One of Apple’s best qualities is the time and energy it spends on pushing the technology envelope. In recent years, it debuted, amazing camera features, world-class tablets, amazing processors, and so much more.
But one challenge in continuously advancing the state of the art is that it sometimes comes at the expense of making sure the technology that’s already here is working as well as possible. After all, if you have to add a dozen new features in a year, that could mean taking the reliability improvement off work and fixing bugs in existing features.
We’ve all encountered a number of problems: some simple (albeit ridiculous) to solve, others are incredibly difficult to solve. As our devices become more and more complex, it is all too easy for some of these problems to persist for years. And while the best part of the Apple experience has long been “it just works,” the question is … what happens when it doesn’t work?
As science fiction writer William Gibson said, “the future is already here, it’s not evenly distributed.” While Gibson’s comment resonates primarily on a socioeconomic level which is confirmed by Apple’s non-cheap technology, it is also geographically embodied 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, for example, Apple hasn’t prioritized language localization. But some of these are cases where the features were only slowly rolled out in certain places. For example, in last year’s iOS 14, Apple finally added bicycle directions to its Maps app, but a year later this functionality is still limited to a few places: Mainland China, California, and a handful of others. cities around the world. As much as I’d like to be able to find routes that take advantage of my local cycle paths, I still have to turn to Google Maps for this.
Likewise, this year’s new and imaginative augmented reality walking directions, which remain available in a few cities in California, New York City and London. When will they come where I live? Who knows.
It is certainly less exciting for Apple to think about implementing these (in some cases years old) features, particularly those that may require a high degree of footwork, in various places than it is for the company to demonstrate its latest. brilliant functionality, but it also means that sometimes these features just don’t make it to many, if not most of the users of its devices. Irregular distribution, in fact.
The error is machine
It has happened to almost every Apple device user – you use a function and it just doesn’t work. Sometimes there is no explanation as to why; other times, there’s just a cryptic error message that doesn’t help.
To use a completely anecdotal experience from last week, Apple’s new Memories feature unearthed one of its algorithmically created videos showing a journey my wife and I took four years ago that day. I thought it was funny and went to share it with her only to get an error that the photos could not export the selected memory.
Leaving aside the slight sci-fi dystopian nature of that mistake, I did what any self-respecting technician does and googled the problem. But after trying a series of the usual solutions – force closing and restarting the photos, restarting the phone, making sure all the images in memory were downloaded – I still hadn’t gotten anywhere. Eventually, I just walked over and played the video for her on my phone. Not quite the experience Apple was promising.
Difficulty of shooting
Sometimes what we are dealing with in the above situations are what we call “edge cases”. Apple engineers certainly do their best to test their functionality with a variety of hardware, in different places, with different settings. But their time and resources are also 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 how our devices work.
Nobody expects Apple to take it all, but the question remains: when these problems arise, what do we do? Do on them? One thing Apple could improve is the ease for users to report problems they encounter. Too often I see missives posted on Apple’s discussion boards encouraging people to get in touch with Apple Support … which often means a long iteration of old troubleshooting canards (did you restart your phone? Wi-Fi and cellular? Did you reset everything and retry those steps?). While these can sometimes solve problems, if not even explain them, it’s not a process most consumers are likely to go through. And when these steps don’t solve the problems, users are often left with a virtual shrug.
Likewise, while Apple provides a place to submit product feedback, is not explicitly a way to report problems. (Not, for example, like the Feedback app which includes iOS and macOS beta, which at least offers a canonical feedback ID.) Making it easier for users to report bugs and unexpected behavior would be very helpful in helping Apple product owners to feeling like they’re not just shouting their frustrations out into the void (aka Twitter).
If Apple can’t improve the reliability of its software – and, to some extent, it can never guarantee that everything will work perfectly for everyone – it must at least create more robust resources for its users to help them help themselves. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than understanding why a miracle device that can instantly contact people around the world, run incredibly powerful games, and process data faster than a supercomputer of yesteryear sometimes can’t do something like this. as simple as exporting a vacation video.
Dan has been writing about everything Apple since 2006, when he started contributing to the MacUser blog. He is a prolific podcaster and author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova incident, arriving in July 2022.