Can't trust this: Inconsistencies shake faith in Apple

When it comes to Apple, I’m a pretty trusting guy. I trust that Apple will protect my data the best that it can. I trust that Apple will continue to release new iPhones, iPads, and Macs every year. I trust that the company won’t suddenly turn into an evil conglomerate bent on world destruction.

But in day-to-day practical terms, there are several important ways in which I don’t trust Apple. Given how much I rely on the company, that’s a problem.

Speechless Siri

I can’t trust Siri. No one loves Siri more than I do—or at least more than I used to. The problem is that these days using Siri has started to feel like being a contestant on Press Your Luck. Sometimes, my reminders are saved near instantly, my iMessages composed and sent as fast as I can speak. That’s wonderful—it’s delightful technology at its best.

Other times, though, I get that Siri response that makes me want to smash my iPhone’s delicate screen against the nearest available hard surface: “I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now.” Siri, like so much in life, is good only when it actually does what it’s supposed to.

Unfortunately, Siri ends up shrugging off my requests way too often. Even if the intelligent assistant works eight times out of every ten, those other two times—when Siri ignores my instruction—are enough to make me question my continued reliance on it. In the time that I spend gritting my teeth and cursing over Siri’s inability to open the Fitbit app, I could have just unlocked my phone and tapped the icon myself.

The fact that I can’t trust Siri to be reliable is a problem—for me, and for Apple, which would dearly like us all to be using Siri day in, day out. I’m sure an Excel spreadsheet could help me calculate precisely how much time I waste if Siri normally makes me 50 percent faster but fails 20 percent of the time and makes the task take three times as long. But then again, I’m a writer, not a spreadsheet nerd.

The Apple app falls too far from the tree

But if I were a spreadsheet nerd, you can bet that I’d rely on Excel, not Numbers. I can’t rely on Numbers, Pages, or Keynote as much as I can depend upon—deep breath—Microsoft’s Office apps.

I know, I know. I can explain. (Clippy: “It looks like you’re writing crazy talk. Would you like to be committed?”)

Apple has demonstrated, repeatedly, that it has no qualms about revamping its marquee apps—and that said revamping can include pulling beloved features. It happened with iMovie, with Final Cut Pro, and more recently with the iWork suite. Pulling features is Apple’s right as the company that makes the software. But if Apple yanks out a feature you rely on—even something as simple as a Keynote transition whose absence makes your presentation suffer—that can leave you with a Blu-ray-esque bag of hurt.

Say what you will about Microsoft (suggestions include “Haha, Zune,” “They got the Ballmer they deserved,” and “Haha, Zune” again), that’s a company that doesn’t pull features from its flagship apps. Microsoft Word’s toolbars may eventually take up two-thirds of your screen, but you can bet your sweet bippy that the arcane feature you relied on in Word 2010 will stick around in Word 2013.

Microsoft doesn’t cull features; Apple does. Apple’s approach makes it hard for me to trust my most important data to its apps—I fear the backward incompatibilities of tomorrow.

Send in the clouds

And boy oh boy, don’t get me started on iCloud. I don’t use iCloud to sync my calendar, my contacts, or my email. I put my trust in—of all companies—Google. While Google has sync down cold, Apple’s track record is terrible.

I’ve heard too many friends (including numerous Macworld staffers) complain of borked bookmarks, duplicated contacts, missing events, and worse because they relied on iCloud.

There’s “it just works” and then there’s iCloud. Sometimes it works great. Maybe it always works great for you. For me, sometimes it works a treat, and other times a reminder won’t sync until hours after I’d scheduled it to, you know, remind me about something.

I trust that Apple wants iCloud to work, but I don’t have faith that my data will sync properly. Apple wants me to believe that the truth is in the cloud, but my confidence is shaken.

Trust me

Apple isn’t alone. Microsoft (PlaysForSure!), Google (Reader!), and every other tech company of any size will break users’ trust over time.

But I’m a big Apple fan. When Google betrays my trust, I’m frustrated but not surprised. When I can’t trust Apple, it’s uniquely galling: Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe, I want to trust that Apple’s products and services will work well, reliably, and consistently.

I want to trust Apple, and I don’t. I’m still waiting for the company to deliver on old promises it has made: Whither the FaceTime open standard? Where’s the option to AirPrint directly to any printer?

I want to trust that Siri will perform my mundane task for me on the first try, and not attempt to placate me with hollow apologies. I want to trust that the features I depend on won’t vanish from my apps. And boy, I wish that the confident “it just works” mentality I feel when I drag a file into Dropbox applied when I save a document to iCloud. But I don’t trust Apple as much as I’d like.

Although I still believe that Apple’s intent is to surprise and delight its customers, I get the sense that the company is coasting. Sure, we complain about iCloud, we whine about Siri, and we bellyache about features that go missing—but we’re still Apple customers. Apple can milk our loyalty for a long while.

But it’s problematic for Apple that when I want calendar, contacts, and email services that I can rely on, I instead turn to Google. And it’s nearly as troublesome that I turn to Word far more often than Pages whenever BBEdit won’t suffice. Apple can coast with this undercurrent of untrustworthiness for some time thanks to its fantastic products and its focus on design. But continued long-term success will require that Apple take a hard look at what it doesn’t do right, and work on fixing it.

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