Apple: From vision, innovation and idealism to pure greed

I’ve been an Apple fan for so many years. And throughout those years I owned a bunch of Apple hardware: From the Apple ][, to a bunch of Apple Newtons, to a bunch of Mac computers (servers, desktops and laptops). I even owned an iPod at some point. I also had iPhones all the way from the iPhone 3 to the iPhone 6. I’m stretching my iPhone 6 as long as I can, and later today I have an appointment to replace its battery for $29 so it can feel fast again. (Update: The battery replacement didn’t help the iPhone 6, it remained painfully slow. I ended up buying a new iPhone Xs).

The main reason I created this blog is that I care about Apple’s vision, and I felt it was important to criticize Apple, expose the various missteps, and hold Apple to a higher standard in general. I do not feel emotionally attached to any of the people currently at Apple, especially since Steve Jobs’ passing (R.I.P) and Steve Wozniak’s departure from Apple.

With those two Apple leaders gone, quality at Apple has been suffering greatly, and unfortunately with no sign of recovery. With every new generation of Apple products, I notice a trend where care and consideration are directed almost exclusively by greed, instead of care and consideration for the user. Even if care and consideration weren’t always driven by end user satisfaction, at the very least it felt like great care went into product design. It was the little things that Apple did with its products that sent the message that Apple cared, and that Apple could do it where so many other companies failed.

Results: 2 Months with a Macbook Pro Retina with Touch Bar

This is Apple’s top of the line Macbook Pro Laptop. I ordered it with max RAM (16GB), the fastest CPU available, and the 1TB SSD option.

TL;DR: It is the lowest quality Macbook Pro I’ve ever purchased. Apple is clearly in deep shit right now, which is probably why Johny Ive decided to return to Apple Design Management.

To be clear, when I say “deep shit” I don’t mean financially; Apple is sitting on a massive stash which makes this situation all the more disappointing and depressing.

I am noticing a sharp deterioration in overall product quality and even more worrisome to me, with product harmonization (this is where a group of products from the same company work well together).

Apple can only get away with the walled garden approach if everything work well (because then it’s an Utopia, which is what so many Apple fans are after, that PC people don’t seem to get). When an ecosystem is balanced and you can point users to solutions that work reasonably well, you’re in an Utopia and your users won’t have substantial complaints. Unfortunately in the last 2 years, Apple Design Management have allowed the ecosystem to slip out of that Utopia into product hell. It no longer feels like there’s a unified and harmonious ecosystem. Some products have a headphone jack, some don’t. MagSafe was dropped in some products, and yet the company still makes some laptops with MagSafe. There isn’t even an LED light to indicate whether or not your laptop is charging! And don’t even get me started with the Magic Mouse 2 which has a charging port UNDER THE BLOODY MOUSE.

Cool vs. Usable

Some features are “cool”, but are they usable? It feels like the Touch Bar is one of those products that were rushed and not fully tested in the field with real users. A simple phenomenon a good UX designer would notice while developing the Touch Bar concept, is people’s tendency to utilize predictive typing. This is where users will gently place their fingers on the keys, in anticipation of having to click that key later on in a flow, and once that flow is ready for input, they click that key. It saves time, and most of us do this instinctively.

I don’t even get to use my Touch Bar much because I plug my laptop to a screen at the office, and I use Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse. This means the Touch Bar and Touch ID are not even available to me during the work day (the laptop stays closed the whole time). Apple does not make a wireless keyboard a Touch Bar, and if it wanted to make one it would have a significantly shorter battery life.

I left the worst for last: the accidental touches. For me, this one is taking the longest to fix, and is the most annoying. The problem with the Touch Bar is that because it’s not a physical key, if you so much as sneeze in its direction it will register touch. I keep muting my audio or triggering Siri, for example. This happens multiple times a day. It happens often enough to be annoying. It’s not helping that my external Apple keyboard does not have a Touch Bar (obviously). I only really use the Touch Bar when I’m out of the office, but most of the time while I’m at the office I’m on a keyboard without Touch Bar. This means I can never really re-educate myself to properly use a Touch Bar.

Let’s face it. Things are just awful.

Some features are plain criminally wrong. For example if your laptop is completely out of battery and you want to use it, you just plug it into the charger, right? Unfortunately with this new version of Apple’s Macbook Pro, you can’t use it for at least 10 minutes until the battery has enough of a charge, despite the laptop being connected to power! What if you have to do something really urgent with your laptop? Nope. You will have to wait, Sir.

Other than that, I am seeing tons of graphical glitches (and I found out today that I’m not the only one). They are full screen glitches (as opposed to being limited to the context of a single app). This applies to the built-in retina display, as well as to external displays connected via one of the USB-C ports. The nature of the glitch indicates a bug in either the display drivers (software), or the display chipset (hardware), or maybe some controller.

The sad part is that I’ve been there before, two Macbook Pro models ago. Apple partially admitted to it at the time, fixed my motherboard once and claimed the fix is “for good”, and then just as the warranty period ended the problem returned and I had no recourse after that. It became so bad I had to abandon that laptop entirely and buy a new one.

MagSafe: Why, Apple? WHY???

I seriously miss MagSafe. I have young children running around and they often trip my power cord. I had to buy the Griffin BreakSafe cable, but it is unfortunately defective by design. The cable is too fat and heavy which makes it super easy for the magnetic connection to break away. The slightest movement of the laptop on the table and it will disconnect. I recently found and bought an alternative that has a thinner cable and it is an improvement over Griffin’s solution, but it’s still not as secure as Apple’s original MagSafe.

And it doesn’t stop there…

Recently we’ve even seen disastrous mishaps, such as the root password scandal which Apple fixed, only to “unfix” it later on with a second software update. What does that say about Apple’s quality assurance practices? It doesn’t feel like a company worth billions; more like a small startup that makes tons of mistakes all the time because of how badly they are managed, and because they cut corners to save money. Except Apple doesn’t need to save money – It can afford all the quality assurance staff in the world. It’s such a shame, and I hope they fix this before it’s too late.

Goodbye, Harmonious Ecosystem!

To illustrate my point: Even the latest iPhone X has a lightning connector instead of a USB-C port. The iPhone has lost the headphone jack since the iPhone 7, but the laptops still have a headphone jack to this very day. If you buy a Macbook Air, it comes with MagSafe and USB 3.0, and there’s not a single USB-C port to be found.

Even if you’re buying an Apple Watch, it still comes with a Lightning to USB cable. No USB-C option. You have a recent Macbook Pro with USB-C port(s)?  You will need a dongle to convert your USB-C to a USB-A port. And yes it’s expensive as hell.

Why is all of this happening?

I hate to say this, and at this point it is almost cliché but the truth is that Steve Jobs was a benevolent dictator. Tim Cook on the other hand is only benevolent, dictatorship elements totally missing. He’s just too nice. Want proof? Read this.

Except you can’t have great quality without combining some amount of fear from a perfectionist who can terminate you in 1 microsecond, and engineers who are just as perfectionist and take extreme pride in their own work.

I think you need both of the above combined, to make truly great products, and also deliver products on time. I can only hope that Johny Ive realizes this and manages to muster some dictatorship skills.

Update: March 2019

I’m still using this laptop today. Many of the bugs have not been fixed, it’s still glitchy despite several OS updates. For perspective: I purchased this laptop around October 2017.

Issues that still exist with this laptop:

  • When you first open the laptop, the keyboard backlight is off even in an entirely dark room.
  • The touch bar is still buggy and will “hang” until you switch between different apps. Sometimes it will hang until you reboot the laptop.
  • The laptop will mysteriously slow down to a crawl, but only while charging. It magically speeds up again when disconnected from power. This had to do with spotlight, and what I suspect is a spotlight data corruption bug (see below).
  • The display will glitch up several times a day (the entire display randomly gets noisy / glitchy for a split second). This is true for both the internal display, as well as for external displays.

On my specific laptop, one of the USB-C ports only works a certain direction, and I have to flip the USB-C cable to find the right direction for it to charge. For the longest time I thought this was by design, so I did not report it to Apple until the laptop was no longer under warranty.

This clearly happened at the factory when my laptop was manufactured, but fixing it now makes no sense financially and at this point I’d rather buy a new laptop, one that does not have a touch bar (but still has touch id).

The Spotlight Corruption Bug!

This issue haunted me for at least a year. For the longest time I was too busy to look into it, and resolved to simply using my laptop only while plugged in. I tried chatting with Apple Support a couple of times about this, but they were not able to help me.

I finally got fed up with this situation, and as luck had it, I happened upon an incredibly thorough and helpful Apple support technician. He had me collect some information and send screenshots over and together, we were able to resolve this using an amazing trick he revealed to me.

Basically, you open System Preferences… >> Spotlight >> Privacy, drag your entire ‘Macintosh HD‘ to the list, wait 10 seconds, then remove ‘Macintosh HD‘).

What this does is clear the entire Spotlight database for your main drive. If your Spotlight database was corrupted, you are now starting fresh with a clean database.

Why did this only manifest while the laptop was plugged in? Because spotlight indexing is a heavy operation which gets paused when the laptop runs on battery (to preserve power). When the laptop is plugged in, spotlight indexing resumes. In my case, the database corruption bug threw the Spotlight indexer into some high CPU or I/O loop, which slowed down the laptop to a crawl.

Hopefully this helps someone else! Feel free to drop me a line if this helped you, or if you have additional insight.