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  • Apple in 2016: Making it Better

    December 30th, 2015

    You know, Apple could keep doing what it’s doing and no doubt remain successful. While there are lots of tech and industry pundits who believe they know better,  that Apple is constantly screwing up, sales and profits show otherwise. That doesn’t mean a company necessarily succeeds on the basis of quality — and I can cite Microsoft over the years as a notorious example — at least it’s evident they are doing something right.

    In Apple’s favor are products that receive high customer satisfaction rates. Clearly, over, the years, people continue to enjoy their Macs, iPhones, iPads and even the Apple Watch. It helps that large numbers of Apple customers continue to buy the company’s products, and it’s this halo effect that has reportedly helped fuel demand for buying additional gear.

    But to say Apple is necessarily perfect is unrealistic. While it’s quite possible Apple doesn’t have to change a thing and remain successful for a long time, there are nonetheless reasons to feel frustrated at some of the things the company is doing. I’m not one to pretend I know better, but I’m still concerned.

    So in yesterday’s column, I complained about the fact that you cannot upgrade RAM on most Macs, and the same is true for replacing the drive on recent note-books. Macs last longer, they are supported longer by OS X, but important upgrades are impossible for most products in recent years.

    Now on the upcoming episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I will interview iFixit’s Kyle Wiens on which gear is easy and which gear is hard to fix. Now Kyle has learned a thing or two over the years about tearing down and evaluating tech gear, and he and his crew will also catalog the parts during the disassembly process. So I accept him as an expert in repairability.

    In the course of this discussion, which was taped shortly before this column was written, I asked him whether Apple would give up much in terms of thinness and low weight if they added RAM upgrade capabilities to models that no longer had it. But consider that the previous Mac mini and the current Mac mini use the same case design. The previous model was relatively easy to upgrade, while the current model is impossible. Apple made a user-hostile decision.

    With other models, you might have to make some of them barely thicker, probably not to any noticeable degree, and a tad heavier, to allow for upgrades. The cost of additional parts should be insignificant. You’ll want to listen to the episode to learn more, but it’s clear to me that Apple’s priorities about upgradeability do not consider customer convenience.

    Now one of the reasons I do not use an iPad regularly is the limit placed on the sort of apps you can  buy for Apple’s mobile gear. This is a reflection of another choice, which kinds of apps are allowed in the App Store. Apple uses sandboxing to wall off apps from one another. This is done in the interests of security, though there are “entitlements” that allow for some level of inter-app communication.

    So would allowing developers to release apps that capture audio from other apps present a security problem? That’s just one example, and I don’t have the answer, but I do believe Apple could design iOS to allow for such additional entitlements without making your gear less secure. The same is true for OS X, where the are also severe limits to the type of apps you can buy from the Mac App Store. At least on a Mac, developers can set up their own online stores, or post their software elsewhere. So long as they use Apple’s developer certificates, an app can be installed without forcing you to jump through an extra hoop to allow it to open.

    Now that Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing Philip Schiller has been given control of the App Stores for all platforms, perhaps he’ll consider asking his developers to devise ways to loosen restrictions in ways that will expand the possibilities.

    I do think that the iPad can become a more productive tool with the right apps and iOS features. Perhaps Apple will find a way. There have already been improvements, but the iPad Pro, to me at least, still has loads of unrealized potential that may be limiting its value to some customers. Maybe it’s losing sales. I don’t know, but I would not consider buying one if I didn’t receive it for review. At least not yet.

    For 2016, I’d like to see Apple hammer away at the bloated mess that’s iTunes. It’s hard to find people who really like everything it does and the way it does. There ought to be some serious rethinking for the next version. Apple Music also remains cluttered and could use improvement.

    I’m very troubled whenever I read about lingering bugs with iOS and OS X. With a big public beta program, surely Apple has received feedback about many of the problems that still plague its operating systems. So why aren’t they being fixed? In my case, Mail for El Capitan still stalls for a half minute or so every so often. If there’s something I could do to fix the problem, I would. I have rebuilt the mailboxes, one remedy suggested, without result.

    If there’s one New Year’s resolution Apple might make for 2016, it would be about paying more attention to the needs and concerns of its customers. As the product lines expand, the present issues may only get worse.



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