Is Apple Underestimating Average?

Ben Brooks on Sandboxing:

By choosing to use an app like TextExpander, Moom, and others that lift up OS X’s britches is to make the choice that you want that functionality. It’s not something that you need to make things work, it just makes things work better. Schechter wants these apps in the App Store, but they should not be there — plain and simple.


Users should be able to make the reasonable assumption that anything they download from the App Store cannot and will not mess up their computer in any way that uninstalling the app won’t fix their computer. Now, TextExpander probably won’t screw up a persons computer, but then again, what if a user can’t figure out how to stop TextExpander from launching snippets, because they hid the dock icon and menubar icon — perhaps they don’t even know that TextExpander is the culprit? And there’s your problem.

I see where Ben is coming from, but I’m not sure I agree. Just as with iOS, it’s safe to assume that Apple will eventually include their own text expansion options in OS X. This would be just as likely to confuse a novice and just as hidden once it’s setup. He’s right that it would likely be easier for Apple’s customer support to identify this, but I don’t see how there is any problem that could be created by TextExpander that “uninstalling the app won’t fix”.

Ben also adds:

The App Store is for the average user. Apps that don’t fit in the App Store guidelines are simply not for the average user. That matters because the apps that don’t fit those guidelines can/will/could cause a massive support headache for not only Apple, but for the resident family geek.

The thing that concerns me most is that there’s a difference between novice and average user. Excluding apps like TextExpander and Moom seems aimed at the former, not the latter. I see the desire to protect these users, but can’t understand why the best way to achieve this is through strict limitations. It’s likely that Ben is right and I’ll have to re-embrace a pre-Mac App Store world, but this seems like a case of Apple taking the easy solution (limitation) over a more challenging one (protections).

Part of what makes the Mac ecosystem so special is the developer community. There are just so many who push the boundaries of what our computers can do. While this may only appeal to above-average users, it’s part of what drove many of us to the Mac. When I purchased my first iMac its simplicity was a draw, but the underlying power and possibilities are what led me to stay (and convert my entire family over, btw). It also gave me the courage to test my own limits, a gift I’d hate to see others lose out on.

People might arrive at the Mac as a novice or even an average user, but does Apple have to go out of its way to we have to ensure they stay that way? Apple is not an average company, so why should they encourage their users to be? Comfort is a good thing, so is security, but I just hope that the need for this level of protection does not come at the cost of the creativity and innovation we’ve seen from Mac developers. The Mac App Store has helped to drive down the cost of apps and has ramped up innovation, hopefully it won’t crush what it has created.

So am I just a disappointed geek or maybe, just maybe is Apple going too far?

4 Responses to Is Apple Underestimating Average?

  1. Increasingly, Apple seems to be viewing its users like H. G. Wells regarded the Eloi in The Time Machine, it sees us as child-like, unable to learn much, and obsessed with flashing and entertaining things. You see that most obviously in Apple’s ads.

    I also think Apple’s OS X updates are driven too much by the expenses generated by their support calls. Clueless twits told to get a Mac by relatives who’re tired of giving the Windows support, generate an inordinate slice of that support. As a result, Apple is increasingly making OS X for the stupid. Ordinary-to-talented users find those changes make life harder for them, but they’re not the ones creating support calls. I sometimes think we ought to punish Apple by flooding them with irritating calls like “What happened to my Library folder?” And so forth. If dumbing down OS X costs Apple money, it might start to listen to us.

    Illustrations of dumbing down:

    1. Auto-save rather than Save As. The assumption is that we’re too stupid to save files. I’ve been using PCs for thirty years. I learned saving in my first week.

    2. Dumping every app in a single, hideously cluttered folder. Apple assumes we’re too stupid to look for anything there and need a pretty little screen filled with pictures. What Apple should have done about five years ago was create about a dozen sub-folders to the Application folder, and require developers to specify which their app goes into. I hate wading through a long list trying to remember what was the name of that photo app I downloaded last year. It ought to be in a Images and Photo folder.

    3. Making trackpad scrolling like an iPad rather than letting users choose for each device, so their Macs, for instance, will behave like their Windows machine at work. Again, this is OS X for twits who know nothing but an iDevice. They don’t work with anything else.

    4. Making the Library folder hidden. Hey, we’re too stupid to know what to do and not do there.

    At the heart of Apple’s recent moves in a fundamental flaw in their thinking that’s always been there but recently grown worse. They’ve always assumed that hiding complexity somehow makes the complexity go away. It doesn’t and hiding it simply makes fixing issues that much harder. OS X is getting increasing like a car with its hood with the engine welded such by the automaker.

    An illustration is the contrast between Dropbox and iCloud. Dropbox shows the right thinking. They treat their users with respect. I get what looks to me just like a folder with subfolders. I can see files, I can create new folders. I can open documents. It just happens that the Dropbox folder is synched to all my computers. It’s like magic, but it’s not hidden magic.

    Compare that to iCloud, where the underlying synching is hidden from me, somehow taken care of in the magic of the apps themselves. When something goes wrong, there’s no easy, visible structure to work with. iCloud is so simple, it’s hard once problems develop or you want to do something Apple hasn’t planned for.

    I do think that this flaw in Apple’s thinking is fixable, but it will only be fixed if we keep hammering them about it. 

    Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

    • Well put. I think it’s one part good intentions (making computers easier to use) one part control. Overall, I don’t think they’ve found the right balance and are limiting the platform. Thankfully they are leaving us geeks with room to do what we want, but the native experience for us is quickly becoming slightly less pleasant as it becomes “better” for or at least more geared towards the average user. I still have faith they will get it right, just don’t feel like they’re nailing it right now.

    • Not quite, but there’s a big difference between closed source and closed environment. The limitations of iOS would not be a great idea on OS X and to a certain extent, that seems to be the direction they are aiming.

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