The one about Apple

Apple computers have been at the center of my productivity for most of my life. I started with BASIC on an Apple IIe in the early 80s. In the 90s, I studied graphic design and got my start in website development. Since 2000, my livelihood has been linked directly to my Macs: programming, design, photography and filmmaking.

A person's relationship with technology can be complicated. Mine has run the gamut from being the go-to "computer guy" for friends and family to being a die-hard Apple evangelist to downright frustration and embarrassment about my platform of choice.

My relationship with technology has simplified. I am just an end user. I'm too busy to follow rumors and trends, and I no longer understand the intricate inner-workings of the machine. Power users used to have to know how to debug SCSI issues and resolve Extension conflicts before OS X.

Now, things just (supposedly) work.

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genuine 90s rainbow Apple sticker on back of the WRX

There hasn't really ever been a time where that has actually been true. Things work pretty well. Most of the time. And at the end of the day, I can get my work done.

But for the past year or so, I have noticed so many little things that drive me absolutely insane, that I would actually be happy to jump ship, assuming there was another ship to jump to (there's not, yet).

Last November, I started keeping a list of all the things that bug me. Some of them hinder productivity. Some are lost opportunities. They cover the full range of Apple products in my life: Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV.

I won't bore you with the full list, but here are the worst offenders:

Macs

Final Cut Pro X. There are so many sore spots here, it's hard to know where to start. The wounds from the botched launch of FCPX still haven't totally healed, though the program has improved. The main frustration is with the interface. It. Is. Slow. When a timeline grows to any sort of length, everything starts lagging. I'm using the newest and fastest MacBook Pro with Retina display and 16GB of RAM, and I don't have overly-complicated timelines. I break them up into subclips when necessary. Doesn't help much. I like the power and potential of FCPX, and I will stick with it, but four years ago we had a much, much more responsive interface.

Finder. On rainy days when I find myself cleaning up my Mac, I keep a watchful eye on folder sizes as I make backups and move things around. For years, the Finder has been horribly slow at updating folder sizes as you move things around. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to why, but it's always been consistently inconsistent. Another mystery is why sometimes removable drives and SD cards eject instantly, sometimes it takes several seconds, and sometimes it tells me it's in use, when I know good and well that it's not. Anymore it's just as easy to unplug it and disregard Finder warnings.

Mail. It seems like everyone has their own method of using email. Mine is to leave emails marked as unread until I'm able to get to them. Many times this means I will read an email and then mark it as unread. Doing this in Mail is a joke. You usually have to view an email to perform actions on it, so when you tell it that a message should be unread, it's like the computer says "Ok, cool, it's unread. OH HEY I see you're still viewing this email - I will go ahead and mark it as read." NO. Give me a frigging second to navigate away from the email before marking it as read.

Aperture. I jumped on the Aperture bandwagon right around the time everyone else jumped onto Lightroom. I used to be a die-hard fan. Then I tolerated it, the way I currently tolerate Final Cut. Then Apple announced Aperture was being discontinued. Can I still use it? Sure. Do I feel like an idiot for staying with it so long, after years of no meaningful development, only to have it discontinued? Of course. Aperture could have been so much better.

Safari. I try to let Safari remember my credit card info, but it's such a joke when it tries to actually auto-fill forms for me. Almost every time, I have to go get the physical card anyway. Also, almost every single time I try to access a webpage at support.apple.com, it renders as a blank page. No source code. When I have Chrome open the same address, it loads fine. This happens across multiple user accounts on multiple Macs.

Other stuff. When my iPhone rings, my computer also "rings." Only it never stops ringing after I answer the call on the phone. It keeps ringing, indefinitely. Finding where on your Mac you need to go to to disable this "feature" is a joke. Also, though I have spent lots of time assigning customized text tones to the people I text most frequently, and even though I use iCloud to its full potential on all my devices, when people text me, my computer still makes a generic "ding" sound. Also, Messages frequently gets confused about how many unread messages I actually have.

iOS

Autocorrect. At one point years ago, I mistakingly dismissed my phone's attempt to correct my spelling of "Aqesome." To this day, it will replace anything close to (but not exactly) "awesome" with "Aqesome", capital 'A' and all. Even though I always correct the spelling. It doesn't seem to learn twice. It seems to be just about as wrong as it is right, and that's a horrible ratio. I'm sure it's not actually that bad, but it feels that bad.

Touch ID. It has never worked consistently for me for more than a few days. I've switched back to a 4-digit passcode, which is irritating and not very secure.

iPod. The iPhone has, for years, completely missed the opportunity to deliver on the promise of the iPod. The interface has seen some updates, and new features have been added, but by and large, it is embarrassing. We are creatures of habit. Computers are awesome at picking out patterns. I want a smart shuffle that knows where I am (home, car, running), what I usually like to listen to during that activity at that time of day, and what songs are best at following other songs. Learn from my habits. Know that if I shuffle all songs and skip two slow songs and settle on Blink 182, that maybe I don't want to hear a Cure song next.

Pages. I use the iWork apps religiously and have generally been paperless for about four years. iCloud with Pages has really been nice. But it's 2015. We shouldn't have to base new documents on printed page sizes. Give me some presets that are best for note-taking on an iPhone. Give me a responsively-sized document that lets me edit text beautifully on a phone or a Mac.

Siri. My most frequent Siri request is "shuffle all songs," while I'm driving. It's not complicated. Yet almost half the time — and that is not an exaggeration — Siri will not respond for 15-25 seconds, then will come back and say she couldn't process my request. Then I try it again, and it works. I suspect this is because I usually make this request when driving away from my house, and it might be at that awkward time where my phone still thinks I'm within wifi range of my house, but I'm not. Who knows. I'm driving. Why does it even need a network interaction for such a simple command?

AirDrop. I love AirDrop. It's the absolute best new feature of the past few years, in my opinion. Being able to share documents with other people and other devices without the need to find a USB drive is awesome. Only, it is totally and completely a crap shoot. Why it takes so long for people to show up, and why sometimes they never do, is completely beyond me. I understand how to change settings and that there are ways to troubleshoot AirDrop. But it's easier to just grab a USB drive. It's a good example of something that simply does not "just work." The day I no longer need to email files to myself... that will be a beautiful day.

Safari. Sometimes — maybe about 5 percent of the time — when I'm watching a movie in Safari, the "Done" button in the corner doesn't work. I can't dismiss the video. No combination of hitting any other buttons works. I have to force-quit Safari and re-open. This seems to be a new bug, but it has made me hesitant to click movies. Again, it's a crap shoot.

Restarting. I don't have to restart my iOS devices very often. But when I do, I am confounded by the decision to completely dim the screen while it is shutting down. The device looks off, so you try to start it up, but nothing happens. In the right light, you can see a very dim spinner graphic on the screen while it's shutting down. You have to wait for this to go away before you can start it back up. I'm a programmer. I have ideas, try them out and sometimes see that they were not a good idea. It's the process. I get it. But stuff like this shouldn't make it to production.

Apple TV

Photos. I use Aperture to maintain an iCloud library of about 500 of my best photos that I use for a screensaver on the Apple TV. It's great when it works, but more often than not, shortly after going into the screensaver, it will abruptly stop showing my photos and switch to the beautiful (but few) pre-installed National Geographic photos. Why? I have no idea. I have a reliable and fast internet connection. I know the Apple TV can't store all 500 photos. But it shouldn't have to. Show one, buffer the next few, then release from memory. This is amateur stuff. And when it does work, it seems to pick about 10 photos from the 500 and repeat those randomly.

Interface. I have the Apple TV app on my iPhone, I have a wireless Apple keyboard that connects with the Apple TV and I have the small remote that came with the Apple TV. None of these devices is very good at navigating the interface. I always feel like I'm wading through oatmeal.

Live streams. I used to make an event out of watching Apple keynotes. But I've been burned on so many glitchy live streams that I really don't try anymore. This seems like the kind of problem that Apple can get away with having once or twice. You learn from mistakes and fix them. But it's a joke.


None of these are deal-breakers. But they are all questionable, and the net result to this end user is that the system feels unreliable. It feels beta. And before things get fixed, new features get added that also feel unfinished. Broken services. Missed opportunities.

Will I keep using Apple products? Of course. I'm heavily invested in the ecosystem. And there has never been a time where everything has been completely solid. But something feels different about this. It's unsettling. And it's getting harder to defend Apple to the people that ask for guidance.

Comments

Well said, Dave. I haven't the technical expertise that you do, but I've had some frustrating times with Apple, but, as you said, there has never been another ship worthy of a jump. I remember when I went to buy my first computer. I had been working on Macs in graphics at Sheraton Lehman brothers, and on a PC at Schering-Plough (part time). I knew the mac much better and thought that perhaps buying a PC would make my PC work easier. But as I mulled it over, I finally decided, no, darn it, this is for me. I want to use the computer, not fix problems. And I picked a mac.

Years later, when my daughter Suzi was in high school, I got her a mac as a reward for making dean's list, or whatever it's called in high school. Later, when she was going to college, she said, "Why did you ever get me a mac? It is such a pain when everything in the classes are PCs." A year or so later, she said, "I'm so glad you got me a Mac."

Back at Schering-Plough, I was working with a PC guy who one day said that he had too much invested in his PCs to change, but that if he were to have a chance to start over, he'd go Mac.

And, one last story, when I was working as an Intel rep in Best Buy's computer section, it was amazing how many shoppers came in looking at PCs and wound up in the Mac section, due to the Best Buy people.

Don't lose faith yet. I bet Apple will be back better than ever. And certainly better than their competition.

Dave Conley
Jan. 14, 2015, 5:59 p.m.

Nice blog, I can relate to some of these for sure. "The day I no longer need to email files to myself... that will be a beautiful day."... you hit it on the head with AirDrop. An wonderful idea, simple as can be, poorly executed. The only way I can get it to work is to set it to AirDrop to Everyone. Restricting to just my Contacts doesn't work. So frustrating! I don't want some guy at the airport to try to send me files.

Denny Deaton
Jan. 14, 2015, 6:03 p.m.

Dave - your success stories sound like many I've had as well. I've loved converting people and helping to simplify their computing lifestyle. Apple TVs make great gifts. But I've kind of moved to a wait-and-see approach with my recommendations. I'm hopeful they'll rebound. I'd like to see 2015 be the year of solid reliability upgrades, but I have a feeling it's going to be the year of the Apple Watch instead (something which, for me personally, isn't anywhere close to my want/need radar).

Denny - no kidding man. I set my AirDrop to the same thing when I try to use it. But no matter what I do, I can't send from my iPad to either laptop. So I send from the iPad to the iPhone to the laptop. Hey, it just works!

Dave Heinzel
Jan. 14, 2015, 7:17 p.m.

I came late to the game with Apple starting around the time of the iPad 2. I was hooked immediately and set out to get an iPhone, MacBook, and iMac over the next few years. What got me was how they could make using a computer something pleasant and almost resembling "fun." That's the Apple magic. Though some of that "fun" definitely starts to diminish when you can no longer say "it just works."

Arlin Peebles
Jan. 15, 2015, 5:04 a.m.

I came across this article today and thought I should drop off the link. It got me wondering if perhaps Apple is losing some of the specialness. It does happen in this world. It would be sad if some competitor became better than Apple, especially if the bar was lower.

Dave Conley
Jan. 15, 2015, 6:44 p.m.