Apple needs to eat its own dog food more

I am an owner of an  embarrassing number of very expensive Apple products.  I've also been a big fan of the massive changes iOS 7 brought to hundreds of million mobile devices this past fall.  However, as a vocal supporter of everything Apple gets right, I am beginning to question more and more if the people designing and building some of their products/apps actually use them in the real world.  In other words, Apple needs to eat its own dog food.

The most striking example of this is the Reminders app.  I use this on an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Air running Mavericks, and via  Each version of this app has noticeable bugs and questionable design issues.  Let's be honest, this app is designed to do only one very basic thing:  let a user record something they wish to be reminded of.  This is not rocket science now, is it?

I build software for a living and I understand quite well the challenges many teams face in the prioritization of features and fixing bugs.  However, for a company with more than a hundred billion dollars of cash, there is no excuse for the number of issues with this app.  I'm not talking about the design of the new icon or flat vs. skeuomorphic design, just basic things like being able to see what one is typing while they type it, trust that their data won't mysteriosly vanish, and avoid duplicating data.  I find it hard to believe that the team responsible for these apps actually uses them, because if they did I'm sure they would be much improved.

iOS 7 multi-task view that crashes multiple times a week for me

This is just one example of many others I can think of that show a complete lack of empathy for many owners of Apple products.  I could also have written about the terrible lag for the keyboard on my older iPad 3, the sorry state of iTunes Match playlists on iOS, or the poor memory handling on my iPhone 5s that results in springboard crashes.  I'd have to guess that most working at Apple headquarters have the latest devices and  access to unreleased versions of iOS months before the general public can.  As a result, they are likely unaware just how painful these issues can be to millions of their customers.  It's been over four months since iOS 7 has been released and Apple still has not released a substantial update addressing its many common bugs.  I'd expect a 4+ month release cycle from car manufacturers, not a company like Apple.

So what am I asking from Apple?

They need to show more empathy for their users.  Publicly acknowledge issues and let the public know they are working hard to fix them.  Release fixes more often like app store apps, not bundling them up into a massive release.  Finally, they need to reduce some of the secrecy around new products or updates so that real users can work out the kinks before being released to the general public.

The Internet Still Amazes Me

It's been a while since I last wrote, yet I've had three random encounters with my blog in the past few months.  Each has left me a little weirded out (random people are reading my writing?), but mostly just excited that someone else has taken interest in my perspective despite no attempt to publicize my writing or even write regularly. First, a woman emailed me asking if there was ever an end to the sciatica pain I started experiencing in the summer of 2011 and wrote about here.  In short, there is hope for it to lesson, although more than 2 years after I wrote that I am still experiencing pain.  Oddly, running my first ever marathon is what reduced the pain for me most (still can't explain that one).  Then, someone asked if I would sell them a print of the Zakim Bridge photo that I took in Boston a few years back.  I was flattered, and ended up sending the photo in exchange for them making a small donation to the charity of their choice.  I still think that is one of the coolest photos I've seen of that bridge, and it looks pretty great printed on Zakim and Golden Gate Bridge printed on canvascanvas above our bed.  Today, I exchanged a few tweets with a developer here in San Francisco that is struggling with the same thing I have been:  Is it better to specialize or generalize?  I've decided to not go for a dev or design bootcamp and instead continue looking for a product manager or technical project manager position in an industry I'm passionate about.  I enjoy all the elements of building products (whether it's design, leading others, getting into the details, planning, or executing) too much to focus on just one area.  I know that when I do find the right role for me (and I am crushing it there) I will share some good laughs with my boss about any hesitation they had in hiring me.

This all brings me back to how much the internet still amazes me to this day.  It makes it so easy to connect with random strangers around a shared idea, struggle, or photo by just putting a few words up on a blog or writing a 140 character Tweet.  The transparency that more and more companies are now embracing (see the Buffer "open salary formula") is  becoming the standard way that young and innovative companies are doing business.  I love it - sharing what you have learned or struggled with in order to help others is a beautiful thing.

What Google Reader, Simcity, and the MotoActv Fitness watch tell us

My friend Sam Kornstein wrote a great blog post recently titled "A Few Thoughts to Add on Google Reader" about Google Reader getting shut down in July, which sparked a few realizations I've had recently about similar services or products. Sample Simcity City In today's world, our personal lives are becoming more and more dependent on large tech companies focused more on the bottom line than anything else. I was not a Google Reader user myself, but I am certainly dependent on many products from Google and other tech companies, most of which I don't pay anything for (Gmail being the most notable).  A product I use quite frequently is my my Motorola Motactv GPS running watch.  Unlike my old Garmin, all of the software to view the data is on their website.  The problem is that after I purchased the watch, Google bought Motorola and support for the product has stopped.  It's only a matter of time I'm sure before the website goes down and my physical (and paid for product) device suddenly stops working as intended.

A second product I've questions is a new version of the class Simcity, put out by Electronic Arts recently which amazingly sold $1 million copies almost immediately.  Only problem is that the game requires one to be connected to their servers to play (and to make a huge mess, they didn't have enough servers at the launch of the game).  EA claims it is to enhance the game by allowing users to compete against others, critics claim it is to prevent copyright infringements.  Either way, is it fair that a game like Simcity can't be played "offline"?  If I pay $60 to purchase the game, how long is EA responsible for keeping the servers up and running so that I can continue to play it?  A year?  2 years?  10 years?

As more and more data and services become dependent on the cloud, it will be interesting to see how problems like this get resolved.  I have no doubts that in the long run consumers will be better off, but I'm sure there will be lots of bumps on the way.  In the Google Reader example, the great news is that just like I wrote in my post on Apple dropping Google Maps, I'm sure there are many startups that will jump in shortly and deliver a product far better than the rather stale Google Reader product was.

Competition is awesome (see iPhone Google Maps saga)

Google released the much anticipated Google Maps iPhone app yesterday and the reviews so far are pretty good.  I personally didn't think that the Apple Maps were as bad as they were made out to be, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  What this whole saga shows is the importance of competition and why so much focus on monopolies is paid by governments around the world. First, a little background:  the original maps application on the iphone was developed at the very last minute before the original iPhone launch by an Apple/Google team back in 2008.  That just goes to show you how important maps have become, in  2008 it was an afterthought .  Four years later and nothing had changed, Google actually refused to license their maps data to Apple so that it could be enhanced with new features such as spoken driving directions.  For many reasons, this being one of them, Apple decided to venture out on their own.  We all know what happened next:  huge uproar, people almost dying in deserts in Australia, apple execs were fired, and a written apology was given from the Apple CEO.

Fast forward to today.  Customers now have the choice between Apple Maps (and their advantages) and the new Google maps application.  There is no doubt that what Google just deployed is significantly better than what was available in iOS 5, it includes a slicker UI, better transit map integration, and voice driving directions.  I'm willing to bet Google would not have created this app in such a quick timeline if Apple hadn't upped the anti by putting out their own app.

One of the things that doesn't seem to get any press is the neat stuff now supported by iOS 6 for transit directions.  Sure, Apple doesn't have them integrated, but they do provide a means for 3rd party app developers to tie into the iPhone maps.  When I use the Rover app (link), it not only gives me transit directions but also pulls in real-time transit data telling me when buses and subway cars are going to arrive in San Francisco (and I assume other cities as well, like Boston).  This is better than what I had in the iOS 5 Google maps and as far as I can tell it's better than what Google released yesterday in their new app.  Publishing a schedule of when buses are supposed to arrive is signficantly less useful than knowing when exactly they will actually arrive.

Bottom line:  yes, Apple has looked awful through this whole mess, but because they took a gamble and pushed for innovation, iPhone owners are no doubt in a better spot than they were previously.  There is now an all out war between these two companies to keep innovating.  For me, companies going at each other's throats is a good thing and is why capitalism has become THE economic system in the world today.