Apple keyboard remains excellent – iPhone software not so excellent

Remember a posting I did last autumn about how I bought a new, small, Apple Mac keyboard? Probably not. Why would you? Anyway, I did. It still looks like this:

The thing is, you often read enthusiastic endorsements of products by purchasers, immediately after they’ve bought the thing. But such purchasers have a vested interest in being enthusiastic, because if they aren’t enthusiastic, why did they buy it? Less often do you read follow up pieces months or years later, about whether the initial enthusiasm has persisted. Well, in this case, I just want to say that this has, so far, proved to be a very successful purchase indeed. The keyboard is still working fine. It remains the solid, unclunky thing that it first seemed. It continues to be the difference between a conveniently clear desk and a hopelessly cluttered one.

I am becoming more and more open to the idea that my next computer will be a Mac rather than yet another clunky old PC.

Here, on the other hand, are some less admiring reflections about Apple, this time concerning the way that Apple handles the software on their nevertheless legendarily successful iPhone. Actually, it’s because the iPhone is so fabulously successful that Apple can handle its software so badly. Which Paul Graham reckons may cost them in the longer run.

Their model of product development derives from hardware. They work on something till they think it’s finished, then they release it. You have to do that with hardware, but because software is so easy to change, its design can benefit from evolution. The standard way to develop applications now is to launch fast and iterate. Which means it’s a disaster to have long, random delays each time you release a new version.

Apparently Apple’s attitude is that developers should be more careful when they submit a new version to the App Store. They would say that. But powerful as they are, they’re not powerful enough to turn back the evolution of technology. Programmers don’t use launch-fast-and-iterate out of laziness. They use it because it yields the best results. By obstructing that process, Apple is making them do bad work, and programmers hate that as much as Apple would.

My utterly casual and probably quite worthless opinion of Apple is that as soon Steve Jobs stops being their boss, they’re doomed. While Jobs sticks around, everything they make will look and feel great, because this is what Jobs does insist on and can insist on. He has total power and impeccable taste, which is, if you think about it, an extraordinarily rare combination of circumstances. He knows exactly what we all want, years before we do, and he screams like a horrifically spoilt child until he gets it. A few years back, Jobs did abandon Apple, or maybe it was vice versa (what with all the horrific spoilt child screaming), and Apple did then nosedive towards inevitable doom. Only when Jobs returned did the Apple glory days resume. Without Jobs, Apple will become just another clunky computer company with a glorious past and a ton of money to waste that they made in the glory days. Which they will waste and that will be that. Apple keyboards will duly degenerate into being no better than any other kind of keyboard.

Which in my opinion is the single big reason not to buy, which means to commit to, Macs.

Those complaints about Apple’s turgid software approval process were written last November. I wonder if anything has changed since then. It seems rather improbable. After all, the iPhone hasn’t got any less successful.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

One thought on “Apple keyboard remains excellent – iPhone software not so excellent”

  1. A ton of comments on the original posting on the old blog – whenever I wrote about tech stuff that seemed to happen:


    Brian, you wrote this on the day that the Opera browser became available for the iPhone. In some ways it is very good, but in other ways it seems half finished. This is good, in the sense that Apple seems a bit more open to the process described above, and also because it means they are willing to accept competition to their own applications on the iPhone (in this case their Safari browser).

    Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. There is no question it was that way round. He only came back when he was begged to, basically. I cannot imagine he will ever retire from the company now. However, he has had emergency life saving surgery twice, so that may not matter that much, unfortunately.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 13 April 2010


    The problem with not committing to Apple is that means you are almost certainly committing to Microsoft. And Bill Gates is in semi- (or, is it complete) retirement. Which kind of explains Vista.

    Can you tell that I bought a Mac last month?

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on 14 April 2010


    Had to use a Mac keyboard in class on Monday. Hated it.

    Posted by Tatyana on 14 April 2010


    I personally think that Apple is still doing a great job. One just can’t be excellent in everything. Moreover comparing Apple to Microsoft, I guess it’s quite obvious that Jobs has gone far from Gates. And we, the customers, sometimes should give them easy time.

    Posted by Camila on 14 April 2010


    Apple did something very important when it introduced the iPhone. We had had mobile phones that were capable of handling data based applications for several years before that, but the mobile phone companies would not allow the user or the manufacturer of the phone to decide what the phone could do with these data services. The mobile phone operators wanted to decide what services were offered over their phones and demand a cut of every transaction. (It was common, by the way, for companies like Nokia to produce fancy new phones, and for companies like Vodafone to demand that many of their features be removed before they would be sold on the network). None of the services that the operators tried to sell took off, and only three or four years ago operators were saying things like “Users aren’t interested in data services”.

    Steve Jobs went into a few meetings with mobile phone executives and screamed at them about how things were going to work in return for him deigning to allow his beautiful iPhone to use their network. A couple of networks told him where to go (Verizon in the US, principally – in recent times they have been begging him to please come back, but he has a long memory) but a couple did deals with him, and the iPhone was announced, which could run any application that Apple was willing to allow on it, and in which the network just sold the data and had no say in how it was used. Whatever Apple’s App store policy – in truth Apple allows the vast bulk of applications on the iPhone without much complaint – it was vastly better than before, and we now use the mobile internet everywhere. We really can thank Steve for most of this.

    And if you don’t like the iPhone, there are plenty of phones using other operating systems that now work in the same way as the iPhone with respect to the mobile networks. I personally do like the iPhone. There are one or two applications I would like to see on it that I am not likely to due to Apple’s policies (MAME, VLC, bit-torrent clients) but its good things are such that I am going to use it anyway.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 14 April 2010


    Patrick: Vista was great, apart from third-party hardware vendors not bothering to write drivers.

    Brian: I’m not sure Jobs is a magic talisman, and Apple is doomed without him.

    If they can find someone else with the same sort of obsession with “insanely great” User Experience (and knowing that the money comes from hardware, not software), they can prosper without him.

    (Sculley, Spindler, and Amelio were all not that person, or even close to it.)

    Posted by Sigivald on 14 April 2010


    Vista was great, apart from third-party hardware vendors not bothering to write drivers.

    Other than requiring vastly more hardware resources than XP to run, and doing very little that XP couldn’t.

    And also being unfinished when released, and requiring at least one service pack (probably two) to be stable when doing such things as a simple file copy from one volume to another.

    Windows 7 is much better, and a good deal leaner. Vista itself is a good deal better than it was three years ago. However, it is silly to claim that it was originally anything other than a total train wreck.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 15 April 2010


    The thing that awes me about Steve Jobs: he wears exactly the same clothes every day; he lived for ten years in an almost completely unfurnished house; and he is profoundly cool. I wish I could do that.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 19 April 2010


    He lives in unfurnished house and “he is profoundly cool”?
    I’d say, he’s a fanatical fool.

    About Apple apps: on Saturday I was on a tour of an underground railroad tunnel (1st subway in the world, they said), and the guide mentioned rumors about giant 5’ rats that occupy the premises.
    Then I’ve [inadvertently] eavesdropped on this conversation in the darkness in front of me:
    Girl: Mike, what if there are those rats in here now? You don’t have a bat or a spike to fight them off!
    Mike: I have an IPhone! There is an app for that!

    Posted by Tatyana on 19 April 2010


    The thing that awes me about Steve Jobs: he wears exactly the same clothes every day; … I wish I could do that.

    I thought you did.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on 20 April 2010


    Well, only somewhat.

    I think your deletion in the middle of the quote is crucial thoughl.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 20 April 2010
    Patrick: Vista was great, apart from third-party hardware vendors not bothering to write drivers.

    I don’t completely agree with you that Vista is so good – Windows 7 has recently shown that the OS can be much more optimized and even more secure than the Mac X OS.That’s a real breakthrough for Bill Gates( Suppose that his retirement is over=)

    Posted by CZ on 26 April 2010

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