624: Apple Apps That Need Some Polishing

Maybe you left it off because it doesn’t need polishing. It needs a complete rework. Yes, I’m thinking of Podcasts. A complete train wreck.

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interesting how experiences can vary so much. I use Apple Podcasts as my podcast client every day and have no issues with it.

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I have to say, Stephen’s “polishing the apple” comment perfectly describes to me what modern Apple isn’t focused on. It’s the difference between customer service back when I bought my first Mac Mini (2012) and, for example, when I sent my PowerBeats Pro in for service a ways back.

I seem to recall the experience of buying the Mac Mini was much less hurried and rushed, and they were more focused on making sure I got something that worked for me. These days it feels like it’s more of a “there’s the phones, there’s the iPads, what can I ring up for you?” in the store.

Regarding the reverse of “polishing the apple”, the issue with the PowerBeats was battery life related, and based on tracking they didn’t even have it at the depot long enough to charge and discharge the batteries. While it was there they removed a piece of velcro from the outside bottom of the case (I had a little piece of the loop side so that it doesn’t get knocked off the side table at night), presumably because it didn’t belong there - but they didn’t even bother to wipe out the inside of the case. Which would seem to be a relevant thing if they’re doing detailed troubleshooting of charging and battery life.

I realize they’re a big company - definitely bigger than they were in 2012. I realize there are a lot of moving parts. But with both software and customer service, it feels like the experience just isn’t as polished as it used to be.

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Great episode, and I thought I’d add a few points.

I echo @webwalrus on the nice touch of the polishing cloth analogy.

Mail

My biggest Mail gripe is actually on the linking. I’ve found it works well on macOS, well on iPadOS, but is completely unreliable on my phone if a message is anywhere but in the Inbox.

Calendar

No major issues with the app, but I have a problem on the iCloud service side. When my wife sends me a calendar invite (she’s on iCloud), it never gets properly added to my calendar when I hit the “Accept” button. I have no issues with invites from GMail, or Outlook or other services, but it’s really unreliable.

Safari

There’s an intangible quality to Safari that in many ways, makes it feel really polished. Way more so than the other common browsers. It has it’s issues, but overall I think Apple does a decent job of covering the basics. You do need a backup browser though.

Music

As a local music type of person, the app has gotten pretty hostile. Everything is so geared towards Apple Music. I still buy actual music from the iTunes store, but I don’t buy enough to justify the cost of Apple Music and I feel like I’m being punished. I also know I’m getting more and more into the minority on this point.

System Preferences

Everything Stephen said

Ending on a high note

Thank you again for hosting and maintaining this awesome forum. I know it’s been a bunch of trials the last few months, and I’m glad you have both sorted it out and reduced your costs. This and the Automators forums have been great sources of research and community for me.

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We really focused more on the productivity angle, but I agree about Podcasts. It’s a mess.

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I’m fairly sure that the reason a lot of Unix command line tools are outdated is because of changes in licensing which make them incompatible with a non-fully-open source operating system like macOS. Pretty sure that’s why curl is so old, and why they switched from bash to zsh.

I suspect the other reason is because of security issues in PHP or python or even bash, and Apple doesn’t want to be responsible for dealing with them. That’s not a great reason in my book, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that had something to do with it too.

Another issue with Mail you guys didn’t mention is flags (I like Mail, but this whole show could have been about the problems with it). If I flag an email, it might be flagged on other devices, or it might not. Or it will be flagged, but it might be a different color flag. And the same with clearing flags. It’s been broken for at least 2-3 years now, so I think they gave up trying to fix it.

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I think this is my main problem with Safari, and why some people may not use it at all.

If you need another browser for when Safari doesn’t work, it’s easier to just use the other browser all the time.

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Personally, I find I rarely need a backup browser on my Mac. It used to be that there were sites I would go to just didn’t like Safari, but that doesn’t seem to be a common problem anymore.

My bigger problem in the last few months is 1Blocker breaking things (blocking things I don’t want it to and I can’t figure out why).

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IMO, the answer to most of the “why” questions in this episode is Marketing. They want their Show & Tell event every fall and that is the driving force behind what features get attention. I stopped cutting Apple slack when they passed the $1 Trillion mark. The only excuse they get to use now is “the technology to do that doesn’t exist”. As far as everything else I think most of their problems are due to the choices they make.

Perhaps they aren’t able to hire enough programmers. From what I’ve read that’s a problem in the tech industry. So as @ismh mentioned, perhaps the yearly release needs to go. Then instead of forcing everyone to work to a deadline the programmers can work on software until it is ready. Why the rush? Many professionals won’t upgrade their Macs for months, or even a year or more, after a major macOS release. And the public is easy, they can be wowed with a simple UI change.

The search in email isn’t great. Neither is search in the Finder, Music, or App Store. And iCloud has been plagued with sync problems since day one. Perhaps Apple thinks these and other problem areas are “good enough”. Or perhaps they are content to let third parties come up with solutions when “good enough” isn’t good enough for us. That has been my solution.

When there isn’t ‘an app for that’ there is usually a cloud based solution. I need reliability so I use Google or Dropbox instead of iCloud. I need to work with non Mac users so I use Microsoft 365. I prefer to work primarily on an iPad and cloud alternatives make that possible.

I’m not dumping on Apple, I understand business. And they do make excellent hardware. But with few exceptions, they choose to make unremarkable software. The iPad has reached a point where it is a useful “computer” and the changes to the Mac haven’t been too restrictive, so I’m satisfied with the current situation.

But waiting on Apple to improve something is only for the young.


This is where someone replies “OK Boomer” :slight_smile:

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In general, I think it’s wise to always have a backup browser. I almost never need one (like @Leeabe51) said, but sometimes for troubleshooting, it’s great to have.

The one aspect I did miss though is that Safari’s dev tools are definitely lacking compared to Firefox or Chrome. I’m a basic web programmer (most of my experience is server side), but when playing around, I definitely need to use FF.

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One thing I don’t agree with is the comment that 90% people use apps like Mail and Calendar.

With older people this is true, but I teach Gen Z and millennials and they are all-in with web apps.

I teach 500 students a semester and I’ve yet to see one that uses Mail. They use Gmail and Google Calendar on the all devices.

Even my colleagues all use Outlook. I know as their attachments don’t work with Apple Mail unless you install and subscribe to Letter Opener.

I think home users who aren’t working for a company or studying may tend to use Mail, but professionals and students hardly ever use it.

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Podcasts is such an interesting app, because I really do want to love it. I love the discovery experience, and I don’t think anyone does a better job at surfacing new podcasts I might like in an editorial fashion.

I don’t even have the same reliability concerns as others do – in general, the syncing seems fine. Maybe not bulletproof compared to Overcast and others, but problems seem few and far between for me.

My biggest problem, though, is just paradigm. I feel like it makes me just… think too much. When I save an episode, what does that mean? It now appears in my list of shows (I think?), whether I’m subscribed to it or not, but it’s in with all the shows I am subscribed to. Latest episdoes? How come this is only showing some? oh, it’s because I can customize how far back I want to go. Okay, a show has an episode I don’t want to listen to now, or maybe ever. How do I remove it from Latest Episodes? I can mark it as played, but then I don’t want to later think that I actually did listen to it.

It’s all just too much. Give me the Podcasts app discovery experience + media control keys on Mac, with Overcast style episode management, and I’d be happy.

On the other hand, I wish more apps adopted Castro’s Inbox / Queue functionality, as it is totally unmatched but everything else about the app feels subpar compared to Overcast.

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I agree that it’s smart to have one, but I think it should be resorted to mainly for troubleshooting purposes when there’s a critical issue - not when the dev of a particular browser decides to not support otherwise-valid code.

Regarding the reported Calendar issues that mostly related to sync’ing, I’m deeply suspicious those are due to using iCloud as the syncing back-end. As a family we saw similar issues until we switched the syncing backend from iCloud to google ~5 years ago. We have seen near zero such issues since then. (Our move from iCloud to Google for calendar syncing was prompted by my job move to a company that is very much a google-shop and that there were advantages to having all my calendars in one service.) It took only a little effort to switch everyone over. And, from the point of view of “users” there’s no difference. My less technical family member has had no issues and probably couldn’t even tell you what service their calendar syncs with.

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That’s been my experience as well. I’ve found the same is true for Contacts.

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Yes, but who wants to use Google when they are constantly violating your privacy? They even tell you how they are doing it!!!

I have a Google account and wish I could get rid of it. To me it is rather scary that they take such liberties with people’s information.

I’m not crazy about Mail but I really have no specific problems. They are doing ok there.

Dude, podcasts is horrible. I gave it a serious try when I switched to iPhone and Mac this past year and almost immediately found it extremely inconvenient to use. Switched to Overcast, which I dig.

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I wonder how much of a problem it is for brand new users that haven’t ever used a podcast client before. I had to try it out to try and get somebody else a podcast download, and it wasn’t great - but not sure whether that’s just me bringing my existing paradigm.