Complaints about what Apple is doing wrong, not doing sufficiently well, or not doing at all is nothing new. But it seems that over the past few years the complaints, specifically from Apple enthusiasts, developers and advocates has been increasing in frequency and volume.
Apple developers as well as the commentators have legitimate reasons to complain. Apple, for all its meticulousness, attention to detail and strive for perfection, is not perfect. With both the size of the company and their scope of interests, Apple has its hands full and deals with an ever more complex operation in which every product integration contains more moving parts. What once was a collection of a few mostly standalone, self contained products is now an array of interconnected hardware, software and web services ecosystem. And the expectation of Apple to do more beyond its current scope as well as within its existing product line is not slowing down. Apple has set the bar high and we all got a taste of how good it can be.
Most of the complaints seem to boil down to one of two general themes:
Apple is not adding X feature we want or updating product X fast enough.
Apple is falling behind or not improving its weak area X fast enough.
At any given point in time X is something else, it’s the next thing on the list that has not been addressed yet now that the previous thing has been fixed or taken care of. But that’s just it, as far as I can tell nearly every complaint is sooner or later addressed. Not always to everyone’s satisfaction perhaps, as you simply can’t please everyone, but none are actually left ignored. Some gripes are answered fairly quickly and some bigger concerns can take almost 10 years to be addressed, but nearly without fail they all do.
Nowhere is this more evident than with wish lists of app developers. I’m only a relatively recent addition to the Apple developer community but I’ve been observing this for years now. Even things developers thought they’ll never get from Apple eventually shows up like the toy you thought Santa will never get you. The best example of this was WWDC 2014.
Brent Simmons, during WWDC 2014, emphasis mine:
“One of the jokes this week is that suddenly we developers have nothing left to complain about. It was all taken care of on one Monday in June 2014.
But we’ll find things, of course.
It was like this, though — we kept hearing about things, even relatively small things, that all by themselves would have made for a great week. It was like the greatest Christmas ever — and then Santa Claus hung out so you could take selfies with him. “
Some years WWDC stands for World Wide Developer Christmas. However, this occurrence is not really unique to 2014 or to WWDC. This happens regularly, yet the issue isn’t that we all have short memories. Like Brent said, “…we’ll find things, of course.“ We indeed found things, of course, and we always will. I’m not actually proposing that we shouldn’t complain. Quite the opposite, this is a crucial part of the Apple feedback loop. But I am proposing that we recognize an important attribute of this feedback loop which we are a part of.
Apple product releases and software updates have never strictly been a decree that comes down from behind the walled garden, as much as it might feel that way at times, it has actually always been some mixture of strong internal opinions of “we know best” and an attention to how customers react, and what developers and commentators say. But it appears to us this way because of an important element that differentiates Apple from most companies. Their commitment to secrecy. Apple does not wear their intentions on their sleeve and in most cases would rather keep everything they’re up to quite until the very last moment when they present it to the public.
In rare cases we get to learn, backwards in time, when Apple started working on something. Like with Swift, Apple’s new programming language, which turned out to be more than 4 years in the making before it was eventually revealed for the first time, even to many who actually work at the company. But in most cases we don’t find out where on the timeline Apple decided to start working on a product, feature, or service. But it is pretty clear that many of these come as a reaction to market demands or in addressing complaints of vocal users and developers. Apple does not make decisions in a vacuum.
Their mode of operation, their secrecy and grand unveilings, is a big part of what many of us love about Apple, and it is one of the ways in which they do what appears to be a core part of their mission statement, to delight customers. But this causes a delay in the feedback loop. An example of this most people would be familiar with is a shower in which the water temperature takes time to adjust once you turned the faucet. If you don’t realize there’s a delay, you’ll keep turning it up thinking you haven’t turned the hot water far enough, and a few seconds later you almost burn yourself when it ends up too hot and you adjust it back.
So despite knowing that we don’t know what Apple is working on, and despite seeing more and more examples of our concerns being eventually addressed, we keep turning the faucet up as if we forget that the temperature takes time but does eventually adjust, even if we can’t see the hot water coming down the pipeline.
I think the good news is that Apple seems to be aware of this and has been working to reduce the delay in the feedback loop. I don’t think we’ll ever get a level of transparency that other companies have, and I’m not sure we’d really want it if we got it, it might take some of the magic away. But Apple is trying to mitigate the frustration by addressing concerns more quickly, or at least hinting at what’s coming in more obvious ways. Whether through what might be controlled media leaks or top executives giving interviews of the sort they’ve never given in the past, saying we’re aware of the issues, we heard you, we’re working on it.
I think the upcoming WWDC will remind us once again that Apple is indeed listening, which means our feedback is an important part of the loop, but perhaps it will also remind us that we need not get so frustrated, we just need to give it a minute and let the temperature adjust.