Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Bad Apple

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Okay, fine, Steve Jobs was a great man. Or something. And he was also often an asshole. But the eulogy by his sister published in the NYT is just so, so completely cringe-inducingly embarrassing. It’s perfectly normal for family, especially family that didn’t get a chance to live as a ‘normal’ family, to over-compensate at important times like at births/weddings/deaths, but to publish it in a newspaper is just – setting yourself up for some serious criticism. When the public mood shifts (and it already has moved from mass shock and universal grief to eye-rolling at the shock and grief), you’re either going to end up as the over-maudlin sister or the opportunistic sibling.

And I find it silly especially because I’ve never been an Apple fanboi. Their products don’t “just work” for me the way Google’s do. The interfaces are not intuitive to my mind. My eyes are not bothered by clutter but stimulated by it, so I find their products uninspiring-ly simple. And I don’t want the machine itself to “get out of the way” – the machine is part of the fun! I *like* tinkering with the innards, and like how Windows PCs are the equivalent of an industrial loft with the exposed heating pipes and vents, but Apple products are the stark beauty of an empty, freshly painted room. I’m a New Yorker, really – I like exposed brick and pipes and industrial things. The empty room evokes nothing more than a sanitarium or a lunatic asylum to me, or at best, a suburban house expecting some crappy Rooms-to-Go furniture. On the other hand, I *do* want things to work in intuitive ways and for me not to have to re-learn everything or create workarounds for presumably basic tasks. I want to be able, therefore, to connect an iDevice to a computer and transfer stuff both *from* and *to* the iDevice without having to download third-party and illegal software.

For instance, iCloud and iOS5. Given that cloud computing has been around at least from 1996 when Hotmail was first launched, and really took off at least 13 years ago with Yahoo Briefcase and Gmail and Google docs, etc., Apple had absolutely no excuse waiting until 2011 to release their version – that is simply not what an ‘innovative’ company is supposed to do. And oh, Apple definitely NEVER had an excuse for needing everyone buying their phone to have a computer. Let me repeat that, because the absurdity of this situation hasn’t really got the coverage it deserves: in order to use your “smart” iPhone, you need to ‘sync’ it with a computer! The first time you open the shiny new box and unwrap your shiny new iPhone, you won’t be able to use it for at least an hour (or longer) while you download iTunes onto your computer and then make oh, about 200 selections and key in your credit card details to create an Apple ID, etc. and set up your phone. If enough noise had been made about this, surely we’d’ve had muggers waiting outside homes that had little white boxes delivered to them, because you can’t even call 911 before you create an Apple ID.

And now that they’ve launched iCloud a century after everyone else and to some mega fanfare, it still doesn’t work half as seamlessly as it should. I updated my iPhone4 to iOS5 recently (by tethering it – and myself – to my computer for 2 hours and restarting my laptop twice during that time). Out of no where, iOS5 created an encrypted backup file of my phone’s contents with a password. Some random password. So I couldn’t use my phone and its existing settings. I tried all possible password options, wondering if the software picked one that came right out of Mr. Jobs’ (or is it Saint Jobs yet?) innovative ass: my Apple ID password, my phone lock screen password, my iTunes password, my computer’s password (it’s a Macbook. I am totally masochistic, of course, why do you ask?), my Gmail password, my Seamlessweb password (just because I use that so often) and my Amazon password (just because – well, isn’t the new Kindle Fire supposed to beat the pants off the iPad?). Nothing worked. And it wasn’t just this one instance. When I updated P’s phone, an iPhone 4, using his work laptop and the iTunes on that PC, it was the exact same issue, even though I had created an encrypted backup of his phone and saved the password *before* downloading iOS5. This time, the software wouldn’t just create its own password in the absence of one – it overwrote my created password and denied us access to our perfectly-functional phones. Both times, we’ve had to restore our phones and thereby destroying all the app architecture (app folders, which app is one which screen, etc.) and the settings and the screens and the contact files, etc. And using up precious hours of my life.

And the new iCloud? I couldn’t figure out how to sync Google contacts onto my phone and/or to iCloud. So I looked it up, and apparently there’s this incredibly complicated, back-ass-wards workaround which makes sense because the creators of iCloud (Apple) basically want everyone to start everything from scratch and make it as hard as possible to re-use and re-purpose their systems. So now I have contacts from my Macbook on my phone: and these are crappy contacts, really – the Macbook contact system basically clubs together all ’email-only’ contacts which don’t have a name or phone number into arbirtary sets of three. It sticks weird email addresses together like misfits at a party with bad seating planning, like a plumber I once emailed, with my ex-ex-boss, with P, in one contact. And the only way to set this right is to add a name to the contact of EVERY person I’ve ever emailed, or to go into these 300-odd ‘contacts’ and delete two of the three email addresses. Ugh. It’s as painful as it sounds. Why couldn’t these guys just offer the exact same option as before, to just sync Gmail contacts along with the email and calendar? Or if the whole confusion was in creating two sync sources, why not just make the address-book a super-set, like it was earlier, and you could see either ‘all my contacts’ or ‘all gmail contacts’ or ‘all exchange contacts’? WHAT is so complicated about giving that option? Or is it just not pretty enough?

It’s like earlier, when I wanted to get the latest version of a software I was using, I was told it’s no longer available on CD. It’s only available as a download on the Mac App Store. Alrighty, I said, fine, I’ll download it. But whoa there. To get anything from the Mac app store, you can’t just go to the Apple website and click a ‘download here’ button. No – you need to download an ‘app store’ client. Okay, fine. I set out to do so, but I couldn’t. You see, I needed Mac OS Lion for even downloading the ‘app store’ client, it wasn’t supported on my 18-month old Mac OS X. Basically, I needed to overhaul my entire operating system to get a piece of software I wanted. Even if I wanted it that badly (I didn’t) that I was ready to overhaul my operating system (which, given past experience, will take 1 day to backup my data and 5 days to download and de-bug the software and re-learn all the settings and re-customize it for my needs, so is in effect a week-long project during which I will not have use of my laptop, which is unthinkable)…..where was I? Oh, yes: even if I was ready to upturn my life and install Lion, I couldn’t. Why? Because Lion is also download-only. From the Mac app store. Hahahahahaha.

Of course, there is a workaround. I could go to an ebay reseller, or to a small, unnoticed section on the Apple website, and buy a CD for Mac OS Snow Leopard. That OS was launched a year before Lion (I think). I could only install Lion if I already had Snow Leopard (my 18-month old Operating System was not just past its generation, it was a Grandparent already. Look how time flies!) This is because Lion is built on the skeleton of Snow Leopard, not Mac OS X. The equivalent in simple language would be if you wanted to upgrade from a Toyota Camry to a Lexus, and the dealer told you you would first need to trade in your Camry for a Prius, learn everything about the Prius, transfer your stuff there, drive it round for a bit, get used to it for a week, *then* trade in your Prius for a Lexus, also, btw, taking the finacial hit of buying BOTH the Prius *and* the Lexus.

So, yeah. Steve Jobs may have been – and was – a brilliant guy. And I’m the first person to decry products made by committee or by market research. But even brilliance needs an editor, and brilliant products need to be put through a logic testing phase or through market qualification. Not to have great sales – no, I think Apple’s numbers speak for themselves – but to avoid user frustration. And to avoid me having to spend energy on long blog rants.