[Note the cool news reported after this was published here.]
So this has been a week from Apple hell. Apple did a major upgrade of its suite of software — from the operating system through applications. Stupidly (really, inexcusably stupid), I upgraded immediately. Every Apple-related product I use has been crippled in important ways.
I’m going to describe the crippling I have discovered so far, and some pointers to the work arounds that I’ve found. But that’s not the purpose of my writing. My purpose instead is to say what should be obvious: Apple deals with us in a psychologically pathological way, and if that doesn’t change, it’s time to leave.
Many will say, with perfect justification, that it was time to leave long ago. For example, my Free Software friends will say that the failure of Apple to respect Free Software was reason enough to dump them long ago. That’s a fair criticism (of me) and a principled and justified position.
But the argument I want to advance here is different. It is that in the “hybrid economy" that the Internet is, there is an ethical obligation to treat users decently. "Decency" of course is complex, and multi-faceted. But the single dimension I want to talk about here is this: They must learn to talk to us. In the face of the slew of either bugs or "features" (because as you’ll see, it’s unclear in some cases whether Apple considers the change a problem at all), a decent company would at least acknowledge to the public the problems it identifies as problems, and indicate that they are working to fix it.
Why is that what decency requires? And why, then, is the pathologically constipated way in which Apple communicates with its customers indecent?
Because when you see the incredible effort that is being devoted to dealing with these either bugs or features, there is an obvious incredible waste of time and resources that Apple could avoid simply by saying what they know.
For example, if the problem I have confronted with Mail.app using Gmail (which I describe more below) is something Apple considers a bug, then I’m willing to live with it for a while till Apple fixes it. If it isn’t a bug, but is a feature (insanely but whatever), then I will spend the time (and incredible bandwidth waste) to deal with the problem in the way the Apple volunteers suggest — either by changing the way Gmail works, or getting a new mail application.
So in a line, it is indecent for Apple to sit by silently while its customers waste thousands of hours (in the aggregate) trying to deal with the problems its “upgrades” create, when the simple act of describing what it intends to fix could save its customers those thousands of hours.
And more generally, that at some point — and for me, now is this point — if Apple can’t think different(ly) about its refusal to talk, then its customers should use the only real power we have: We should leave the Apple platform.
The problems so far
I live on the Apple platform. I have two offices at work, each has a machine which (through Dropbox) is essentially identical. I also have a laptop which I use to make the 70+ presentations I make every year. That machine (again through Dropbox) is essentially identical to the two work machines, except that in addition, that machine has the presentations I make, and the resources I need to make those presentations. I also have an iPhone, as do others in my family. And we have an AppleTV.
The iPhone problems: The first, and most destructive consequence of the recent round of upgrades was to my iPhone. Basically, and as I have described elsewhere on this blog, the upgrade to 7.0.3 disabled my Wifi. Through the Apple support community, I quickly identified that this was a common problem for many (though not all) iPhone users. I spent the time necessary to try to recommended solutions — resetting network settings; when that didn’t work, backing up, resetting the machine, setting up the phone as a new phone; still didn’t work. After not seeing any indication by Apple about whether this was a transitory problem (one they were going to fix) or not (indeed, whether or not it was a hardware failure that could not be fixed by software anymore), I called Apple support. Actually, I chatted with them. Very quickly and very very decently, they determined my iPhone needed to be replaced. Because I was within the 1 year limited warranty, that replacement would be for free. Had it been beyond one year, and I didn’t have an AppleCare contract, it would not have been free. So while I didn’t have to confront that issue, I suspect I would have been quite unhappy to have been told that an “upgrade” from Apple had broken my iPhone, but that I had to pay $199 to fix it. But anyway, I expect today I will have my new iPhone and once again have access to Wifi.
The Mail.app/Gmail problem: This problem is also hugely significant for me, and so far, without any obvious remedy.
The short form description is this: After the “upgrade” of Mail.app, Mail will not let you move a message from the Inbox to a Gmail folder unless you also have the All Mail folder on your machine. If you don’t, then the move won’t stick, and when you leave and return to the Inbox, the messages return.
Why is this a problem? Well I get literally hundreds of emails a day from many different channels — from students, from colleagues, from collaborators, from fellow activists, from spammers, from the public, from the haters, from whomever. Because of all that email, I have to spend endless hours processing those messages. I process them by either deleting them, or responding to them, or marking them for later response, or moving them to a “if I ever get the time I will respond” folder (which today has close to 1k messages). But because of this new bug, my processing doesn’t work. And by the end of the week, there were literally thousands of emails in the mix of inboxes that I have.
This problem has been extensively described by the incredibly generous Joe Kissell at Tidbits. As he explains, the obvious solution — enable the All Mail folder — isn’t a solution. I’m privileged enough as a Harvard professor not to have to worry about the bandwidth required to suck down the gigabytes of data in all my All Mail folders from all my gmail accounts for each of my three machines. But I suspect there are many who live in the bandwidth desert that is the United States who are not happy to have to pay for the totally useless requirement of copying to the local machine the mail that is collected solely for the purpose of improving Google’s ad algorithm.
More importantly, as the many comments to that great Tidbits article describe, it’s not even clear this solution is a solution. Apparently even after running your machine for the literally days necessary to download and reindex the Mail cache, the resulting Mail.app doesn’t actually work very well. Some report that it takes 30 minutes for the Inbox to resync from the iPhone to the desktop. Others report all sorts of flaking with the system. No one I’ve seen reports that this change is good.
So why did Apple do it? Well, it turns out iCloud mail accounts work just fine — so some suggest just forwarding mail from Gmail to iCloud. Maybe that’s the reason Apple did this. Others say the change was requested by Google. That’s really hard to believe but who knows.
The bottom line is that we don’t know. And so literally thousands of hours of users time is being spent to deal with the ambiguous bug/feature of this change, and terabytes of bandwidth wasted, all because Apple can’t learn to speak.
Keynote: As I’ve also described elsewhere, the latest update of Keynote has broken my slide presentations. “Broken” in the sense that some of the the functionality that existed in Keynote ‘09 doesn’t exist in the new version.
Here again, there is the question: Why did Apple remove this functionality? Is this the equivalent of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi — the iOS-Nazi has struck again? Or is it an oversight (so the removed functionality will be restored)? This difference is significant because if it is the former, then at least this user will leave Keynote. I don’t have the time (or patience) to build for a platform I can’t trust. If it is the latter, then again, it would be enormously beneficial to know whether Apple intends to fix it.
This problem is the least significant, at least for me. The old version of Keynote remains (unlike with Mail.app, and unlike with the iPhone which Apple won’t permit people to downgrade from). It’s a hassle to launch it versus the new version (and you can’t just delete the new version and keep auto-update on), but ok. I like Keynote ‘09 well enough, and can continue to use it while I scope out alternatives to move to.
But I am sorry I won’t see the other new features of Keynote. And am really sorry to have to begin the transition to a new presentation platform.
Pages: These other experiences had made me really reluctant to explore Pages, but yesterday, I did. Right away I confronted a truly insane “upgrade”: Apple has added an ability to automatically smart-ify quotes — as you type them at least. But a functionality that used to exist — where you could search and replace single and double quotes and the replaced quote would be a smart quote — has been removed. So now, the only way to smartify those quote (which, as one writes with the standard cut-and-paste-a-quote style of today) is to manually search for a single or double quote, and then retype it.
I can’t imagine this is a feature, and not a bug. But it means I can’t use the new version of Pages till fixed.
The obvious remedy
Some of the problems I have described are obviously bugs — Apple didn’t intend 7.0.3 to break wifi, and I really doubt it meant to stupify Search/Replace.
Some may or may not be bugs — is Apple trying to nudge me away from Gmail? Is Apple trying to improve (in its view) the quality of my Keynotes by removing a transition it thinks isn’t cool? And is this the future of consumer products? Will my Gap jeans add bellbottoms if that fashion returns (and if it has, because what do I know about fashion, will it remove them?)
But whether or not these changes are bugs, this is my point: it is insane that Apple doesn’t have a policy of explaining this to us. I am sure I am not the only Apple user that doesn’t have time for this absurdity. Days begin for me in the 4am timeframe already, and I am already perpetually behind. So to confront these problems without there being a simple location on the Apple site where Apple explains what it intends to fix is to add the proverbial insult to injury.
Apple is already spending the money to scrub the comments it doesn’t like. Apple can afford to spend the money to help its users understand which bugs are features, and which bugs will be repaired.
And if Apple doesn’t, then it is a company with an ego that at least I don’t have the time to afford.