Apple: King of the good, the bad, and the ugly

18 Jun 2016

Image via Mama_mia /

Dear Apple, I have been meaning to write this letter to you for some time now. To my discredit I have been putting it off and putting it off, however, in the last hour I have tried (and failed) to complete the simple task of adding an event to my calendar without you trying to autofill the address.

This has adequately focused my mind (read – driven me bananas) to bring this item to the top of the agenda (read – it shouldn’t really be but I need to assuage the rage) and here we are (read – what major global issue hasn’t been straightforwardly resolved by a self-righteous keyboard warrior).

My question is this: how can a company that has designed and built products of the staggering beauty of the iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook and Apple Watch also produce the steaming piles of pus that are Calendar, Apple Music and Photos?

Perhaps you have a “big-screen belter movie blockbuster” products division where all your brightest employees go and a “straight-to-DVD” division where all the reprobates and lower-performers are sent for purgatory?

Perhaps the only difference between the two divisions is that users aren’t allowed to contribute to any design decisions in the “straight-to-DVD” section?

Costly problems

Faux leather may have looked good on my uncle’s 1973 Ford Capri, but its time had long since passed when it made it into iCal in 2013. But my Calendar beef doesn’t lie with its skeuomorphism, which represents the least of that product’s worries (and has since been mercifully decommissioned). Who decided that the product should not just autofill the address, but then not allow the user to overwrite the autofill, even if they want to?

As I write, I genuinely cannot tell you how to edit a current Calendar entry with confidence that the changes will be accepted. The product is so bad that a number of competitors have emerged, one of which I have paid £32 for the privilege of using. How bad does a product have to be when it is the free default, for competitors to dominate and for customers to be prepared to pay £32 just to take the pain away?

Jumbling all my photos on the kitchen table with no discernable categorisation might be a fun game to play with the kids on a wet Sunday afternoon, but it’s no way to arrange a lifetime of digital pics. And regarding the less desirable elements of Apple Music, deleting files off someone else’s computer was never cool, at any time, for any context, “product bug” or otherwise.

The humble hockey-puck mouse, the cause of so much ire for so many people, was, at least, a noble attempt at having a go in the late 1990s when there were fewer good mice on the market. It was quickly evolved and later iterations of the Apple mouse (eventually) came good. Products such as the Newton Message Pad, Portable Macintosh and the Apple Pippin were quickly stood down when Apple realised they were well short of the mark.

So, why have we not seen the overhaul of software that is bundled with hardware and your various operating systems? You must know in your hearts that it’s awful.

Listen up

We watched in awe as the audience clapped when Steve Jobs showed how scrolling worked on an iPhone during his Macworld keynote in San Francisco in 2007. We wept with (read – laughed at) the YouTube viral guy who opened his iPhone 6 on the first day of release and dropped it as he opened it. Some of us have even had the temerity to use your design parlance “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like; design is how it works” and “Creativity is just connecting things” when trying to sell experience design.

So, maybe it’s time for the tables to be turned and for you to do the listening?

Spare a thought for the busy executive screaming at her laptop screen with no one in Apple listening because Calendar won’t let her add the address she wants, or because committing an event to the calendar requires the digit-dexterity of Houdini. Or the proud dad who is struggling to manage his family photos because Photos has gone crazy with a spot of self-categorisation. Or at least mourn the revenue you’re not getting through Apple Music because the online reviews suggest that sticking with Spotify, or heaven forbid, keeping all your MP3s on your hard drive is a safer and better option for now.

As soon as I complete this letter, I will be writing another posthumous one to Dante, asking him to consider adding a 10th circle of hell to his Inferno, which is the use of Apple’s “straight-to-DVD” products.

I’m only being playful really (except for the infuriation that Calendar instills, and uncoolness of deleting music off your customer’s computers) but I am genuinely curious to know how the company responsible for some of the most remarkable product design of the 21st century can spawn the nobility of Simba and the evil of Scar from the same place. It is a quandary that I suspect even a straight-to-DVD Lion King III release couldn’t answer.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile. Visit Fathom online at

Apple products image via Mama_mia / Shutterstock