Exploring Apple's Software: Mischievous Fumbles

Unlike hardware, which stands on its own for inspection, there is hardly any better place for a company to be up to mischief than with its software. Lately, Apple has been fumbling some of its software efforts. Let's take a look.


We all know how Apple loves to build hardware that delights us. We can touch and hold something beautiful, an object d'art , like a MacBook Air or an iPad Air, and marvel at its design, feel, heft and aesthetics.

All too often, however, in specific instances, Apple's software doesn't enjoy that finicky attention to detail that bring a smile to our eyes. There are some potential reasons for that.

First, Apple is inundated with customer complaints about this and that. For eample, lost work. So the product managers decide on autosave and mangle the old "Save As...". While it works for newbies, Apple's base has people who object to being dictated to. User options would solve that, but that's a problem because it 1) affects the new feature adoption rate which is monitored and 2) makes the software more complex.

Deciding where the world is complex and needs some flexibility is an art. For example, I was setting up my iPad Air with email from the "other" group and had a really hard time. It was buggy, crashed, and didn't seem to offer the initial flexibility I needed for a special SMTP server port. Assuming the SMTP port, for simplicity, in the "Other" category just isn't going to deliver a great experience. (I never had this problem in iOS 6.)

When it comes to a new software rollout, product managers know that adding too many (developer) cooks to the stew just complicates and shows things down. As we saw with the iWork rollout, simplicity has always been Apple's key to a good point zero launch in the past. As other companies have found out, however, that doesn't always work because the customer base is large and diverse. (With iWork, Apple had to backtrack anyway.) As they say, there's never enough money to do it right the first time, but there' always enough money for the fix.

Another issue is that ever present concession to politics. The worst example of this lately is the loss of direct sync of contacts and calendars to a Mavericks Mac in iTunes. It's just gone. You can only use iCloud for that in Mavericks. The only rational rationale that I can think of is that Apple wants to demonstrate popular usage of iCloud. But when Apple's agenda conflicts with user delight or, in this case, judicious security, then we have what I call mischief.

Software delight isn't always about simplemindedness and removing things that previously worked. Sometimes it's about avoiding frustration. A little complexity, if it makes things go better, can bring delight -- the perception that Apple has thought of everything possible, gone the extra mile to deliver satisfaction and a smile.


Tech News Debris for the Week of November 4

I discovered one of those rare and delightful essays that delves into a company's strategies and the idiosyncrasies of the CEO. No, not Apple. This time it's T-Mobile. You will want to read this: "T-Mobile's Wacky Plan to Trash the Wireless Business Model."

If you're going to write, in the tech world, about human emotions, feelings and reaction to a company's marketing, you have to do it with style, tact, and good sense. Not every blogger is equipped to do that, and that's why I appreciated this article by Chris Matyszczyk: "How Google is beating Apple in the fight for emotions."

What's the difference between market share and installed base? How do you read an article that says that Android is dominating iOS? It's time for a tutorial, and an excellent one at that: "Why an 80% market share might only represent half of smartphone users."

I have written that Apple's decision to make iWork free isn't the end of Microsoft. However, that doesn't mean that its impact isn't worth exploring in detail. Gregg Keizer, who does solid work, has some perspective that mirrors my own but adds additional nuances. "Apple puts the ball in Microsoft's court."

In this article, the title is intended to be lurid, but I found it fascinating anyway because of the competitive position Amazon has taken. And Mr. Ulanoff is a solid tech journalist. Anyway, you have to hand it to Amazon: the company has a consistent vision for its tablets. "Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Is the iPad Air's Nemesis.". Of course, what Mr. Ulanoff glossed over is the restricted environment of the Kindle Fires, but then, that's what some people want.

As in the case above, it's always fascinating to see exactly how various companies elect to compete with Apple. It's not just a matter of product design. There are a vast number of elements when it comes to how a company competes, execution being just one. Galen Gruman explores all this in the case of Samsung. "Can Samsung become Apple? Only if it executes well."

Finally, for some R-rated humor, I refer you to how Google employees feel about the NSA.


Football fumble via Shutterstock.