s-cycle.

What is the s-cycle?  The s-cycle is the way Apple releases their iPhones.  For example, the iPhone 4 (2010), then the iPhone 4s (2011), then the iPhone 5 (2012), then the iPhone 5s (2013), and so on.  People say, “Well the software team needs to get it together, because the hardware team releases a new iPhone every year with no problems.”  But they really don’t.  They really only release a totally new iPhone every two years, and then release a small update the years in between.  This is the s-cycle.

And it seems to work great.  People still get excited about the -s models, and it’s less demanding on the hardware team, which allows them to make something truly great every two years.  I think that this is what Apple should do with iOS and OS X.

Let’s focus on iOS here.  Suppose that only every other version of iOS had big changes.  The other years would just include some minor updates, and maybe one new headline feature.  But instead of making the -s year the same for the iPhone and iOS (because those years would be a little boring), maybe they could alternate.  That would mean that this fall, we’d get the iPhone 6s (a minor update), and iOS 9 (a big update).  Then next year, we’d get the iPhone 7 (a big update) and iOS 9s (a minor update).  iOS 9s could just include the new features required by the new iPhone hardware, things like Touch ID and Apple Pay, but not much else.  This would allow the software team to slow down a bit, pay more attention to quality control, and make the features they do add really count.

The main problem I see with this alternation is that it’d be sort of confusing.  Because of this, maybe it’s better to just keep calling it iOS 9, 10, 11, etc., but then apply the principle of the s-cycle.  (Another thing: say “iOS 9s” out loud.  Exactly.)  The last thing you want to do to your customers is confuse them – confusion kills excitement.

And that excitement is why Apple should continue to do something every year, instead of every two years.  Why?  Simple psychology.  When something happens every year, people remember it.  Around September, people know that there will be a new iPhone and a new iOS update.  Releasing iOS every two years makes things more complicated.  Come September, people will have to try to remember whether there was an update last year, and whether they should be excited for an update this year.  This sounds trivial, I know, but you want people to be excited about your brand, not hesitantly excited.  You also don’t want to let down the people who thought this was an update year but it wasn’t.  This same psychology also applies to, oh I don’t know, say, weekly blogs and the like.

As you can see, adding an s-cycle to Apple’s software production could slow down the sometimes-breakneck train we call iOS.  Don’t get me wrong, I love new features as much as the next guy, but the last two iOS updates in particular (7 and 8) have been enormous.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dialing back iOS updates just a little bit, especially if they can do it in such a way that still appears to be a yearly update.  Hey, it’s worked for the iPhone.  ••

The Unrealized Potential of the Mac App Store

Pretty much all smartphone platforms have their own app store.  This provides a unified place to find and purchase applications for one’s device.  This is really nice; it makes finding software easy.  Apple pioneered this approach with the iPhone App store (which launched in 2008), and followed with the Mac App Store (in 2011).  When I first got a Mac last spring, I was really excited to use the Mac App Store.  My other computer runs Windows 7, which doesn’t have any sort of app store (the closest thing I have there is CNET).  It sounded really great to not only have a unified place to find apps, but also a unified way to update them (similar to iOS).  In practice, however, I haven’t used the Mac App Store much.  The reason?  The selection is pretty disappointing.  There just aren’t many good apps there.  The couple of times I’ve gone to the Mac App Store looking for something I’ve come away disappointed.  Subdividing this problem of selection, I’ve determined two major reasons why the Mac App Store has such as small assortment of apps.

1.  Sandboxing
Sandboxing is required for all apps on the Mac App Store.  Sandboxing is a term that many people have never heard used in a software context (only in a children’s playground one).  Basically, sandboxing means that each program is completely isolated, in its own “sandbox,” if you will.  The benefit of this is that apps can’t meddle with other apps.  For example, Microsoft Word can’t go over and, say, wreck Firefox’s awesome castle.  This sounds good in principle, until you realize that apps can’t work together either.  Maybe Firefox wanted Word to help with his castle.  The final problem is that apps can’t use common operating system resources that other apps might use too.  Microsoft Word wouldn’t be allowed to play on the swings, because it might hog them and not give Firefox a turn.  Bad analogies aside, sandboxing is something Apple is big on.  They are only now starting to take a step back from sandboxing in iOS with extensions.  Going back to the Mac, many apps simply can’t make themselves available on the Mac App Store, since they require advanced functionality that they can’t have while sandboxed.  This is really a shame, and it means I only have two App Store apps (Microsoft OneDrive and Apple’s Xcode) actually installed on my Mac right now.

2.  Pricing
This is just a pet peeve of mine.  I (like most people, I assume) like free software.  I almost never pay for software; there’s almost always a free alternative out there.  It may not work quite as well, but at least it was free.  The Mac App Store is not a good place to find free software.  For example, the other day I was looking for a way to change the date taken in a photo.  I don’t have iPhoto, and since Apple’s going to replace it with a (free!) “Photos” app in the next year, there’s no reason for me to spend $15 on it.  Searching online, I found a program called “Photo Date Changer.”  This program basically exists just to change the date on photos.  I thought, “Perfect, just what I need.”  This program is on the Mac App Store.  $8.  There is no way I am going to pay $8 for a program that just changes the date on a photo.  I have a theory as to why Mac App Store apps are more expensive.  The reason is that Macs are more expensive.  I guess developers assume that someone willing to spend more money on a Mac is willing to spend more money on software.  I, however, am not.

In conclusion, I hope the Mac App Store gets better.  Maybe Apple will start to open up sandboxing as they have done in iOS.  Maybe, as time goes on, more and more apps will become available on the store.  I hope this happens, but I’m not sure that it’s going to.  Fortunately, there’s always CNET.  ••