On Deaf Ears…

Or: Hi, I’m iOS — would you like some assistance with your volume controls?

There are lots of things to complain about this week from Apple, but we’ll focus on one that isn’t what everyone else is talking about.

They say you should never drive angry. The same probably applies to posting on the internet (though of course based on, you know, the internet, that advice is clearly not followed often).

Thus: an angry post about something Apple recently changed in iOS that is making it impossible for me NOT to drive angry.

Every once in a while in software you come across a new “feature” that someone thought was a good idea, but is so obviously terrible in practice that it makes you assume it has to be a bug. Unless you actually write software for a living in which case you know someone had to have put it in with malice and forethought.

iOS 10 has just such a “feature”. Which I will demonstrate by this sequence of events which occurred recently while driving in the car, with my iPhone playing music on the car radio:

This is an image because I was too lazy to fight with Medium’s formatting…

To be more specific, the new “feature” “helpfully” solves the “problem” of using “apps with sounds” (usually games) while listening to “other apps with sounds” (usually music) by doing the following:

1. Whenever you are listening to music (or a podcast) and open another app with sound…
3. iOS lowers the sound on the music/podcast by at least half, maybe more. And then…
5. When you leave the app it sets the music/podcast back to it’s original level…

To see why this design choice is comically terrible, let me add the missing points which every person I have spoken to has added to this sequence of events:

1. Whenever you are listening to music (or a podcast) and open another app with sound…
2. Which usually has its own volume controls which have been turned down or off, expressly so I can listen to music (or podcasts) at the same time…
3. iOS lowers the sound on the music/podcast by at least half, maybe more. And then…
4. After you have turned your volume up to max so that you can hear the music (or podcast) again…
5. When you leave the app it sets the music/podcast back to it’s original level…
6. Which is now PAINFULLY loud, sometimes dangerously so if listening on a car radio which overrides the max volume for the phone.

This seems like a small “helpful” feature. Until you actually think about it for ten seconds and realize that it is a TERRIBLE idea because it violates the reasonable assumptions of almost all iPhone users and app developers, such as:

  • I can expect my music to stay at the same volume regardless of which app I am in.
  • If I am an app developer of an app with sound, I should provide sound controls so that the user can adjust the volume appropriately (or at least turn the sounds off).
  • I can change between apps and expect the relative volume levels to stay the same without having to adjust the volume on my device.

And so on and so on.

I have yet to find a case where this feature adds any value to me whatsoever. However, here is the list of activities I do ALMOST EVERY DAY I have had to stop just in the past week because of this “helpful” “feature”:

  • Letting my children use my iPhone while we listen to music in the car.
  • Playing games while listening to music and exercising (i.e., the thing that got me finally consistently exercising on my own for the first time in my life).
  • Listening to podcasts on the train while playing mindless games.
  • Turning on Pokemon Go and leaving it open while listening to music/podcasts when walking around (to hatch eggs, natch).

There are numerous other small irritations that have happened with this new “feature” — but those in particular are things which I used to do constantly, which I have largely stopped doing because any time I switch between apps (e.g., to answer a text, to check an email, to check the map, to write a note, to…) the volume goes completely insane, making it incredibly unpleasant to use my iPhone. I can either listen to music, or play a game, but never ever both at the same time.

Of course, no one would ever introduce such a poorly thought out feature without a way of turning it off, right?

Right?

RIGHT?

Oh, silly rabbit — eardrums are for people with Android phones!

The danger of adding “helpful” “features” like this is that you’d better be damn sure they are actually useful, and not damaging to the end user experience. Otherwise…

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