The New Apple: It Doesn't Just Work

Some people willingly overpay for half-baked features in obscure gadgets. These are the early adopters of the world, and they know full well that the things they buy will not work perfectly. Hiccups and glitches are just part of the contract, the accepted trade-off for being first.

Apple's customers are not these people — iPhones are the epitome of a mass-market gadgetry. So why, with two half-baked — and highly touted — flagship features in as many years, has Cupertino suddenly started treating its loyal millions like the world's largest debugging unit?

It Just Works

Apple's best-known mantra might be "Think Different", but anyone who has watched the company through the years will tell you its real clarion call: It Just Works. That's how nearly every Apple product has been described on stage since Steve Jobs returned from NeXT. It may not be Apple's tagline, but it's certainly its biggest selling point.

The remarkable thing is that for the most part, that's been true. Apple's detractors have plenty of sound arguments, but the company could never be accused of shipping products that were unfinished or over-complicated. Babies can use iPads before they can stand. Your grandfather gets FaceTime. People buy Apple because they want to fit in, sure. But also because it's safe.

That may not sound like much of a compliment, but it is. It's maybe the highest compliment you can pay a consumer electronics company. Just like good design is invisible, good user experience should be functional and intuitive. You shouldn't ever have to doubt it, or even think about it twice.

All of which was true of Apple products until last year. Until Apple decided to make all of its customers inadvertent beta testers.

Beta Siri, Broken Maps

The most ballyhooed feature of the iPhone 4S — remember, there was no new physical design to crow about — was Siri: a "personal assistant" that dominated Apple's advertising all of last fall. It sucked. Its speech recognition could not recognise speech, and its interpretive skills were on par with a competent labradoodle.

The reason for this is simple, and something openly acknowledged on Apple's home page (if not its media buy): Siri was a beta product. Incomplete, by definition. For the first time in recent memory, Apple intentionally pushed a half-baked product out the door. As Mat Honan pointed out last December, the effect was both startling and offputting:

I'm sorry. Beta? Beta is for Google. When Apple does a public beta, it usually keeps it out of the hands of the, you know, public. It typically makes you go get betas. It doesn't force them on you, much less advertise them. Not that it is an effective disclaimer for the vast buying public. For most people who see Apple's ads, and buy iPhones, the word beta means nothing at all. It might be a fish, or a college bro.

Siri could have been easily dismissed as a one-off misadventure; an unfortunate overreach, lesson learned, no harm done. But then Apple Maps happened.

The Apple Mapspocalypse has been well-documented, both here and elsewhere, and it's a fresh enough wound that we don't need to belabor it. But if you haven't upgraded to iOS 6 — or read a tech story — in the last week or so, it's worth a brief recap. The iPhone and iPad stopped using Google Maps, which were and are terrific, in favour of its own Maps app, which is enough of a horror show that Apple itself has acknowledged the problem (albeit through a thick veil of PRspeak):

We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We... are working hard to make the customer experience even better.

That's as close to an admission of fault as you're likely to see from Cupertino. And Apple Maps falters for the same reason Siri did; it's a beta product. It's incomplete, in many instances literally so. It's also not going to get better any time soon.

So, Apple released the last two versions of iOS secure in the knowledge that its headline features wouldn't work as advertised or expected out of the box. But why? Why, with so much goodwill built up, with an entire brand built on the principle that it just works, would you knowingly let your most popular product's most prominent feature be subpar?

Actually, the answer's pretty straightforward. And maybe even understandable.

Time Is On My Side

If you haven't chatted with Siri lately — and you wouldn't be alone — you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. She's still not perfect by any stretch, but she's picked up some handy new features in iOS 6, like launching apps and finding restaurants. More importantly, Siri does the little things demonstrably better than she did a year ago.

She understands what you say better. She returns better search results. Is she perfect, or even very good? No. But Siri has improved the same way all beta programs do: with data and time.

Every time you use Siri, you become a data point for Apple. Siri's success or failure is logged, and used to ensure that future results are more accurate. With a typical program or application, those corrective measures come during the developer preview stage, or from beta testers who get a sneak peek at software and provide feedback. But a knowledge engine like Siri requires hundreds of thousands, even millions of real-world samples to refine its offerings to the point of usability.

Combine the tremendous amount of fuel Siri needs to thrive with Apple's notoriously secretive testing methodology, and it suddenly at least makes sense why this particular top-secret iOS feature came out a few sprinkles short of a sundae.

That reasoning holds up with Apple Maps only to the extent that both Siri and Maps are data hogs, requiring years of usage to become whole. Apple's own statement above boils down to: hold tight. But Maps is far more frustrating than Siri because it's entirely an entirely unnecessary — from a user's point of view — backslide.

Apple wasn't forced into a corner; it had full year left in its Google Maps contract, which could have been a full year of perfecting its own product. But the motivation to bring maps in-house — the long-term financial gain of all that localised advertising and user data — was too strong to wait on. And that's Apple's prerogative. It's a public company, which means it owes its shareholders an earnest attempt to gobble up as much money as it can in as many ways as it can. As early users of Google Maps will tell you, though, it takes years and years to get maps right. iPhone users are in for a long road of terrible.

Eventually Apple will collect enough user GPS data and have erroneous business listings huffily corrected that its Maps app will, like Siri, become good. Great, even. But out of the box, both are failures. And Apple knew full well that they would be. That they had to be.

Fallout

So this is the new Apple: willing to trade a priori perfection for long-term gain. And this is the new Apple customer: an early adopter of unproven features, a beta tester who likely doesn't know what that term means.

Here's the good news though: if anyone can scale up a maps effort from whole cloth, it's Apple. The company has a hundred billion dollars of cash on hand. It's aggressively recruiting former Google Maps staffers. And most importantly, it has more than five million iPhone 5s on the market already, and countless iOS 6 iPhone 4S devices sending corrective data back to the mothership.

And who knows? Maybe this ends here. Siri and Maps are highly specialised products with specific needs that can't be met in an isolated testing chamber. They need to be used, and used broadly, to function correctly. There aren't many more bells and whistles that Apple could add to the iPhone that fit that category. If that's the case, then think of these two years as ripping off a band-aid, a necessary discomfort that we'll all forget about by the time iPhone 7 rolls around.

But if this is Apple's new strategy — release, then refine — then the answer is simple. You get to strategise too. If you have an iPhone 4S now? Wait until Maps gets better to upgrade to iOS 6. The next iPhone comes out with a speculative feature? Don't pre-order. See if it's good now or will be good soon. Wait for reviews. You know, like you do with nearly everything else you buy.

If the only fallout from the Siri and Maps fiascos is that the blind trust Apple has built up over the years erodes a bit, and we start kicking the tyres a little more? That's a win for us and for Apple, a dynamic that drives innovation and encourages perfection. It just works.


Comments

    Android fanboys in 3.....2....1....

      Apple fanboy much?

      I love my SGS2 phone, I loved my iPhone 3GS but the article is highly accurate. Ever since Jobs died, the company seems to have shifted from 'only release upon perfection' to 'mindless ambling with good enough is good enough'. This has become apparent in a horribly short amount of time. Only those in denial won't see it. It's not they CAN'T, it's that they WON'T'.

      Android has this massive issue, and it's been accepted and it's been tolerated but it irritates even me. Each OS upgrade released is buggy as crap and close to broken, it gets patched, fixed, breaks, patched, fixed, breaks ad nauseum. Unfortunately Apple seems to be heading this way. I hope it doesn't. I loved iOS5, but iOS6 so far has had a rocky as shit start... Honestly, can you say Jobs would've let this happen? No, he definitely would not have.

        Jobs allowed Siri to be released on the 4S.................. just sayin................

      Sir we've found the article, it appears Apple fanboys are already on location.

      i thought this was a pretty considered article and anti- partisan article. way to miss the point.

    As an Apple product owner who appreciates all good technology (Android and iOS both), this was a good article.

    I don't get it. You spend the first half of the article telling us how apple suck for making us beta testers, then the second half telling us how great it is to be apple's beta testers?

    I know that I seem to say this every time an Apple article comes up but I really don't understand the hate for Siri.

    The iPhone 4S was my first iPhone, and Siri was a small part of the allure. Siri did exactly what I was told she could do, and 9 out of 10 times she did it perfectly. Sure, she occasionally misheard me, but people mishear people all the time, and they aren't software.

    In my experience Siri worked a lot better than the voice functionality on my Windows Phone device. (My Mozart could never understand the word Kathie, no matter what I tried)

    I think there were a lot of people that didn't like Siri because they had unrealistic expectations.

    I will say that the maps change does seem overly political, and it isn't great. I don't consider maps to be a critical feature, but that's a personal thing.

    I also think some people are exaggerating the issue. For example the recent Gizmodo article where Apple maps are called dangerous because one of the search results wasn't a hospital, even though the Google example given uses the second search result, rather than the first. Other readers discovered that a Google search in that area will find numerous non-hospital businesses.

    Microsoft chose their own mapping platform for Windows Phone instead of Google maps and nobody seemed to care? I'd love to see a full review of Google V Bing V Apple for a variety of business searches and navigation directions in Australian capital cities.

      Gizmodo's next article. Google Maps vs Bing vs iMaps. DOOOOOOO ITTTTTT!!!!!!!!!

    Dear Apple:
    I need maps, I really do. If maps don't work, its a deal-breaker. I am on IOS5 as of today and will be until I figure out how to proceed. I am now going to have to spend $100 on a third party map app or wait until you approve the Google one, which you might never. This is very bad Apple, very, very bad. You have also partially broken the app I am helping to build, which uses the internal maps API. Also very, very bad. You have broken every other app that uses maps. Not customer focused, not magical. You screwed up.

      maps.google.com.au

      Book mark it if you don't think you can remember...

        Gold!!!!!

      +1. I've happily used apple and non-apple gear in the past (started back in the 80s with a TRS-80, C64, Apple II, Amiga, Mid-90s mac, PCs from 98-11, recently got a macbook air). I like apple gear but I'm not wedded to it.

      The iphone has been a good piece of kit but ios 6 just isn't finished. I think apple misunderstood just how heavily people use the Maps app. Siri was/is a gimmick but no one really needed to use it - no big deal. Maps? This is core smartphone functionality. Apple should have swallowed its pride and done a deal with Google to keep maps going, developed its own maps further in parallel until its was really ready, THEN made the switch. It's a serious cock-up.

        +1.

        Use Google maps through Safari if you miss the old app. If you want voice guided turn-by-turn directions (which Google Maps never had in iOS) try your luck with Apple maps.

        I fail to see any disadvantage other than a coupe of clicks to put a Google Maps link on your homescreen.

          iOS Apps use maps internally to show ... maps. They used to use Google's nice maps (like in android apps), now they use Apple's yucky maps. The app we are working on uses maps. So do many other apps. The Google website is no replacement for this in-app functionality. Also, I have tried the "site solution" for my personal use and find it frankly "pants" (a technical term) compared to the old app, particularly on the move (the site does not update automatically as you move, eh? Auto Compass direction rotation?). The iOS community has just taken a huge step backwards. So I am rather sad. Make sense now :-)

    I don't understand why maps are such a talking point. I have google maps on my HTC, have never used them. I guess where I live, I know where everything is I need to go. Seems like a heck of a lot of you use them everyday? Really? Why?

    For something I've never used, I thought the maps thing was a bit of a non-issue. You guys talking GPS for your cars using these or what?

      I use maps as a GPS for my car as well as for public transport info. I probably use maps once per week but I imagine others probably use it even more. It's not so much that we use it often, it's more that when we use it, it needs to be accurate.

        look they are i phone uses they going to need a map to get to work.
        i was on the bus the other day,, there was an iphone user using is phone for calls and is ipod to play music when she was not on a call. ha ha ha

      Probably not much need for a map to find your way around Lost Springs, Wyoming, James. Meanwhile, in the big smoke...

      Have you never been to a place you have not been to before? Tried a new restaurant? Make a new friend that you want to visit?

      I use it for car navigation, better than dedicated device , free map upgrades and it always goes with me leaving the car- nothing to get stolen. I use it travelling overseas for directions or planning a day trip with transport. I'm sure I'm just touching on what most people use it for.

      I use it for one of my Jobs, which means it gets used several times a night. My Galaxy Nexus performs this job admirably. One of my co-workers however, having since bought an iPhone 5 has had to use his iPhone 3GS because half the street address's do no work.

      I use Google Maps every single time I get in mat car . Although I know how to get from home to work, I religiously use the real time traffic updates to avoid congestion, to have an arrival ETA etc. I also use the GPS speed over my cars speedo for accuracy. And With Android 4.1, if I have a meeting/appointment it will prompt me to leave at a particular time to arrive on time given current traffic conditions.

      I hardly ever use it for 'navigating', like you I usually know how to get where I'm going, but that's becoming less and less what it is used for (for me anyway!).

    anyone want to comment on the absolutely appalling battery life on iPhone 5? Three people around me have one, and the four of us have our phones sitting on our desks and within 6 hours we are at 30% battery life

    Worst battery life on any iphone i have had. It just doesn't work.

      try disabling bluetooth, 4g (lte) and any the location services on anything you don't need to use gps. With that i managed to get my battery life to about on par with what my old iphone 4 was like.

        I thought it's better than the 4S? LOL

          this was for richard

      Thats what Im hearing. The SG3 wasn't brilliant either, but most people I know with one like to buy an extra battery for it, plug it into a usb for power, then hotswap it out to avoid loss of power. Works a treat...

      For the guy on the forums who said 'Its a novelty having extra batteries'... yeah right...

        Whooaaaaa hold it right there smurf dude.

        SG3 has a 2300mh battery in it. I'm sitting on 75% battery and 18 hours without charge and I've used it a fair bit. The SG3 batteries are absolutely brilliant! And OMG you can actually take it out and replace it if you so choose to do so. :D

      I haven't had a problem with mine and I use it non stop.

      GPS seems to accelerate its battery decline exponentially. Obviously it is naturally going to chew battery life but my god does it disappear fast on the iPhone 5 with it enabled.

        Naturally? So how come my GPS is turned on all the time and I barely see any difference in battery time?

        Simple answer. It only uses the GPS when an app requires it. Otherwise it's on Standby. Sounds like Apple need to learn what standby is!

    I am getting sick of seeing basically the same article posted over and over on Gizmodo. We know maps doesn't work well yet. The issue with Maps and Siri, is that these systems require larger scale testing than a beta can provide. Look at google maps, the only reason it is where it is, is due to years of users suggesting adjustments and fixes. It is impossible to see how Apple could have pushed out a fully finished competitor with google maps. Siri is the same, it requires users to use it to optimise the system. Come on Gizmodo, lets write some original articles, not rewrite another bash on Apple Maps.

      Try this - "Its is impossible for to push out a fully functional mapping service first try that is not deeply flawed". BS, bluntly.

      Apples approach IS the issue. I do not want to be their beta-tester, I want maps. Ta!

        Jeremy, YOU make a mapping service and see how you go :)

          Why would he do that?
          The whole "well, YOU do it better" retort is a load of rubbish.

          He's a consumer - not a developer.
          A functioning device/application is what he's PAYING Apple (a premium) for...

    Am I the only one who has never, ever had any problems with siri? (well, that weren't optus's fault!)

      I have also never had any problems with Siri.

      I went from a 4 > 5, so Sirri is new to me. Honestly, it's much better having it than not. In the car it reads out my text messages, sends texts, and plays my music.

      I couldn't do those three things before, therefore = good for me.

        Having a voice read out messages while you are in a car isn't new. Been around for many years.

        Apple took an idea that was already around and built upon it. Even WM6 had a voice that read messages out to you (or was that 6.5?) Most of my friends that have iPhones with Siri have all pretty much stopped using it expect for car trips

    LOL I never use maps on my 4S, coz it's chewing up the data, I really wish Apple creates offline maps and only goes online where there is an update.

    For GPS I use my TOMTOM app :D simple.

    This makes me love my android even more.

    I'm a mac user and i still think the iphone 5 sucks donky tail

    Good article - It wasn't written by Jesus Diaz or Luke.

    It seems like every iPhone release after the 3GS had some sort of 'defect' with it. Antennagate, Siri, etc.

    The furore around the iPhone5 disaster - and considering we are still swimming in what is basically advertorial in major media, we haven't even got the real gist of it (thanks to advertising dollars and, more importantly, the need publishers now have for apple's testy app department - and thanks Gizmodo for publishing this kind of article) - will admittedly strengthen loyalty amongst so-called "fanbois". But that's because what all these articles miss - but not apple, that's for sure - is that belonging is what people these days want. The technological era creates isolation and disconnection, and it's kinda brilliant (but messed up) that apple generates this but then capitalises on it with its branding strategy, by offering a sense of belonging and connection through being a mindless... sorry, I mean "loyal" consumer who is, through this tribalism, "connected" to others. That feeling is strengthened every time someone writes a negative article, or every time someone makes a negative comment - it just further deludes them, if anything. I call it the "Gaga" model - she did something similar in pop culture. But Gaga has sacrificed the mainstream at the expense of niche marketing to this sort of mindset, and I think apple has made the same mistake. And it's not like apple care about a niche - they have exploited this niche to effectively be walking adverts for the masses, that's all. But it's coming undone, I'm afraid. Interesting times ahead.

    "Apple wasn’t forced into a corner"

    It is now repotted that Apple was actually forced into a corner as Google wouldn't let them build in turn by turn navigation…

    Predicted by Ars Technica back in June:
    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/06/ask-ars-why-did-apple-have-to-ditch-google-to-add-turn-by-turn-nav/

    Explained further here:
    http://allthingsd.com/20120926/apple-google-maps-talks-crashed-over-voice-guided-directions/

    Also - isn't it great that Apple is supporting community open source projects like OpenStreetMap (so long as they feed the data and corrections back to them)?

      Edit: "reported" not "repotted"...

      "isn’t it great that Apple is supporting community"
      keep your freinds close, your enemys closer.....

    I have had an iPhone 3GS since it was first brought out.
    I then got it jailbroken and enjoyed the freedom of having any map feature I wanted. The 3Gs was a good iPhone. Then apple stopped making good phones.
    I now own a Samsung S2, and I don't need it jailbroken as Samsung has let me properly own this phone, unlike the apple products that are shackled to apple permanently.
    I can put on this phone what ever I like. Both are good phone makers and I think both have copied from each other and others will copy them.
    Lastly, all the sheep that rushed out and got these over priced bricks and have problems with them the Bitch and complain about it...... I dint think in anytime in history that a consumer product has been perfect from the get go.

    Apple Maps aren't using the font that Apple uses for everything else. That's the sort of thing that would make Steve Jobs have a tanty.

    It's not Maps that are the problem.. nor Siri.. as the article clearly points out in the opening paragraphs, the problem is that the principles behind Apple products have been left on the side of the road to the future. Why have a 1 button mouse? ease of use of course.. and so on.. the reasoning behind pretty much every choice made by Apple in the last couple of decades has been about usability following the "It Just Works" mantra... that has been left behind in the couple of years..

    As an iPhone user (not fanboi) since 3G model, I'll just mention that I've renewed my Optus contract, with a nice shiny new Samsung Galaxy SIII, and very much looking forward to it.

    don't use 3D maps . . . problem solved.
    Siri is awesome . . i'm loving it . . especially when driving . . its never missed a command.

      More or less. Some of the pictures people are taking (like the flat Eiffel Tower above) are ridiculous. Look at a flat satellite image from Google Maps or turn off 3D models and you'll get the same result. The biggest issue isn't the 3D rendering, it's that the basic street maps are often incorrect and display businesses in the wrong location or businesses long since defunct.

    I agree with this article mostly, but I think it's actually THREE half-baked features in as many years. The first was the iPhone 4 itself. Remember "death-grip"? You had to either change the way you gripped the device, or get an (at the time) exclusive accessory in the form of a bumper, in order to use your phone as a phone.

    We should all bombard Siri asking her for Australian sports results, Australian TV guides, restaurant bookings, ticket bookings. If apple are taking this on board via our requests then maybe we can actually get some use out of Siri in Australia. The only one trick pony thing I've ever see Siri do successfully in Australia is the weather.

    I have found my battery life to have improved. For the first time now I can get though a day without charging. And still have 15 to 20% left at days end, same usage as my old iphone4

    So what, this article is doing is trying to make the fan boys feel better? Its crap now, but it (could) get soooo much better! Its a stupid way to release products, "Apple makes you feel apart of the beta experience", the why the f^#k am I getting charged for something unfinished?

    I don't know what everyone is upset about. I love the new maps. The app sits in a folder labeled "shit" alongside stocks and a few others just like the old maps app in iOS 5. I just wish they would let me put NewsStand in there too!!!!

    I use a SIII... But to all those whinging about it.. You try making a mapping service and see how you go with it. The fastest way to get it working better, is to have people use it. Google maps werent awesome when they first came out, but as people used it, it got better. - Think before throwing your stones.

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