Why Apple Drops Features & How to Deal With it

From time to time, Apple will come out with a new version of OS X or iOS, or one of its own apps, and there will be missing features. Is Apple being obtuse? Are they out of touch? How can our favorite thing be just ... gone? Here's what's happening.

Over the years, Apple has quietly introduced a very capable feedback mechanism, embedded in iOS and OS X. It tracks information about how well your Apple product is working, but most importantly, how you use the OS and Apple's own apps.

It may have been awhile since you installed OS X or iOS, and you've forgotten where those Apple fingers curl into the innards of your Mac or iDevice. On the Mac, it's in System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> Privacy tab. It looks like this:

OS X: System Preferences -> Security & Privacy

In iOS, the same setting is found in Settings -> General -> About -> Diagnostics & Usage (at the bottom).

iOS: Settings -> General -> About -> Diagnostics...

You can safely turn those settings off if you don't want Apple to track how your product is working and how you use it.

The thing to remember is that Apple is a very resource driven company. Despite its wealth, Apple doesn't provide virtually unlimited resources to its software teams. The belief is that if the product manager and his/her engineers have to make tough decisions about what features to include, they'll create cleaner, crisper code and products. Simplicity is good in a highly technical era, and one of Steve Jobs's mantras was saying "no!" to superfluous stuff. (Called creeping elegance in some circles.) What can we leave out?

And that's where the feedback mechanism described above comes in. If the Apple database says that customers just aren't using a feature, no matter how vigorously it's been touted at keynotes, then don't expect it to survive the next major update. Even if you, personally, love it.

A Personal Strategy

I'm a big believer in having personal strategies and policies. One for backups and one for security. Because of this feedback mechanism of Apple's, I think it's also wise to have a personal policy on the adoption of new features.

For example, does some new feature look suspicious in that it's not something Apple ordinarily does? (Like Launchpad.) Is it part of some questionable new initiative? (Like Ping.) Or is it a refinement of something already in place that makes it better -- and is sound. (Like "Do No Disturb" and "VIP email.")

In this era, features aren't always introduced to make your life better. Sometimes they're introduced due to competitive or cultural pressures For example, better Facebook and Twitter integration.

In any case, it's always good to size up the new features in OS X and iOS with some kind of standard in mind. It may be something as simple as not having time to become an expert. Or perhaps the feature is cool, but doesn't fit into your workflow. So it's really a waste of your precious time.

Being aware that Apple is likely to drop an unused feature by most of its customers and having a strategy for what features are important will do three things. It will keep you from wasting time with useless gadgetry, it'll guide you better on OS enhancements you might want to buy from third parties that have better, personal support and it'll keep you from being frustrated when your favorite new feature disappears into thin air.