As a company, Apple is constantly innovating: rolling out new features, making changes to old ones, fixing bugs, and so on. That’s great. It’s exactly what we expect from technology companies.
But an equally important part of that process is finding a way to communicate those changes to its users, and that’s one area where Apple has recently demonstrated a more mixed record. The company has made a few choices that have left some users scratching their heads, trying to figure out exactly how to use or find a feature—or whether they should at all.
Finding Find My
As of iOS 13, Apple rolled two of its location-related apps—Find My Friends and Find My iPhone—into a single program called Find My. The app itself is perfectly fine: it maintains the most important features of those apps, but groups them together in a sensible fashion.
Unfortunately, one thing Apple didn’t do as effectively was communicate that change to its users. Sure, if you’re the kind of person who pays close attention to Apple keynotes or reads Apple news sites regularly, you were probably aware of Find My. But for users who aren’t as attuned to the vagaries of Apple software updates, the first indication they had that anything was different was when they went looking for the Find My Friends app and it was simply gone. My podcast co-host and fellow Macworld alum Lex Friedman told me that he had several acquaintances ask where the app had gone. I heard from one friend—who works at a tech company, no less—who was befuddled by Find My Friends seemingly vanishing, and concluded that it didn’t run on his phone anymore. Many of these users even went to the App Store to see if they could redownload the Find My Friends app, only to discover that it wasn’t there either.
While Apple has started including splash screens in many of its apps to give users an overview of what’s new, that’s not very useful if you can’t find the app in the first place. And though it’s quite possible that some of these users would have eventually stumbled across the Find My app, they probably weren’t going to be feeling too charitable by that point.
It would have behooved Apple to find a gentler way of indicating this change to users. Perhaps when they searched for Find My Friends on their phone or the App Store, it could have provided a notice that its features had been subsumed into the new Find My app. Or perhaps it could have displayed a more prominent note upon updating to iOS 13—because whatever it did just wasn’t enough.
No trust Shortcuts
The other week, I went to share a useful Shortcut with my wife. For some reason, however, my attempts to AirDrop or iMessage it to her were unsuccessful. In the first case the shortcut never appeared; in the latter, she couldn’t seem to open the link in Messages.
At this point I remembered another one of iOS 13’s changes: there’s now a switch in the Shortcuts section of Settings that controls whether or not you can run untrusted shortcuts (i.e. those not created by you or downloaded from Apple’s Shortcuts Gallery). Figuring I had nailed the culprit, I opened her phone’s Settings app, went to Shortcuts and…nothing. The preference to allow untrusted shortcuts wasn’t even there.
This was puzzling. I spent a little time researching and eventually found the answer: in order to even get that preference to show up in Settings, you need to download and run a shortcut from the Gallery first.
Look, I understand trying to keep users safe from purveyors of malicious shortcuts, but this solution seems to be taking things a bit too far. Hiding a preference until a user passes some sort of test that they know what they’re doing? It’s all a bit too “father knows best” for my taste—and it’s detrimental to people who just want to run a helpful shortcut. Apple built this incredibly powerful feature into its operating system, but it seems to want to limit how its customers actually use it without telling them it’s done so.
If nothing else, the Shortcuts pane in Settings should always at least explain how to get access to the Allow Untrusted Shortcuts switch, but I’d argue it should just be there in the first place. Otherwise you certainly aren’t showing a lot of trust for your users.
Shortcuts isn’t the only place that Apple is trying to overprotect its users. When macOS Catalina can’t verify the provenance of an app, it pops up a warning—which tells users that the application in question might contain malware.
Again, I get it. Apple’s new security model introduced with Catalina means that the company scrutinizes applications not distributed via the Mac App Store with its notarization process. But, at the same time, nothing has effectively changed regarding those third-party apps. The malware-free apps you were using previously are probably still malware-free. And while it’s good to be cognizant of the source of apps you’re running, this seems overboard.
Perhaps Apple could find a better way of conveying this information to users, without trying to scare them that their computers are going to be infected with malicious software.
None of this is beyond Apple’s abilities; the company can successfully communicate when it wants to. For all of the downsides to the 32-bit to 64-bit app transition in Catalina, it’s hard to argue that users weren’t well warned over the course of many years. Perhaps Apple just needs to take that same approach to some of its smaller transitions as well.