Functions sorely missed: Apple’s hardware is getting better and better – unfortunately the software is not
One of Apple’s best qualities is the time and energy the company spends pushing the boundaries of technology. In the past few years, the company has introduced impressive camera features, top-notch tablets, amazing processors, and much more.
However, a challenge in the constant further development of the latest state of the art is that this sometimes has to compromise the requirement that existing technology works as well as possible. If a dozen new features are added in a year, it could mean abandoning work on improving reliability and fixing bugs in existing features.
All Apple users have encountered a number of problems – some are easy to fix and some are insanely difficult to fix. As equipment becomes more complex, it is all too easy for some of these problems to persist for years. And although Apple customers in particular have been able to rely on “it just works” for a long time, the question arises: what happens if it doesn’t work?
Science fiction writer William Gibson once said, “The future is here – it’s just not evenly distributed”. While Gibson’s comment is primarily about the socio-economic level, which is reflected in Apple’s not-exactly-cheap technology, it is also embodied geographically in the company’s work: Here you can see, for example, which Apple functions are not available in Germany.
If a feature is not available in a country, it is usually due to restrictions and laws in regions where Apple has not given priority to language localization in particular. In some cases, however, the features have been slow to roll out in certain regions. With iOS 14, Apple finally added directions for cyclists to its map app last year. A year later, however, this function is still limited to a few regions: China, California and a handful of cities around the world. When looking for routes on bike paths in my area, I still have to go to Google Maps.
The same goes for the chic new augmented reality driving directions, only available in some California cities, New York and London this year. When will they be available in my place of residence? Nobody knows.
Apple is making less effort to replicate these (sometimes years old) functions in different places, especially when it involves many millions of kilometers of camera car trips, and is more likely to demonstrate new, shiny functions of its devices and systems. As a result, many of the new functions, which were once much noticed, no longer work with many users.
This has happened to pretty much every user of an Apple device: They want to use a function and it is simply missing. Sometimes there is no explanation why this is so, sometimes there is just a cryptic error message that doesn’t help at all.
An anecdote from last week about this: The “retrospectives” in photos showed one of the algorithmically created videos of a trip that my wife and I went on that day four years ago. I thought it was funny and wanted to share it with her. But then I received the error message that the photos app could not export the selected review.
Aside from the slightly dystopian sci-fi nature of this bug, I did what any decent technician does and googled the problem. But after trying a number of the usual solutions – exiting and restarting photos, restarting the phone, making sure all the pictures were downloaded from memory – I still got stuck. Finally, I just went over to her and played the video on my phone for her. It’s not exactly the experience Apple promised.
Sometimes we have to deal with unfortunate individual cases in such situations. Apple engineers certainly do their best to test its functions on a variety of devices, in different locations, and with different settings. But even their time and resources are limited and there are an infinite number of variables – from the signal strength of the cell phone to the number of apps installed to the geographic location – that can affect the way the devices work.
Nobody expects Apple to anticipate every possible mistake. But the question remains: what can we do when these problems arise? One thing Apple could do better is to make it easier for users to report problems they encounter. Too often I see posts on Apple discussion boards asking users to contact Apple Support. That often requires a tedious iteration of the old troubleshooting strategies it means (did you restart the iPhone? Have you tried it on Wi-Fi and cellular? Did you reset everything and tried these steps again?).
While it can sometimes solve, if not explain, problems, most consumers will not get involved. And when these steps don’t solve the problem, users are often left with a virtual shrug.
Apple also offers the option Send feedback on products, but this is specifically not intended as a way to report problems (unlike the feedback app, which contain iOS and macOS betas, which offers at least a canonical feedback ID). If it were easier for users to report bugs and unexpected behavior, it would make Apple product owners feel like they weren’t just shouting their frustration (aka Twitter).
If Apple can’t improve the reliability of its software – and to a certain extent, the company can’t guarantee that everything will work perfectly for everyone – then it at least owes its users to creating more robust resources to help themselves. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than not understanding why a wonderful device that can instantly connect with people around the world, run powerful games, and process data faster than a supercomputer of yesteryear, sometimes something as simple as exporting one Vacation videos doesn’t make it.