Apple's Lost Functional High Ground

Marco Arment:

Apple’s hardware today is amazing — it has never been better. But the software quality has taken such a nosedive in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future.


The problem seems to be quite simple: they’re doing too much, with unrealistic deadlines.

We don’t need major OS releases every year. We don’t need each OS release to have a huge list of new features. We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace.

Apple's (lack of) software quality has been a consistent topic with my team at work, with my techie friends in town, and even with many friends who are not what I would call technology focused. That latter group should scare the crap out of Apple.

Those are the folks where the phrase “it just works” sounded like magic. And they believed the magic because save for a few things, it was magic. But now everyone sees the reality behind the tricks. The mystery is gone.

We're carrying around a drowned magician in the world's most exquisite glass case.

Why NORAD Tracks Santa


This Christmas Eve people all over the world will log on to the official Santa Tracker to follow his progress through U.S. military radar. This all started in 1955, with a misprint in a Colorado Springs newspaper and a call to Col. Harry Shoup's secret hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD.


The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. "And then there was a small voice that just asked, 'Is this Santa Claus?' "

His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.

"And Dad realized that it wasn't a joke," her sister says. "So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho'd and asked if he had been a good boy and, 'May I talk to your mother?' And the mother got on and said, 'You haven't seen the paper yet? There's a phone number to call Santa. It's in the Sears ad.' Dad looked it up, and there it was, his ;red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus."

This story brought a flood of memories back from my childhood. I remember my parents and I calling the hotline, and trying again and again after getting busy signals until we finally spoke to an airman to get Santa's location.

These days there's an app for that (and a site), but the past years I have tried to call in with my son because there are still men & women of the armed forces answering these phones on Christmas Eve, talking to countless boys & girls.

Thank you to those who serve in our military daily, but especially to those providing an evening of fun and whimsy to the small voices on the other end of the telephone.

This Christmas Eve, dial up 1-877 HI-NORAD with your children and thank a service man or woman for their efforts in keeping tabs on Santa.

¶ Regularly $19.99

Cultured Code makes a fantastic Getting Things Done (GTD) app aptly named Things. I used it myself for a while though I did eventually find OmniFocus to be a better fit for me. That's a story for another time.

Things is a premium app. It runs $9.99 for iPhone, $19.99 for iPad, and $49.99 for Mac.

The prices until Thanksgiving day are free, free, and $34.99, respectively. Why? Because the two iOS apps are Apple's Pick of the Week, and the Mac app is on sale from Cultured Code to celebrate it.

I don't think I have ever seen a $20 app be the Pick of the Week. Seriously, Things is a stellar premium app with a premium price and it is going for free right now. And Apple wants to show off how great of a deal it is by plastering the value on the App Store.

Regularly $19.99.

As someone whose livelihood is sustained by sales of a premium app with a premium price, I am both delighted to see Things receiving this attention and terrified what dropping it to free means for public perception of the value of the app.

It is good that a premium app is being thrust in front of millions of people, letting them know there are high quality apps out there. It is also good for people learn that high quality apps cost a more than a buck.

What gives me hesitance is the app being reduced to the cost of nothing — even temporarily. I worry that people will look at it and think Things should be free. That even though it exudes polish and talent and quality people will come to expect those characteristics in exchange for nothing.

I worry that giving away a premium app reinforces the entitlement many people display towards apps. I worry someday the App Store will be void of fantastic apps because no one was willing to pay for them.

I am left wondering what kind of star ratings will appear for Things once the price returns to being regularly $19.99.

The 1Password Emergency Kit 3.0

Mike Vardy posted a really great update to his 1Password Emergency Kit today.

The 1Password Emergency Kit V3.0 is now a fillable PDF that looks and functions a lot better, and includes even more information that will come in handy if any sort of emergency arises.

Naturally, I keep a lot of my life's essential data in 1Password. Should I ever be incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly, my family can get ahold of my copy of this (which I now need to update, so don't let me forget) in order to access the things they may need.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and fill out your kit, too.

Deliveries for Mac

Junecloud's Deliveries is a fantastic little app to aid in tracking shipments that you are expecting or sending. It got its start on OS X's Dashboard feature ages ago, a feature which is being phased out in OS X Yosemite.

When the App Store came out for iOS devices, Deliveries was there. I've been using Deliveries in Dashboard on my Mac and on my iPhone and iPad for years. It is simply an indispensible and delightful little tool.

With OS X Yosemite eschewing Dashboard by default in favor of adding widgets to Notification Center's Today view, I was hoping to see Deliveries make the transition. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Deliveries is now a full-fledged Mac app with Notification Center integration, and it also allows me to say farewell to Dashboard, which has been stagnant for years on the Mac.

If you happen to receive shipments frequently and want to keep tabs on them, you need Deliveries.

Deliveries for Mac is available on the Mac App Store for $4.99.

¶ iPhone 6

I'm not the kind of guy who buys a new iPhone every year. In fact, I buy every other year, on contract, and I am on the non-S cycle. To date, I have owned the iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and as of last week the iPhone 6. I really like being on this upgrade cycle as my new phone is always a fresh design, whereas the S-series is always based on the previous year's design.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know the headline feature of this year's iPhone release is that the screens (yes, plural) are bigger. Bigger than bigger, as Apple's marketing team would tell you. There's the iPhone 6 at 4.7-inches and the iPhone 6 Plus at 5.5-inches. Just looking at those numbers in print sounds so much bigger than the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5 (and 5c/5s).

I bought the iPhone 6, as I like my phones to be comfortably pocketable in my front right pocket. I was actually worried about that a bit this year, but I am happy to report the iPhone 6 fits perfectly for me. I haven't yet seen an iPhone 6 Plus in person, but the pictures make it look ridiculously huge. I know that big of a phone is just not for me.

Besides pocketability, I was concerned that the new 4.7-inch screen would be difficult to use, that it would be too large. Thankfully, it isn't. I have very average sized hands, almost small considering my height of 6'4", and I have no problem using the new display. I do notice I am deftly shifting how I hold the phone when I need to reach toward the top, as if I'd been doing this forever. My point is that the adjustment period was probably hours, whereas I was expecting weeks.

As a quick aside, I realized the other day that most of my iPhones have heralded a significant change in the screen. I started with the iPhone 3G, which is my baseline as it had the same screen as the original iPhone. The iPhone 4 kept the same screen size but brought the Retina display. The iPhone 5 had a taller Retina display. And now the iPhone 6 has an even bigger Retina HD screen.

Setting aside the thing I had been a bit worried about with the iPhone 6, I want to talk about the things I am ecstatic about. I love the look of the screen in so many ways. It's awesome to have more content on the display. Photos and videos look better than ever and the colors pop so much more. Typing with my thumbs is actually easier with the extra room for them to breathe. And the curved edges of the glass not only give the device a great feel as it seamlessly meets the aluminum casing, but they make using the edge swipe gestures in iOS feel even more natural. The screen is a grand slam. I love everything about it.

The aluminum casing feels a lot better with the curved edges, and reminds me of the graceful look of the original iPhone. While I truly loved the squared off edges of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 I've previously owned, I have to say these curves feel much better in hand, and also make sliding in and out of my pocket easier. One thing I will actually miss about the flat edges of previous devices is being able to lay the phone on its side for taking level photos or videos.

By far my favorite thing about any new iPhone model is the improved camera. I love taking photos, and the camera I use most is my iPhone since it is always with me. I have two gripes about the camera before I delve into blubbering praise.

  1. I am not a fan of the camera sticking out a bit. It looks odd, I'm afraid I will catch it on something, and the iPhone 6 cannot lay flat because of it.
  2. The iPhone 6 doesn't have optical image stabilization like the camera on the iPhone 6 Plus.

Beyond those two things, this camera is flipping awesome. I've captured crystal clear and well-exposed photos in a dark room, outdoors, at night with street lights as the light source, and indoors with high contrast beams of sunlight streaming in. It also does great at action shots, like my kid going down a slide. My iPhone 5 never handled those well. Also, I am quickly becoming a huge fan of slo-mo video, and I have some ideas for a few good time-lapse videos.

A feature that is new to me is Touch ID. Man, is that slick. I love unlocking my phone with Touch ID, and with iOS 8, unlocking apps like 1Password and Day One with it. I'm really looking forward to using Touch ID with Apple Pay soon.

Long story short, I was definitely apprehensive about the larger size of the iPhone 6 compared to my old iPhone 5. I shouldn't have worried. This phone is great. After all, I was apprehensive two years ago about the extra half-inch the iPhone 5 was adding and that ended up being great, too. I will say I don't really want my next iPhone in about two years to be any bigger. This feels like a good threshold. In fact, I think in the future, Apple could keep the screen size at 4.7-inches and slim the width of the device slightly by shaving off a bit of the side bezels. And I would definitely like to see the top and bottom bezels shrink a bit.

At the end of the day, this is by far my favorite iPhone yet. It's darn near perfect, and like every iPhone I've owned before it, I look forward to all the memories it will help me to capture.