The public doesn’t expect compromises

John Paczkowski in an article on Apple’s Black Lab (through John Gruber):

The trouble is, the public doesn’t expect compromises from Apple.

Pretty weird statement, considering Apple compromises — or “trades off” if you like its positive connotation more — all of the time, all over the place. It is exactly what most of their customers like about Apple’s products.

Some examples:

  1. iPod’s aside, starting in 2007 with the iPhone, Apple heads on the road to internal batteries. Completing the switch in 2010 with the white unibody Macbook. Internal batteries waste less container space, that can be used for a bigger battery and longer life.
  2. The Macbook Air compromises almost all ports (including ethernet) and an optical drive for thickness.
  3. In 2008, the 13″ Alu Macbook compromises firewire, only to be added again in the next refresh-cycle.
  4. Macs will never support Blue-ray.
  5. iOS only gradually receives much desired features like copy-paste, background music streaming, notification system, etc. Apple insists on unwrapping these features when they consider them perfect, and not before.
  6. iOS4 compromises true multi-tasking for an approximation that has no noticeable impact on battery-life, and doesn’t suffer from runaway processes.
  7. iOS doesn’t support Adobe Flash.

Initially, much of the listed compromises are met with shock and horror by some bloggers and journalists and most of all in the comments on their articles and posts. In time, people forget the features that were lost (and probably far underused in practice) and embrace and love the ones they gained instead. Or they complain, Apple repents and restores the lost feature (#3).

I can’t wait for Apple to slash the optical drive from the 13″ MBP, and replace it with something I use more than once a year. With SD making its way to almost every Mac, I’m looking forward to Mac OS 11 on SD.

I’ve talked about trade-off before.

Users vs. Designers: Who bites the bullet?

Marco Arment on Apple’s design philosophy:

In brief, [Apple’s] philosophy seems to be to ship only what’s great and leave out the rest. That’s why, instead of having a bad copy-and-paste implementation for the iPhone’s first two years, we just didn’t have one at all.

I believe this is an essential difference between the conscious Android and Apple user. Apple users have come to expect every feature to work just right — in the tightly controlled iPhone environment. They rely on Apple to weigh off every tradeoff, and make the hard decisions before releasing. Was it a long wait for copy/paste to first appear after two years? Hell yeah. A year down the road, it’s still a lot more elegant and easier to use than in Android’s Froyo release. While Android deals in feature count and manufacturers focus on hardware checklists. A bright spot on the horizon, or just a bad rumor: Google’s Android team will start focussing on usability in a next release.

I never make technology-buying decisions based on future promises, rumors, or potential. [..] I don’t buy things that are “getting better”, because they usually don’t. Whatever caused them to be lacking in their current release will usually prevent them from being great in future releases.

Let’s just hope they won’t hack it in now, and design it some time later.

One feature the iPhone has had to wait for is a multi-tasking UI. It’s too soon to say if it has really taken off, as developers are slowly pushing out multi-tasking versions of their applications. This doesn’t stop some (I shouldn’t even link to tabloid like this) from calling it a failure, just a few hours after it’s availability to the public. Seeing their arguments, it seems they don’t really get it. A failed multitasking implementation, in my book, behaves something like this:

“due to Android’s true multitasking, the battery life falls a little short. You may be able to eke out a little more longevity by utilizing apps like TasKiller [..] to quit processes you don’t want running, or the buggy-but-brilliant JuiceDefender app to cut back on data and screen usage. There’s a debate over TasKiller’s efficacy, and you don’t want to abuse its power in fear of killing off an important background task you actually want running, but I’ve found it helps me keep the phone on a little bit longer. If you don’t want to take such extreme measures, just make sure you actually quit apps when you’re done with them.”

Multi-tasking has failed if I have to start worrying about background apps draining my battery while it’s in my pocket. It’s the same reason why I like the Macbook’s safe-sleep feature so much. I don’t have to worry about it after I close the lid and put it in my bag. It goes to sleep and minimizes battery drain, until I need it again, in which case it’s fully usable in a matter of seconds. And it hasn’t failed me in over 4 years.

The only reason they deemed iOS4 multitasking horrible is because they weren’t using it in a typical multitasking scenario. Nobody multitasks actively between 20+ applications. Not on a desktop machine, and certainly not on a handheld. This only occurs when you’re taking the feature for a spin, before sensationally tearing it down in an article or post.

A realistic multitasking scenario might look something like this:

You’re one the road, working on an e-mail to a colleague, but you’re not really happy with the result just yet. You decide to take your mind of by playing some Tilt to Live. However, half-way through your attempt at a killer score, you get texted by a friend who needs the telephone number for that great mexican place. You know you don’t have it in your address book, so you launch the browser to look it up. You switch back to the text message, paste in the number and send it through. You switch back to your game, exactly where you left off, but fail miserably at breaking your record. You switch back to mail, finish off the reply and send it on its way.

This scenario required you to switch between 4 application. You start both the game, and the browser from the homescreen. Firstly, because you are starting a new task, and secondly, because you don’t remember having the browser nor the game open in the last few hours. You could go flicking through the task switch banner, with varying success of finding both apps open. Use both features for what they are meant for, and you should never have to worry about having to flick through 5 rows of tasks. Nor should you worry about manually closing apps.

The only reason Apple put this feature in, is as a faster alternative for killing frozen applications. Previously this required holding the lock button, followed by holding the home button for 10s. Relax on the micromanagement, the iPhone will kill applications for you when memory resources are getting scarce. It doesn’t expect you to start killing off applications manually to cope with the issues of its halfhearted implementation.