I read with interest Ryan Christoffel’s article on MacStories about Apple’s services. His stance is that it’s time to revise their poor reputation, because in recent times they’ve actually been better and more reliable than they used to be.
You can draw your own conclusions from this story, but mine is that Apple’s services get a bad rap they generally don’t deserve; the company’s reputation for not doing services well is outdated. Are things perfect? Of course not. But they’re a lot better than the common narrative says.
Nick Heer comments:
I don’t blame anyone for their skepticism of Apple’s cloud services offerings; for a very long time, these services were entirely deserving of their lacklustre reputation. Next to Google’s established and reliable offerings, Apple was playing a fast game of catch-up in public, and it showed. Despite their presently-good state, however, I get a wary look whenever I recommend many of Apple’s services to someone who asks. A lot of people have been burned before by bad experiences with Maps or iTunes, and are reluctant to trust in more Apple services.
In the past, I had occasional issues with Apple’s services, but nothing terribly catastrophic. I remember I was not thrilled by iPhoto losing a few dozens pictures back when I tried switching to it. And I lost several emails when I was a .Mac subscriber due to what Apple support described to me at the time as a ‘server glitch’. (On the flip side, quite interestingly, I’ve been one of the few who had absolutely zero issues with MobileMe — no data loss whatsoever, no sync-related disasters, nothing). What happened, however, was that right in the early days of Apple’s cloud services, I used to do a lot of freelance consulting and tech assistance. And while nothing terribly catastrophic has ever happened to me as a user, I’ve seen plenty of catastrophes happening to many of my clients back then. Enough to make me quite sceptical of the reliability of Apple’s services in general.
As a consequence, I’ve never gone all-in on Apple’s services like Christoffel and Heer have. There are services I don’t use because I simply don’t need and never needed them: iCloud Calendar syncing, iCloud Photo Library / Photo Sharing, and Reminders, to make just a few examples off the top of my head. I also don’t have an Apple TV and don’t find it appealing enough to add it to my Apple ecosystem.
Then there are services I don’t use because I find third-party solutions to be better implemented or more reliable:
- Instead of iCloud Drive, I’m better served by Dropbox and Box.
- I only use Notes.app on the iPhone for very brief notes I need to check locally, so I ignore the sync capabilities completely. My notes’ synchronisation system revolves around Simplenote and Notational Velocity, and it’s been very reliable over the years.
- I use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps: my experience is very much similar to Michael Tsai’s. Where I live, Google Maps is basically flawless when it comes to displaying updated, correct information. The same cannot be said of Apple Maps: there are still instances where if I don’t type an address in the exact form Apple Maps expects me to, I will be directed to a similar address in a completely different city.
- I’m an early-adopter Spotify premium customer. Spotify has served and continues to serve me very well, so I have no reason to switch to Apple Music. I briefly tried it on iOS and was utterly underwhelmed by the experience. And considering how many iTunes libraries have been screwed up by Apple Music, I never activated it on iTunes on the Mac.
Then there are services I’ve tried to use and warm up to — like Siri and iMessage — but:
- Siri is still a hit-or-miss gimmick for me, and as Nick Heer aptly remarked, “remains painfully obtuse when it comes to following context”. I’m fluent in three languages, so believe me when I tell you I tried communicating with Siri in more than one way. The result is that Siri is useless to me because a) its responses are unpredictable; great when they work, a waste of time and patience when they don’t, and b) it’s still not fast and responsive enough to make me prefer using voice commands over simply tapping or typing my requests.
- There’s nothing wrong with iMessage, but with my small circle of family and friends, the preferred apps to exchange messages are Telegram and Signal. The last additions to ‘spice up’ iMessage have had the opposite effect on me, and I’m now even less interested in using it.
I don’t use Apple News for the simple reason that it’s still not available in my country.
I don’t use Apple Pay for the simple reason that none of my current Apple devices support it.
In the end, the few services I do use and can’t complain about are:
- Safari’s Reading List and iCloud tabs: very reliable, very handy.
- iCloud Mail: never a problem (apart from the aforementioned loss of emails circa 2005).
- Contacts syncing: it has always worked fine for me (not that I have tons of information to sync anyway).
- App Store: overall the experience is positive. Sometimes it’s buggy on the Mac, and for mysterious reasons updating apps on my iPad 3 with iOS 9.3.5 has become a painful process, with the device often hanging (especially when updating multiple apps at a time) and needing a force-reboot.
- iTunes: yes, iTunes. Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never had issues with iTunes, but that’s because I’ve always taken maniacal care of it. I use it mainly to listen to my local music library, and I do the occasional syncing and backup of older iOS devices and iPods. Always with cables.
iCloud has indeed got better over time, but perhaps the main reason that’s still keeping me from going all-in with it is that the service is too out-of-the-way, too invisible to the user, while I require a certain degree of transparency from a service that’s supposed to sync a lot of my files and information over the air. Yes, it’s nice that iCloud feels like magic when everything works. The problem is that ‘magic’ becomes ‘black box’ when something doesn’t work. With other cloud services, like Dropbox, Box, Cloud.app, I often have some kind of feedback when they’re doing stuff behind the scenes. They have interfaces that, while not perfect, are good enough in displaying what’s going on, what’s changed, what has been updated. iCloud doesn’t — or at least that’s my impression. Worse, iCloud can at times be confusing and unreliable in handling important information.
I’m in a bit of a weird position: on the one hand, I trust Apple much more than many other tech companies, mostly thanks to their position on customer privacy; on the other hand I’m still reluctant to completely let go when it comes to trusting Apple’s services in full. I’m certainly not the only one, though. I think that Apple’s problem in getting people to trust its services — or winning back the trust of long-time users — is that even positive experiences from people heavily relying on Apple’s services feel anecdotal, and those people come across as ‘lucky’. With this kind of perception, reversing a reputation is always hard.