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Apple and the expectation of perfection

Cupertino has two choices: Get more aggressive in improving its own software or, better yet, be more aggressive in acquiring companies that have already proven what they can do.

Fantastical calendar app for Apple Watch
Fantastical is a new third-party calendar app for Apple Watch, made by Flexibits.
Flexibits

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


Last week, I turned on my computer and was greeted by an email message from Apple saying my account was locked and I needed to reset my password. While resetting was simple, over the next two days I was greeted with no less than two dozen requests to enter my password on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook. Sometimes they took, other times they didn’t. I needed to enter the password for email, iCloud, my calendar and numerous other apps.

This seemed so unlike the Apple experiences I’m used to. No reason was given for why the account was locked, and I was surprised that Apple required repeated sign-ins for accounts all linked together with the same password. If this were my Windows computer, I’d probably just dismiss it as another problem with Windows 10. But Apple?

Apple has done such a good job of setting the standards for excellence that, when it falters, we are quick to criticize. But it’s not because most of us just want to be critical. It’s because we want Apple to continue to excel, and because Apple has set our expectations so high.

While it may be more glamorous to invent an entirely new product, continuous improvement on existing products, even the mundane, is important.


This event has been symptomatic with other recent experiences with Apple products, particularly in keeping them competitive. It seems that once the company gets a product released and the bugs addressed, the teams go off to do other things. While it may be more glamorous to invent an entirely new product, continuous improvement on existing products, even the mundane, is important.

I recently reviewed Fantastical, a calendar app from Flexibits that replaces the Calendar on all Apple’s platforms. It’s the product Apple should be doing, with a better interface and a "natural language" ability to enter appointments. Simply type in a phrase like, "lunch with Tim on Friday," and the appointment is set. It also incorporates to-dos and reminders, something Apple has never adequately addressed.

Apple’s mail client has also failed to keep up with the competition. Many of us suffered for more than a year when Mail didn’t play nice with Gmail, causing email to take hours to retrieve and send. Apple blamed Google; yet other email apps, such as Postbox, worked just fine.

I’ve been enamored most recently with Email, an app for my iPhone that’s faster, can unsubscribe you from spam, and even lets you recall an email within a few seconds of sending. I’m also using Google’s new keyboard, which is far superior to Apple’s. Apple has failed to develop a good app for managing photos, giving up on Aperture and now offering iPhoto, which is mediocre compared to competitive offerings.

Now, maybe Apple intentionally decided that it can’t be the best in all areas and is allowing third parties to compete. But if that’s the case, it seems a major shift from the Apple of old that wanted to be the best at everything it does.

Apple has two choices: Get more aggressive in improving its own software or, better yet, be more aggressive in acquiring companies that have already proven what they can do.

Apple has been a master at using communicating and convincing us that it is different and special, even about the small stuff. I remember vividly the PR leading up to the Apple Watch where Jonny Ive raved about the winding stem of the watch, how precise, how special, how great it was. He expounded about the special aluminum and steel alloys used in the smartwatch’s cases. If these mundane details are training us to pay attention to things we might normally have ignored, what do they expect from us when they fail to meet our expectations elsewhere?

Apple has two choices. One is to get more aggressive in improving its own software. Study the competitive offerings and upgrade their own products. Or, better yet, be more aggressive in acquiring companies that have already proven what they can do.

Every time I use the mapping app Waze, I wonder why Google acquired it rather than Apple, particularly when Apple Maps has been so troublesome. It wasn’t due to a lack of money. Perhaps there’s a feeling within Apple that it can do everything better on its own. But evidence shows more and more that this is not the case.



Phil Baker is a product development expert, author and journalist covering consumer technology. He has developed scores of products for companies, including Apple, Seiko, Polaroid, Barnes & Noble, Polycom, Proxima, ThinkOutside and Pono Music. Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," a former columnist for the San Diego Transcript and founder of Techsperts, Inc. Follow him at Baker on Tech, and reach him @pbaker.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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