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Seth Godin on the State of Apple’s Software

Seth Godin:

Over the last five years, Apple has lost the thread and chosen to become a hardware company again. Despite their huge profits and large staff, we’re confronted with (a partial list):

  • Automator, a buggy piece of software with no support, and because it’s free, no competitors.
  • Keynote, a presentation program that hasn’t been improved in years.
  • iOS 10, which replaces useful with pretty.
  • iTunes, which is now years behind useful tools like Roon.
  • No significant steps forward in word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, file sharing, internet tools, conferencing, etc. Apple contributed mightily to a software revolution a decade ago, but they’ve stopped. Think about how many leaps forward Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and others have made in popular software over the last few decades. But it requires a significant commitment to keep it moving forward. It means upending the status quo and creating something new.

This doesn’t resonate for me. I think it’s the same basic gut feeling that drove Marco Arment’s widely-read “Apple Has Lost the Functional High Ground” essay two years ago. Marco’s piece was more about bugs and quality, and Seth’s is more about creativity, but underlying it all, I think, is the vague sense that all software is shitty.

And it is! Here’s Dave Winer from all the way back in 1995:

An old software slogan at Living Videotext: “We Make Shitty Software… With Bugs!” It makes me laugh! We never ran this slogan in an ad. People wouldn’t understand. But it’s the truth. We make shitty software. And so do you!

Software is a process, it’s never finished, it’s always evolving. That’s its nature. We know our software sucks. But it’s shipping! Next time we’ll do better, but even then it will be shitty. The only software that’s perfect is one you’re dreaming about. Real software crashes, loses data, is hard to learn and hard to use. But it’s a process. We’ll make it less shitty. Just watch!

Software, in general, is much better than it used to be. Unlike 1995, we don’t lose data due to bugs very often. (For me personally, I can’t even remember the last time I lost data.) But our hardware is so much better than our software, the contrast is jarring. An iPhone is a nearly perfect object. Sleek, attractive, simple. The hardware is completely knowable — there are only five buttons, each of them easily understood. iOS, however, is effectively infinite. The deeper our software gets, the less we know and understand it. It’s unsettling.

I do think Apple could be doing better with software, but I don’t think the problem has anything to do with the company being institutionally focused on hardware. And I think it’s easy to discount the great new software Apple has created in the last five years: iMessage and FaceTime, to name two that fit squarely in Godin’s list of areas where Apple has made “no significant steps forward”.

Monday, 24 October 2016