One of Apple's best qualities is the time and energy it spends
on pushing the envelope of technology. In recent years, it's
debuted impressive camera features, world-class tablets, amazing
processors, and much much more.
But one challenge with continually moving the state of the art
forward is that sometimes it comes at the expense of making sure
the technology that's already here works as well as it can. After
all, if you have to add a dozen new features in a year, that could
mean taking away from work enhancing reliability, and squashing
bugs in existing features.
We've all encountered a slew of problems -- some simple (if
ridiculous) to fix, others are maddeningly difficult to
troubleshoot. As our devices get more and more complex, it's all
too easy for some of those problems to persist for years. And
though the best part of the Apple experience has long been it just
works, the question is… what happens when it doesn't?
As sci-fi writer William Gibson famously said, the future is
already here -- it's just not evenly distributed. While Gibson's
comment resonates mostly on a socio-economic level that is borne
out by Apple's not inexpensive technology, it's also embodied
geographically by the company's work: if you're interested, you can
see which Apple features are available in which regions.
Many of these, of course, are due to restrictions and laws in
specific regions or places where, say, Apple has not prioritised
language localisation. But some of them are cases where features
have been rolled out only slowly to certain places.
For example, in
last year's iOS 14, Apple finally added cycling directions to its
Maps app. But a year on, that capability is still limited to a few
places: mainland China, California, and a handful of other cities
around the world. Much as I would like to be able to find routes
that take advantage of my local bike lanes, I still have to turn to
Google Maps for that.
Likewise, this year's fancy new augmented reality walking
directions, which remain available in just a few California cities,
New York City, and London. When will they come to where I live? Who
It's surely less exciting for Apple to think about rolling out
these (in some cases years old) features, especially those which
might require a large degree of legwork, to various places than it
is for the company to demonstrate its latest shiny feature, but it
also means that sometimes these features don't make it to many, if
not most of the users of its devices. Uneven distribution,
To error is machine
It's happened to pretty much any Apple device user: You go to
use a feature and it just doesn't work. Sometimes there's no
explanation as to why; other times, there's just a cryptic error
message that provides no help at all.
To use an entirely anecdotal experience from just this past
week, Apple's new Memories feature surfaced one of its
algorithmically created videos showing a trip my wife and I took
four years ago that day. I thought it was fun, and I went to share
it with her only to get an error that Photos could not export the
Leaving aside the slight sci-fi dystopian nature of that error,
I did what any self-respecting techie does and googled the problem.
But after trying a number of the usual fixes -- force-quitting and
relaunching Photos, restarting the phone, making sure all the
pictures in the memory were downloaded -- I still hadn't gotten
anywhere. In the end, I just walked over and played the video for
her on my phone. Not exactly the experience that Apple was
Sometimes what we're dealing with in the aforementioned
situations are what we call edge cases. Apple engineers surely do
their best to test their features with a variety of hardware, in
different places, with different settings. But even their time and
resources are limited and there is an infinite number of variables,
from cell phone signal strength to the number of apps installed, to
a geographic location that can affect the way our devices work.
Nobody expects Apple to catch everything, but the question
remains: when these problems do arise, what do we do about
them? One thing Apple could improve is the ease for users to report
issues they encounter. Too often, I see missives posted on Apple
discussion boards that encourage people to get in touch with Apple
support…which often means a lengthy reiteration of the old
troubleshooting canards (Did you restart the phone? Have you tried
it on Wi-Fi and cellular? Have you reset everything and tried those
While these can sometimes solve problems, if not
actually explain them, it's not a process that most consumers are
likely to go through. And when those steps don't resolve the
issues, users are often left with a virtual shrug.
Likewise, while Apple does provide a place to send feedback about products, it's explicitly not a way to report problems. (Not,
for example, like the Feedback app that includes iOS and macOS
betas, which at least offers a canonical feedback ID.) Making it
easier for users to report bugs and unexpected behaviour would go a
long way to helping owners of Apple products feel like they're not
simply shouting their frustrations into a void (aka Twitter).
If Apple can't improve the reliability of its software -- and, to a
certain degree, it can never guarantee that everything will work
perfectly for everyone -- it at least owes it to its users to create
more robust resources for helping them help themselves.
there's nothing more frustrating than not understanding why a
miraculous device that can contact people around the world
instantaneously, run incredibly powerful games, and crunch data
faster than a supercomputer of yesteryear sometimes can't do
something as simple as export a video of a vacation.