The body of Vladimir Lenin in the mausoleum on Red Square

Apple products are graveyards of dead UX

iOS and Garageband

Eight generations of the iOS dock
Eight generations of the iOS dock

You may recall that in my piece Christ! I’ve got an iPad I was at least moderately taken with the little bleeder. So taken, that I swapped it, plus half a kidney for an iPad Air 2. I realise that it was the hardware that impressed me, which is greatly improved since I last had long term exposure to one. This means the iPad run some distinctly powerful music composition software, which I am pleased to have access to.

Indeed, the hardware of most Apple devices is extremely good and they, with one exception I shall mention at the end of this piece, have excellent industrial design. Desktops are usually powerful and fast, even if they do not use pure SSD storage. The new MacBook is a glorious looking and rather whizzy device; it is a really clever piece of design both internally and externally. I think the iPad Mini I briefly owned and the iPad Air 2 I might keep for a longer period are impressively capable and probably only beaten in design terms by Sony’s gorgeous Xperia tablets. Yet, however good the hardware and design is, Apple’s products are poxed by a foul pestilence that Apple have shown almost no desire to cure.

Take my iPad Air 2 – every time I pick it up I feel like I am encouraging a zombie to have another go at eating my brain. Yes, the hardware is brilliant. Yes, technically speaking iOS is resource-frugal and efficient. However, the User eXperience has been dug out of the grave of ancient computing history.

 

My iPad Air 2 home screen
My iPad Air 2 home screen

 

There have been some changes, mostly trivial, but the User eXperience has hardly changed from the original iPad of five years ago. The grid of icons with some icons opening up to reveal smaller grids of icons may be glossier and in 24-bit colour, but it is still as crude as Windows 3.0. Apple’s total failure to develop and enhance the UX is a dark stain of shame upon them.

Windows 3.0 - The UI that refuses to die
Windows 3.0 – The UI that refuses to die

Now you may recall that my secret reason for getting the iPad Mini in the first place was that I wanted to play with Garageband. However, my experience of day-to-day use with both the iPad Mini and the iPad Air 2 made me too afraid to run it until a few minutes ago.

Why? I feared it would be just like when I have installed an Amiga emulator on my PC and tried playing a few games I loved in the early 1990s. I had grown and developed whilst the Amiga games had stayed crude, old and crap. I worried that Garageband would be just the same. An embalmed Lenin, forever unchanging and preserved in its iOS mausoleum.

And it was. Support for some more recent iOS technologies had been smeared on, like extra plasticine on Lenin’s long-dead face, but no evidence of development or growth. Expertly lacquered, for sure, but still the same experience that I had left behind four years ago.

The body of Vladimir Lenin in the mausoleum on Red Square
The body of Vladimir Lenin in the mausoleum on Red Square

The whole iOS experience is like that. It might have made sense to have all the app settings in one place when there were only 13 apps on the first iPhone, most of which were so simple that they lacked settings, but it is astonishing that Apple, eight years later, still obstinately cling on to this utterly unintuitive putrefied perversity. My iPad only has 177 apps (far fewer than the 1900 apps I once had on my Lumia 1520), but whenever I need to change a setting, the experience leaves me with an overwhelming desire to dig up and desecrate Steve Jobs’ corpse.

As Apple have grown morbidly obese, they complacently keep releasing ever more moribund versions of iOS with each new device. I wish I did not have to be so close to necrophilia each time I use iOS to launch my third-party music composition apps, which all deliver modern, great user experiences.

OS X

I freely admit I am not a habitual user of OS X, so I may have missed some subtle but extremely significant withered limb that has been grafted onto it from the rotting hulk of iOS. However, one thing is clear, no matter how unwilling Apple may be to change iOS, OS X is far worse. It is the domain of people petrified beyond belief that they might ever encounter change.

Breughel - The triumph of death

I know this to be the case for many reasons, two of which I shall relate here.

One of our London friends is a highly-paid IT professional, who was so determined that things should remain in a state of stasis, forever remaining exactly as they were when he learned any particular technology, that he refused to upgrade to Windows 7 and stuck with Windows XP for years and years after it had been superseded and only provided a fig leaf of security against people who might have wanted to break into his computer.

This fellow gave many bizarre reasons why he as an IT professional, refused to run up to date, secure software. Indeed, he wrote a huge tract of a blog post in which he described his paranoid delusion that if he moved to Windows 7 he would be giving up the fine-grained control he had over his Windows XP machine.

He was fooling no one. Every time he restarted his computer he opened the same application windows in the same screen locations. When I was allowed to use his computer, he would soft and furrow his brow if I moved, or heaven forbid, closed one of his unchanging windows into his computer’s operation. He was scared silly something might change in his computing world.

Of course, he worked in IT so he could not escape being exposed to ever more capable, resource demanding applications and development environments, so there came a point where Windows XP on a wheezing Pentium 4 would not allow him to keep up with the demands of his employment. Rather than get a worryingly different Windows 7 machine, he sought refuge in the perennially unchanging, staid, lifeless computer graveyard that is OS X.

Yes, that is right, he was so disgusted by the difference between Windows XP and Windows 7 that he bought a reassuringly expensive Apple iMac so that OS X could forever protect him from change. We were getting ready to leave London and I spent a lot of time in hospital at around this time but I vividly recall his resistance to updating the operating system on his iMac. Last time we spoke, he did claim to be running the most recent version of OS X – so not much will have changed then.

Which brings me to my second, and very brief, point. I am fully conversant with the lack of change in the Mac UX because I owned a Mac Color Classic from 1993 to 1996 which did not even run OS X but MacOS 8.

The only non-hardware-related difference I notice between that and when I sit down in front of the most smug of Mac-owners machines today is that the icons are more glossy and colourful, and that are a few extra icons in the menu bar that will forever dwell at the top of the screen. Beyond that the UX is nigh identical to what it was in the first half of the nineties and I find myself depressingly at home with the crapulent experience that is using a modern, expensive Mac.

It is fabulously depressing than the company with the highest market capitalisation in the world has been aggressively resisting any form of development, evolution or large scale improvement in the UX of all its devices for decades. It is vastly more depressing that seemingly intelligent people appear to worship this monolithic corporation as some form of Zen boutique of chic cool. Apple meanwhile have been gleefully taking the piss out of development-phobic acolytes by peddling the same tired old desktop metaphors and grids of icons with some folder icons for year after year, never risking a bold improvement in the UX of their set-in-stone devices just in case it worries the sheep.

The outlier

We have not made an appointment to get our hands on the actual hardware, but from videos we have seen it seems there is an outlier in Apple’s portfolio that seems to have been designed with an innovative, modern UX in mind – the Apple Watch. Having an entirely new platform and form factor to work with seems to have woken Apple’s interface designers from their perennial 1990s design-stupor and they have made something that suits the platform extremely well and is worthy of belonging in the 21st Century. So they can actually do ‘different’, ‘intuitive’ and ‘modern’ when given a chance. Tim Cook should let his Apple Watch team loose on iOS and OS X.

Except he should not, because the Apple Watch is an outlier in another way. I have said that Apple make devices with great industrial design: this is categorically untrue of the Apple Watch. It looks utterly repulsive in all its incarnations. I cannot imagine why people would want to pay for and get seen with such a malignant wen on their wrists. They would scream out to anyone who saw one on a person’s wrist that the wearer is completely devoid of any aesthetic sensibilities and is a prize arse for spending so much money on something that marks them out as a philistine. Great UX, Apple, but as far as design goes it is not just ‘must try harder’ but rather “stand outside the classroom for the rest of the lesson, you foul child!”.


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