I have been growing increasingly frustrated with Apple lately. Apple is a giant company now, as compared to the scrappy upstart they were when I started using their computers in 2005 upon my return to college. A lot has changed. Their workforce and market cap are massive. They are always plowing forward at breakneck speed now, sometimes at the expense of their users and their products.
The first thoughts I had following the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference Keynote this week centered around iPadOS 16. It’s ironic that Apple is now advertising new Parental Controls with iPadOS 16 when the existing ones don’t work. I have had a support ticket open with Apple going on nine months now about how the Downtime feature with Screen Time doesn’t function properly. I set limits on my son’s iPad gaming usage, and then frequently find him going over those limits just by noticing that he’s been playing games for a long time. When I check, the Screen Time limits have reset themselves to be disabled.
I’ve set screen time limits for myself, and they generally last 2-3 days before resetting. Once I’ve realized things have reset, I have to go and turn the feature back on again, and specify all the exceptions. Then, a couple of days later, I have to do it over again. I have spent hours on the phone with Apple support troubleshooting, only for them to tell me it’s a known issue in development, and they just haven’t fixed it yet. My emails to follow-up are ignored. Each time I call — which I did again a couple of weeks ago — the support rep walks me through all sorts of troubleshooting that I’ve already done, then disappears for a while, and then comes back and tells me that they are aware of the issue and that others are reporting it. They still have no ETA on a fix. Six months ago, they told me a fix should be coming soon, and they would do something special for me and my son for our patience. They haven’t fixed the bug or done anything special for us.
As someone who works in software development and spent ten years as a QA Manager, my advice for Apple would be to fix the breaking feature bugs before adding on to that same feature. It makes absolutely no sense to add anything to Screen Time or Parental Controls when the basic functionality doesn’t even work. This is a critical feature for me, as a parent. I need to be able to regulate my child’s screen time. Being able to control your child’s technology usage is not a nice-to-have, it’s an expectation these days. If the issue isn’t resolved, I will need to move my child to another platform where I can ensure he has appropriate limits. I’m starting to look at a Microsoft Surface tablet to replace his iPad. A tablet running Windows would give him the ability to run more games, anyway.
Another thing that I quickly realized regarding the announcement of iPadOS 16 was that I wouldn’t be able to run the signature feature, Stage Manager, on the iPad Air I bought new last year. That’s right, Apple products are obsolete after a single year. Had I known last year that I wouldn’t be able to run the multitasking features that were coming out in one year, I wouldn’t have purchased the iPad. Between the high-priced super Smart Keyboard and the tablet itself, the total was over a grand.
As regular readers of my blog and newsletter will know, I’ve been dealing with disabling illness for the past couple of years and I can’t be spending a ton of money on computers that are out-of-date within a year. It would be fine if the iPad could serve as my only computer, but that functionality (being able to work effectively with an external screen) is a part of the Stage Manager feature. Therefore, I still have to maintain another desktop computer. If I want to be able to sync my software between the desktop computer and the tablet, those devices both have to be from Apple.
When I told my boss about the fact that my almost-new iPad wouldn’t be getting the new features, he laughed at me and said that was typical for Apple. He cynically chalks it up to Apple trying to gin up more sales. Getting laughed at is something I’ve gotten used to as an Apple user over the last few years, but I’ve got to say, this time it stung because he’s right. This situation is ridiculous, and I feel like a sucker.
Apple has a very sticky ecosystem. Not only does buying more of their products ensure that your devices play together nicely, but they also have the healthiest independent developer community of any platform. For example, I can’t think of a single RSS reader on Windows. Nor can I think of a Markdown text editor that can post to a blogging engine. On the Mac there are many. As a power user, I’m not confident that you can even switch to Linux or Windows without giving up many capabilities provided by independent software. This is the situation, even though Apple, by many people’s estimates, does not treat their developers well.
So as my frustration with Apple grows, I’m almost equally frustrated with companies like Microsoft for failing to make a platform as compelling as Apple’s for the personal computer developer and user. If one could do the same things on Windows that you can do on the Mac, it would provide Apple with more competition and a level of accountability from which their current hegemony in certain areas protects them.
I doubt I will be switching away from Apple at this point, but I’m trying to think of ways to become less dependent on them for my computing, especially when it comes to my hobbies.
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