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An open question to Apple

An open question to Apple

Dear Apple, I have been meaning to write this letter to you for some time now.  To my discredit I have been putting it off and putting it off, however in the last hour I have tried (and failed) to complete the simple task of adding an event to my calendar without you trying to auto–fill the address.  This has adequately focused my mind (read – driven me bananas) to bring this item to the top of the agenda (read – it shouldn’t really be but I need to assuage the rage) and here we are (read – what major global issue hasn’t been straightforwardly resolved by a self–righteous keyboard warrior).

My question is this.  How can a company which has designed and built products of the staggering beauty of the iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook and Apple Watch also produce the steaming piles of pus that are Calendar (iCal to Gen X), Apple Music (iTunes to Gen X) and Photos (iPhoto to Gen X)?

Perhaps you have a “big screen belter movie blockbuster” products division where all your brightest employees go and a “straight–to–DVD” division where all the reprobates and lower–performers are sent for purgatory?  Perhaps the only difference between the two divisions are that users aren’t allowed to contribute to any design decisions in the “straight–to–DVD” section?

Faux leather may have looked good on my uncle’s 1973 Ford Capri, but its time had long since passed when it made it into iCal in 2013.  But my Calendar beef doesn’t lie with its skeuomorphism which represents the least of that product’s worries (and has since been mercifully decommissioned).  Who decided that the product should not just automatically auto–fill the address, but then not allow the user to overwrite the auto–fill, even if she wants to?  As I write, I genuinely cannot tell you how to edit a current Calendar entry with confidence that the changes will be accepted.  The product is so bad that a number of competitors have emerged, one of which I have paid £32 for the privilege of using.  How bad does a product have to be when it is the free default, for competitors to dominate and for customers to be prepared to pay £32 just to take the pain away?

Jumbling all my photos on the kitchen table with no discernable categorization might be a fun game to play with the kids on a wet Sunday afternoon but it’s no way to arrange a lifetime of digital pics.  And regarding the less desirable elements of Apple Music, deleting files off someone else’s computer was never cool, at any time, for any context, “product bug” or otherwise.

The humble hockey puck mouse, the cause of so much ire for so many people, was at least a noble attempt at having a go in the late 1990s when there were fewer good mice on the market.  It was quickly evolved and later iterations of the Apple mouse (eventually) came good.  Products such as the Newton Message Pad, Portable Macintosh and the Apple Pippin were quickly stood down when Apple realised they were well short of the mark.

So why have we not seen the overhaul of software which is bundled with hardware and your various operating systems?  You must know in your hearts that it’s awful.

We watched in awe as the audience clapped when Steve Jobs showed how scrolling worked on an iPhone during his Macworld Keynote in San Francisco in 2007.  We wept with (read – laughed at) the YouTube viral guy who opened his iPhone 6 on the first day of release and dropped it as he opened it.  Some of us have even had the temerity to use your design parlance “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like; design is how it works” and “Creativity is just connecting things” when trying to sell experience design.

So maybe its time for the tables to be turned and for you to do the listening?

Spare a thought for the busy executive screaming at her laptop screen with no one in Apple listening because Calendar won’t let her add the address she wants, or because committing an event to the calendar requires the digit–dexterity of Houdini.  Or the proud Dad who is struggling to manage his family photos because Photos has gone crazy with a spot of self–categorisation.  Or at least mourn the revenue you’re not getting through Apple Music because the online reviews suggest that sticking with Spotify, or heaven forbid, keeping all your MP3s on your hard drive is a safer and better option for now.

As soon as I complete this letter, I will be writing another posthumous one to Dante, asking him to consider adding a tenth circle of hell to his Inferno, which is the use of Apple’s “straight–to–DVD” products.

I’m only being playful really (except for the infuriation that Calendar instills, and uncoolness of deleting music off your customer’s computers) but I am genuinely curious to know how the company responsible for some of the most remarkable product design of the 21st century can spawn the nobility of Simba and the evil of Scar from the same place.  It is a quandary which I suspect even a straight–to–DVD Lion King III release couldn’t answer.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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