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The Pet Peeves of a Longtime Apple Fan

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 22, 2011 5:00 AM PT

While Apple flirts with being Wall Street's most valuable company, it's clear that the organization has been doing something right -- actually, a helluva lot of things right. And not only right, but far better than the competition. Consider its product lines, which usually have superior user experiences built into every facet, starting with their packaging and ending with internals that most people never see.

The Pet Peeves of a Longtime Apple Fan

Before the products ever get to customers, Apple has managed to become an extraordinarily savvy supply chain force. When the iPad first came out, along with the svelte MacBook Air, plenty of people bemoaned the "high" prices, even going so far as to hope that Android-using manufacturers would be able to create tablets much less expensive. And that hasn't really happened. Most high-quality tablets actually have pretty comparable prices. And PC manufacturers want Intel to charge them less for processors so they can better compete with the MacBook Air on price with similarly thin models.

So yeah, everywhere you look -- and even when you peer through the shiny glass of Apple Retail Stores -- Apple is doing a lot of smart, customer-friendly things.

And yet, oh boy, sometimes I wonder if Apple is just stupid ... or worse, intentionally being user unfriendly.

My Pet Peeves

I'm generally a patient guy. I hope for innovation, but I understand that it takes time. And as a long-time Apple-using fan -- who has never purchased a PC with his very own money -- I've seen gobs of innovation delivered straight to my door over the years -- and a few outright duds, like the Motorola ROKR E1 with iTunes built in back in 2005. As a writer, I use my Apple gear all the time, for extended periods of time, and while I mess around with some business apps and spreadsheets, for the most part, my needs are pretty tame. Which means that my pet peeves piss me off all the more. Let's start with something obvious:

The iTunes Store has no shopping cart. The App Store for iOS has no shopping cart. And the Mac App Store has no shopping cart. Worse yet, these cutting edge ecosystem application and stores have essentially no good way to store and evaluate apps, songs or media. In iTunes, I can add a product to my "Wish List," which is a good start except that it requires an amazing memory to remember where my Wish List is in iTunes. Hint: At the bottom in fine print. Or, you can click on the the tiny triangle after your Apple ID in the upper right to show a small drop down menu with it listed. How flipping un-handy is that?

It gets worse, and then even more worse. How?

For starters, even though I do have a Wish List that will let me store items that I'm interested in, comparing apps is an exercise in frustration. Say, for example, that I'm considering buying a writing app for my iPad 2. To consider my options, I have to go to an App's page, then back to the wish list, then select another app, wait for its information to load into iTunes, then think about it, then go back and learn more about another app.

At least with a Web-based store, for example, like Amazon or Zappos, I can open up multiple products in multiple tabs in a browser window and very quickly flip back and forth among them until I figure out which items I want to buy. I can even open up multiple windows and compare items side by side.

If you can use any sort of tabbed browsing in iTunes or open up multiple windows, it's news to me. And how does it get worse?

My iTunes Wish List is not portable to my iPhone or iPad. If I'm in the App Store via my iPhone or iPad, my Wish List might as well not exist. And if I find another app to consider, I can't add it to my Wish List. My choice is to either buy it immediately, write it down on some scrap of paper or on my palm, or use the "Tell a Friend" feature and email the link to the app to myself.

So I do that a lot. I email myself apps that I'm not ready to buy and download and install right in a particular moment. Then I have to find that email in my massively crowded inbox and check them out at a later time. Often enough, they get shoved down and down by other mail and pressing matters that they get lost.

So then, later, when I do have 15 minutes or so to check out the App Store and want to evaluate apps, I'm back hunting around for things I only vaguely remember.

You can argue that these things are not important enough for me to remember, so who cares. For busy people, that's not really the case. App evaluation and selection, along with songs and media, is a consumer-unfriendly farce through Apple. Hate to say it. As more and more apps compete in certain categories, it just exacerbates the issue.

Oh, and the price? Not an issue. I'm not considering whether a $1.99 is worth it. I'm considering if the app will do what I need, how long it will take me to understand it and use it, and whether it's worth bothering with at all.

Is Apple Doing This on Purpose?

It crossed my mind that maybe this isn't a technical hurdle or simple oversight on Apple's part. Maybe Apple is doing this on purpose: Maybe the geniuses read that shopping carts have high abandonment rates and that when people have time to evaluate things online they eventually realize they don't want them or need them and don't buy them. Maybe they think that the best model is to heavily direct options to buy only, and that will result in more purchases.

Maybe this logic is right on the money. But consumer-friendly? Heck no. It pains me to think that Apple might be this coldly calculating with my customer experience.

Meanwhile, They're Killing Me With Hard Drives

OK, so MacBook Airs are hard-drive challenged. They get speedy SSD drives, but because those are so expensive, they are limited in the amount of available disk space. Movies and TV shows and home video and photos, on the other hand, take up a lot of disk space. So you have to manage that disk space if you store your own media files. If you want them available on a laptop, you need a big hard drive. If you offload some to network-attached storage or a simple external USB-based drive, that's fine, but either way, it's handy to know how much disk space you have available. In Snow Leopard, you could see this at the bottom of any folder. Double click on your hard drive or attached hard drive, and the folder window in the Finder, at the bottom, would say what your available disk space was. Quite handy. But now, with Lion, this disappeared. I don't know how to make it come back, even if it's possible. To find out how much disk space I'm using, I have to open up the Disk Utility application.

Sure, Apple has made it so I don't have to store TV shows locally anymore because they remember my purchase history through my Apple ID and let me "stream" TV shows to my Apple TV that I've already purchased. Nice. But they aren't doing this with my 80 GB iPhoto library of photos -- and hard-drive hungry home video.

So folder windows are slightly more streamlined. Great. But this omission: irritating. And who cares? The kinds of users who are really dedicated to putting their Macs to work.

Mission Control Is So Smart - And Stupid, Too

While I'm talking about Lion, how about Mission Control. For most part, I love it. Absolutely fantastic. Particularly the ability to create extra desktops and even move certain applications to certain desktops. It's just amazing for people who work on a lot of different things, who get up from their desks and return hours later.

And yet, I think the Apple engineers simply fell asleep at the wheel, too. They built an amazing car and then crashed it in muddy ditch. The problem? Browser windows. Browser-based applications and websites are critical these days. At any given moment, I'll have at least a dozen browser windows open, open many many more, and many of those windows have tabs open in them, too. So I know about tabbed browsing. And what happens when you invoke Mission Control? Mission Control gives you a space-eye view of your apps and files that you're using, but it stacks your open Web pages one upon the other so that it's impossible to visually see which Web page has the content you want. It's extraordinarily frustrating.

Sure, you can use the space bar and try to precisely bring certain pages to the front without accidentally exiting Mission Control, or you can try to just look at apps instead of everything, but this is a multistep process that defeats the power of Mission Control in the first place.

This oversight is user unfriendly. It's definitely work unfriendly. It pisses me off.

Why can't Apple have given us a mouse-over option? Say, your mouse hovers over the stack for a few seconds and all the Web pages (or documents or whatever) flash out to reveal themselves like they did with Snow Leopard's Expose feature?

I don't know. I'm guessing the brains at Apple just use their Mac to do one thing at a time.

Some Minor Quibbles, Like Graphics Cards in MacBooks

I've got some other minor irritations, too, like the fact that it's impossible for me to buy a MacBook with a dedicated graphics processor without shelling out US$1,800 for a 15-inch MacBook Pro. Maybe the form factor excludes the option, technically speaking, but on price? I just want a bit more graphics oomph. I had hoped that this might happen after Apple introduced the Mac mini with an AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor. But the latest rumors predicting a MacBook refresh this fall seem to think it'll just be a minor processor speed bump. Oh well.

Along these same lines, I used to have an old PC laptop that had a forward delete key positioned above the left arrow key in the bottom right corner the keyboard. These cursor navigation keys are for more than gaming; if you're a writer, they help you move your cursor around without taking your fingers off the keyboard. The forward delete key right there made any sort of text manipulation faster and easier and I still miss that ability. Oh well. I don't have hope, of course.

But There Is Hope

Here's the thing about Apple, though. The company is generally relentless about improving its user experience, even if it does take for freakin' ever. Here's a case in point: Tabbed browsing in Safari on the iPad. Right now, no tabbed browsing. It's painfully gone in Safari. Other browser apps have it, but Safari does not. But Safari will get it when iOS 5 hits in October. I'm looking forward to it.

At the same time, we'll finally be able to use the volume button on our iPhone 4 to snap a photo with the built-in Camera app. About freakin' time. That feature will get used. Often. Thank you, Apple.

In addition, we'll get WiFi syncing with iOS 5. Yes! And AirPlay mirroring to your Apple TV for the iPad 2 -- that's right, anything on your iPad 2 screen can be mirrored to your living room TV with an Apple TV connected. Excellent.

All in all, I'm still a satisfied and generally pleased Apple customer. And yet I'm also amazed that times when they seem to misunderstand key things and metaphorically just drive a brilliant product into a muddy ditch.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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