My 2018 Apple Report Card
“At the end of January, Jason Snell published his annual Six Colors Apple Report Card for 2018. This year 55 voters (hand-selected by Snell) graded Apple in 11 areas.” I was not one of them, and thought it only fair to publish my grades and remarks here at mee dee uuummm dot com.
To compute or not compute — that is the question. Whether tis’ nobler to suffer the repeated keys of bbbb or to take arms against a sea of Apple Apologists and by opposing end them.
Come on Apple, your mobile keyboards are dog butt, they have been for the past three years, and anybody with half a brain is holding on to their ever-slowing Mid-2015 MacBooks Pro to remain the least bit productive (don’t mind us, we sure enjoy missing out on all modern CPU, GPU, storage, and I/O advancements after 2015 just because keyboard reliability is now a Schrödinger’s nightmare).
In addition to the new Apple mobile keyboard krap keys, there was the brain imploding decision to make “fat” arrow keys in all hardware layouts which makes absolutely no sense at all if you have ever used a keyboard for productivity.
Apple: you must fix your keyboards with 10-year reliable switches and with a return to the inverted-T arrow key layout. Stop making us embarrassed to be seen with you.
So, MacBook Pro 2018 Rating: F-
MacBook Air 2018? meh, it’s an Air. Computers for normies aren’t really a priority here at mee dee uuummm dot com.
The new Mac Mini looks nice, but is overpriced, as expected, and should have better GPU options. A perfect Mac would be a Mac Mini with top of the line MacBook Pro specs so you can attach your own (working!) keyboard of choice along with a couple giant 4k displays.
The vaunted “can’t innovate anymore, my ass” Mac Pro is the laughing stock of the entire computing industry. What’s worse than an F-? Z-. But, what’s worse than Z-? The Mac Pro is now rated Å-.
The only useful Macs in existence are iMac and iMac Pro, but they had a busy 2017 and seem to have taken all of 2018 off as a rebuilding year. They are good enough, but need at a minimum yearly spec bumps. Remember the Apple 2001–2004 era where mobile and desktop hardware was being refreshed 2 to 4 times a year?
Still waiting for a hardware refresh of my Xserve RAID too, Apple. I’d like to have a stylish 200 TB enclosure. Get on that.
macOS Mojave? meh. it’s a app.
macOS Mo’ still has critical errors outstanding in basic applications. Did you know Mail.app will actually refuse to show you messages in nested IMAP folders? And this bug has been reported to Apple for years?
Apple refuses to fix communication disabling long-standing catastrophic errors in their software. If server-side filtering puts mail into sub-folders, you will just never see the messages in Mail.app (oh, and what’s really fun is the messages work perfectly in iOS Mail — so there is email I can only read on iOS devices, yet macOS Mail.app refuses to show them). According to my discussions into the automated Apple developer bug report support void, they have no intention of fixing the catastrophic communication loss bug. Thanks, Apple!
Another fun Mail failure Apple refuses to address — if you are setting up a new email account and you mistype your password the first time, the future password retries don’t even get sent to the server. I had a fun time debugging that one during my once-a-decade email infrastructure refresh.
Another fun macOS catastrophic design decision was the inclusion of this thing called “YaraScanService” which, upon boot, will eat 50+ GB of memory trying to do a “Security Scan” of your system for days at a time, which you can’t control or terminate without it auto-restarting. Apple’s response? Yeah, pleeb, you don’t control your software, we do, so you’re going to put up with whatever we tell your computer to run, even if it consumes all your resources for days at a time.
Mojave moved the “App Store” to a MARZIPAN (ooooo aaaaahhh) app which had a fun side effect: The MARZIPAN cross platform sandbox API stuff means System Update mechanism now lives in System Preferences instead of App Store (which never made sense anyway). Annoyingly, this, for some reason, means you can’t open System Preferences without having it immediately check for Software Updates. Hey, System Preferences, I just wanted to change my desktop background to a cute kitten when I opened you, not look for updates!
iPhone lineup is clearly the primary focus of Apple, outside of their on-again-off-again love affair with Titan time travel. Thus, 2018 iPhones continue to be the best physical artifacts of computation ever constructed by humanity.
But that still doesn’t absolve Apple from slowing down my iPhone 6 for years until it got to the point I couldn’t even type without a 3 second delay between words. I can’t get those years of my life back, Apple.
iPad lineup is the secondary focus of Apple and I haven’t seen enough people praise Apple’s decision to put modern iPads in iPhone 4 ID, which seemed perfect until iPads got a bit bendy under the new encasing. oh well, can’t win ’em all.
Only second to the design and hardware superiority of iPhone XS MaxXX++ 512 GB is the perfection of 2018’s iPad Pro. Sadly my 2014 iPad Pro is still perfectly capable of all tasks I need, so there’s no need to upgrade until it physically disintegrates in my lap one day.
Apple Music iOS Music App: F-
An ongoing quest of mine has been spreading the word about how inadequate the Apple Music iOS Music App has been since it launched.
Upon launch, the Apple Music iOS Music App removed basic functionality we had expected from our iOS music players for years. Now, 3.5 years after the introduction of Apple Music iOS Music App, those same faults are still completely unaddressed by Apple’s developers.
The Apple Music iOS Music App can’t reliably sync music between desktop iTunes and mobile platforms, still, after three years of being live software in the wild deployed on hundreds of millions of iOS devices. I often have to reboot my iPhone to get Apple Music iOS Music App to see new music I added to iTunes elsewhere.
The Apple Music iOS Music App can’t remember which songs were playing or their play positions over any arbitrary duration of time (a feature iPod had implemented perfectly all the way back in 2001 — a feature in-car CD players mastered in the mid 90s). Meanwhile, Spotify perfectly remembers last played songs and playlists and positions across multiple devices in real time, but Apple can’t seem to get the development resources to fix their built-in music app after four years? What is wrong with your development management hierarchy, Apple?
On my iPhone XS MaxXxXxX 512 GB $1500 USD, Apple Music iOS Music App still can’t reliably play music (music skips and sutters sometimes. on a $1500 mobile device. music. skipping. on a solid state device. wtf how bad do you need to be at development for that to happen?) or even recognize taps in the music app sometimes. The music player UI sometimes has a tap recognition delay and rejects UI taps before becoming active again. Apple — this is your platform-provided flagship music player in a $1500 device and it doesn’t even work reliably. What is wrong with you?
As of 2019, I’ve given up on Apple Music iOS Music App and switched to Spotify because of Apple’s refusal to address years long UI failures along with Apple’s years long refusal to even communicate about progress fixing known failures — do they know and care, do they know and don’t care because users don’t matter, or do they not know and we can’t tell them because radar is managed by San Francisco’s finest techno-sadists?
AirPods actually get a down rating this year because they haven’t been updated in a long time (as far as consumer electronics go). They were A+ when they arrived, but now they are feeling a bit old. I wish they had better sound isolation or foam tip inserts since for loud situations like trains, planes, or gym work, they don’t offer enough ambient noise protection (I still prefer a wired ER3SE with foam tips for long term listening or a previous-year-model Jaybird X3 with foam tips for gym use).
Though, on AirPods plus side, no copy cat manufacture has been able to replicate them even after years of study and the battery life is amazing considering they feel like they have no internal volumetric space at all.
Looking forward to the next AirPod update being so amazing I pass out at the keynote due to materialistic anticipatory ecstasy.
Apple Watch: A+
Apple Watch 4 is amazing in all aspects and even offered at enough price tiers where anybody can buy into the Apple Watch Lyfstyle under current economic conditions.
Apple Watch 4’s heart rate sensor seems to provide more continuously accurate readings than the previous sensor (or the software is better at interpolating/lying to us about live readings now) and the larger screen without noticeably larger on-wrist footprint (wristprint?) is obviously welcome.
No idea how Apple Watch can improve from here. It already seems perfect (except for the annoying “extra device” fee your mobile provider charges if you activate the embedded cellular sim along with its inability to roam globally).
Apple TV: ?
I haven’t used an Apple TV in years since I’ve been somewhat homeless and traveling since November 2016. Previous Apple TV was nice if you needed AirPlay to awkward locations you couldn’t run HDMI cables.
HomeKit: A to F
HomeKit is a curiosity. When it works, it’s great. When it doesn’t work, you have to reboot all your iOS devices (why?) and it starts working again. Fix your shit, Apple. Give us admin interfaces, Apple. You can only release zero-interface applications if they never never never need real time debugging or maintenance intervention (and, no, attaching device debug logs to the radar roulette wheel of support, then just praying and sacrificing goats in the hopes someone at Apple won’t ignore your problem is not a solution to problems thousands or millions of users are having every day — we pay you thousands of dollars a year for hardware with features advertised as working; when those features don’t work, just saying “lol we’re apple sucks to be you” is not acceptable. Improve your customer-developer-management communications, Apple! We’re here to help).
HomePod: A to F
HomePod is also curious. It’s obviously a great single speaker and stereo speaker pair, but the iOS aspects have internal iOS-style failures. Since HomePod has no power button, there’s no way to correct a HomePod stuck in broken iOS states except to crawl on the floor and unplug HomePod from the wall for a complete power cycle (and no, Siri does not allow reboot-by-voice because Apple’s new motto is ALL DEVICES JUST WORK FOREVER (we will ignore all failures) DEVICES REQUIRE NO MANAGEMENT (just reboot them when they fail) BECAUSE EVERYTHING WORKS FOREVER (please reboot devices four times a week to maintain feature functionality)).
HomePod is also simultaneously pretty nice and also pretty shitty as an AirPlay 2 target. When streaming from my iPhone XS MaxXXX 512+GiggleBigs, sometimes AirPlay 2 just refuses to work until I reboot my iPhone which is so fucking unacceptable for a $1500 phone trying to talk to $700 worth of IoT speakers. Fix your shit, Apple. If I can reproduce these failures using iOS features for 3 hours a week, how is your QA not finding these problems and fixing them post-fing-haste?
HomePod is Apple’s first always-on, wall-powered iOS device, and as such, it’s the first stable HomeKit Home Hub. Oh golly, that seemed like such an amazing concept, until I tried it.
Now I have to crawl on the floor and unplug $700 worth of HomePods (stereo pair) anywhere from 2 to 6 times a week because HomeKit just refuses to work from them. They refuse to operate their HomeKit timers. They refuse to operate Siri HomeKit voice commands. I almost with HomePod didn’t have HomeKit features at all because having working automation hardware failing under unknowable (remember: these things have NO physical and NO debugging or admin interface) circumstances randomly is worse than not having the features at all.
HomePod: great when they work; want to smash them against dirty brick walls when they refuse to obey orders.
Siri on HomePod is the best voice assistant currently available (when iOS on HomePod isn’t broken internally and when Siri isn’t mis-hearing a HomeKit command and activating the wrong devices). HomePod Siri has the most sensitive voice assistant microphone and can even respond to commands from multiple rooms away when speaking in a normal voice loudness (we shall not think about having an always-on microphone that can hear your entire encased life just from one location).
HomePod Siri has lowest latency of all home voice assistants I’ve seen (caveat: never tried an Alexa). If you ask Google Assistant to turn off the lights, it pauses for 10 to 20 seconds to “process” the command before any action triggers (but it always works, eventually). In contrast, HomePod Siri responds within 3 seconds, but the home automation results only work maybe 25% of the time (time to crawl on the floor and reboot the iOS devices again. Thanks, Apple!).
Siri also aggressively misunderstands commands sometimes which is dangerous in a home automation context. One misfire of “Turn on my bedroom light” becomes Siri hearing “turn on all my lights” and suddenly you have 40 lights set to full brightness you have to undo. Hey Siri engineers: when presented with low confidence voice rec results, err on the side of confirmation first (“Did you mean X or Y?”).
Cash Management: E-
Apple of the modern era has had a nice problem to have: too much money.
What does one do when one has a couple hundred billion dollars sitting in the couch cushions? Buy a bigger couch.
In 2018, Apple spent $79.5 billion buying back their own shares.
“No company has bought back more shares since 2012 than Apple. As of February 2019, Apple has repurchased almost $256 billion of its own stock since it announced in March 2012 that it would start to buy back shares. That is roughly equivalent to the market value of Verizon Communications.”
Imagine how much open source software Apple could have funded for $256 billion dollars. Or even just $10 billion dollars. Or even $5 billion dollars.
“Apple is handing cash back to its shareholders at an unprecedented rate.
Apple repurchased $43.5 billion of its own stock during the first six months of 2018. Not only is that up from more than $14 billion during the same period last year, but the company’s repurchases in the past two quarters also rank as the biggest in history.”
So, January to June 2018, Apple spent $43.5 billion buying their own stock, and in the back half of 2018, Apple spent $36 billion. The reason for the drop off is Apple stopped their buybacks after the revenue miss warning as to not be accused of taking advantage of tanking their own stock to buy it cheaper.
“We returned over $13 billion to our investors during December 2018 quarter through dividends and share repurchases. Our net cash balance was $130 billion at the end of the quarter, and we continue to target a net cash neutral position over time.”
As of Apple’s end-of-2018 update, their Smaug-sized cash hoard is down to only a tiny tiny paltry feel-oh-so-sorry-for-us $130 billion USD.
Hey Apple, the global open source community can fix all your problems if you, you know, give us money to actually have lives instead of relegating us to pursuing bargain basement consulting contracts from companies using our software to make billions of dollars anyway while routinely paying us nothing. Just saying. Apple runs on software and Apple isn’t paying their share of software-derived-benefits back to creators of software they exploit for huge benefit gains. Share the love, Apple.
Since this is a 2018 Apple review, we’re not going to cover the 2019 disasters of the FaceTime Spy Gate or 2019 Facebook Smackdownpalooza.
Apple as a whole is always confusing. They have great personal mobile hardware (iPhone, iOS (without HomeKit or fucked up AirPlay 2 crashes or always-failing Apple Music iOS Music App), iPad, Apple Watch), but their real-world productivity hardware is a crapshoot fest of either outdated and abandoned hardware or overly neglected platforms.
As a member of Apple’s ecosystem, it sucks being trapped for years at a time under failing hardware with no viable replacements made in the past four years.
Why can’t Apple focus? Why can’t Apple make a keyboard anymore? The operating theories are excess distraction with future ambitions (Titan, micro-wearables) excess obsession with creating products for 2022–2032 (cough custom silicon arm macs cough) instead of for the reality of our lifetimes during 2017–2020.
The real world still exists while Apple pursues long term ambitions we can’t realize for another half decade to decade or longer.
Apple needs to figure out how to run software development organizations capable of responding to user needs in real time. Or, if not real time, at least without 5 year long delays between bug reports and issue fixes.
The solution to never-ending unaddressed software failures is fixing Apple’s rampant problems with employee prioritization and management along with software development pipeline misfires.
The solution to never-ending unaddressed hardware failures is fixing Apple’s interface to the world. Sure it may take Apple 8 years to re-tool for modern miniaturization of all platforms and bone implant computers, but in the meantime, millions of processionals still need to remain highly productive with things like, uh, usable keyboards for the next ten years too. Hey Apple, stop ignoring us or we’ll abandon you en-masse and your precious services revenue goes with us first, then we get our extended family networks to abandon everything too.
How do you become irrelevant as a platform? First slowly, then all at once.
From the outside, Apple doesn’t have any talent internally to course correct on software development as a whole (and I’m not qualified to talk about course correcting hardware development, but fix that too plz). Look outward Apple. There are plenty of people capable, willing, and happy to help the best company in the world stop slipping backwards year by year, but you’ve got to reach out and talk to us.
To close this 2018 Apple Review, here’s some actual users reporting the current state of MacBook Pro reliability: