Hey, Apple Fixed This!

In this column, I point out things that Apple should fix in macOS, iOS, and in its services and hardware. But it's important to acknowledge the company when they do fix some of the more egregious problems that plague users.

Apple gave us an extensive look at the next versions of macOS and iOS at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, and a number of the new features it announced fix long-standing issues. I'd like to highlight a few issues that Apple has announced that they will be fixing in the next versions of macOS and iOS.

Messages

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iOS

Apple’s iOS Setting app needs a major UI overhaul

When you set up a new iPhone or iPad, a few screens walk you through some of the most important settings for the device. You’re asked to enter your Apple ID and password; you’re asked if you want to use location services; and you get queried about Siri. But beyond that, iOS starts working with a slew of default settings. It’s up to you to find them, figure them out, and tweak them.

Unfortunately, the iOS Settings app can be confusing. It’s hard to find what you need to change, and some settings are buried in sub-sub-sub-menus.

I count 44 different top-level settings categories on my iPhone, and then 84 more because third-party apps also have entries, many of which contain options that are also found in the Location, Notifications, Background App Refresh, Cellular Data, and Privacy settings. Few of them contain any actual app settings, and those that do also provide access to those settings from the individual apps. If I add up the iOS settings and the app settings, I have a total of 128 top-level entries in the Settings app. And many users will have more than that, because they have more apps on their devices.

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App Store upgrades: It’s not that Apple can’t do it, but they won’t do it

Apple’s iOS and Mac app stores revolutionized software distribution. They provide one-stop shops for apps from vendors around the world, allowing software developers to offer their products without worrying about setting up distribution contracts. They also take care of the fulfillment (billing and downloads), saving developers time and hassle. In exchange, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of sales, which is fair for the service they provide.

But there’s one thing you can’t do in Apple’s app stores: you cannot provide a new version of your apps to existing customers at a discount. You can’t offer upgrade pricing.

Upgrade pricing makes a lot of sense for software. It helps developers retain customers and it rewards loyalty. Upgrades are generally very similar to existing versions, with a few new features and perhaps a refreshed interface, so it’s not fair to expect users to pay full price. If you do, many users won’t opt for the new versions, and developers generally prefer if most of their users run the latest versions of their software.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if Mac error messages actually told us what’s wrong?

As I pointed out in a recent article, bugs exist in every application and hardware device, and Apple has a bug reporting system that many developers find annoying. But for end users—you and me—dealing with these issues can be frustrating. The error messages you see when something goes wrong with your software or hardware often offer you no help, nor give you any clue as to what is causing the problem.

You may have a crash with Mail, and be met with a message saying “Mail quit unexpectedly.” I guess this is from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, because, unless you direct an app to quit, this shouldn’t happen. This sort of error message doesn’t help you understand anything, but at least it informs you about what happened. You might have an app in the background and wonder where its window went, so this dialog informs you that you won’t find it.

Error messages on the Mac often appear as Zen kōans; they suggest that you ponder the deeper meaning of the universe in order to understand what they mean. For example, you sometimes get an error from iTunes saying that there is a “temporary problem.”

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Apple’s bug reporting system: An impractical black hole that’s frustrating to use

Everyone who uses a computer or any other computing device—tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, game consoles—know about bugs. These are glitches in an operating system or application that can cause something to go wrong. The name was given when a malfunction on an early electromechanical (pre-transistor) computer was found to have been caused by a moth.

Bugs can be just an annoyance, or they can prevent an app or operating system from performing its tasks. You may find that, say, a window doesn’t display as it should, which is a small problem, or that a specific app doesn’t run, or can’t accomplish a feature you need. In some cases, you can move on and continue what you wanted to do. Some bugs are random, and only happen occasionally, but others are “reproducible;” they occur every time you perform a certain sequence of actions.

No software is bug-free. Like typos in books, there are always bugs to be found. (I have formulated the Law of the Preservation of Typographical Errors, which states that, when proofreading a book, “For every typographical error that is discovered, another one will generate spontaneously.”) We accept that software has bugs, and, in most cases, we live with it. But there are bugs that prevent us from using our software or hardware, and those are very annoying.

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Apple’s desktop Mac lineup: A showcase of old technology

There are lots of things that Apple needs to fix, but one of the most glaring right now is the product line. Sure, we’re on the usual annual cycle of iPhone upgrades. We’ve seen new iPads in recent memory. But what about the Mac? The venerable computer that used to be Apple’s core product is now just an afterthought.

To be fair, the much-ballyhooed MacBook Pro with Touch Bar saw the light only a few months ago, but it’s pricey, underpowered, and connector-challenged.

What about the desktop? Where are new Macs? The iMac hasn’t been refreshed in 521 days. The Mac mini hasn’t seen any changes in 883 days. And the Mac Pro? Apple should be embarrassed selling a computer that hasn’t been changed in 1,184 days at the same price as when it was launched. That top-of-the-line Mac features three-year old technology at three-year old prices. (Thanks to MacRumors whose Buyer’s Guide keeps track of release dates.)

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The mess left behind by Messages

We all send and receive lots of text messages. Some are iMessages, some are SMSs, but everyone uses them. I use text messages to stay in touch with friends and family, to chat with clients and editors, and more. My doctor and dentist send me text messages to remind me of appointments. Amazon, Apple, eBay and others send me text messages letting me know when packages have shipped, and when they have been delivered. And I get text messages from a number of services where I use two-factor authentication to receive 6-digit codes I need to log into my accounts.

It’s convenient that I can see all my text messages on all my devices, thanks to my iCloud account. I can get a text message on my iPhone and see it on my iPad, my iPod touch, or on either of my Macs. For example, it may be useful to see that Amazon text message thread—the one telling me that a package was shipped; then telling me that a package will be delivered today; then telling me that the package was delivered—on every single device. If I don’t have my phone handy, and I’m using my iPad or I’m working on my Mac, I can see a text message, and reply if I need to.

I’m a bit OCD about my Messages list. I don’t like the clutter of conversations I don’t need. It’s easier to find someone in your list if there’s not a long column of throwaway messages in the way, so I delete them when I’m finished with them. It’s not hard to do: on an iOS device, swipe to the left and tap Delete. On a Mac, hover over an avatar in Messages and click the x button.

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