I’ve loved Apple products for 20 years. I’ve written for Mac magazines including Macworld and MacUser (UK folk — MacUser was great, wasn’t it?) over the years. I’ve watched Apple go from comparative plucky underdog to champ; like a technological ‘Rocky’ story. However, just like the Rocky films, it seems Apple is hitting the shaky sequels.

The 2020 WWDC keynote wasn’t bad because it was online. It was bad because it highlighted a lack of direction for their software products, and a lack of polish for how they are implemented and presented. Something as simple as the presenters reading from auto-queue machines just off the side of the camera was, sadly, laughably bad, and arguably indicative of where things are headed in Cupertino.

As more and more of the keynote went on, I felt a pity for Apple I’ve never felt before.

So what is iOS 14 giving us?

Apple used to be in the business of selling you simplicity. You felt, for the most part, like there was a unified design/approach. Typically, this manifested in less stuff, and software solutions that required less cognitive load. Across an Apple OS and ecosystem, there was often a prescribed way of accomplishing things. Less, was usually more.

iOS 14’s principal ‘improvement’, UI wise, is basically a load of ‘junk drawers’ for iOS Apps, and a message to ‘go tidy your own room’.

A half-baked solution to a problem, entirely made by Apple.

Thanks to geography and the possibility of cheap labour, we’ve got a modern age where, in the western world, we have arrived at the ridiculous situation, where we have to fight hard to keep our homes clutter free.

Thanks to the financial success of the App Store, Apple are now in the business of making you have more digital stuff; the App Store equivalent of cheap plastic junk — junk they have no solution for how to deal with.

Apple’s proposed solution is the iOS 14 junk drawers, AKA ‘App Library’.

Progress? Innovative thinking? This doesn’t seem like we’re heading in a positive direction. Don’t even get me started on Widgets!

Apple have created a monster. It’s called the App store

The App Store set a bar for how applications could be dealt be. It enabled beautifully simple one-click install and seamless, idiot-proof, updates. A system both powerful and accessible for all. At first, the App Store surfaced delights, and the ‘fart’ apps were aberrations.

Now it is a refuse site, where worthwhile applications are rarities in the abundant and far more common detritus.

‘Free’ applications, particularly those targeted at children, almost always have ads running, or make use of digital slight of hands, to part children and parents from their money. They seem the very antithesis of the secure, high-quality applications we’re told the App Store provides and makes possible.

The only ‘quality control’ that’s abundantly happening at Apple is enforcing apps are paying Apple their 30% cut. Just today, Jon Gruber has talked about this better than I could.

Even if someone at Apple was incensed enough with the state of the App Store to do something about it, how will they ever get that past the shareholders?

The balance has shifted. The way the App Store runs currently is better for Apple than it is for Apple’s users.

Safari and the endless web platform shortcomings

My biggest personal gripe is with Safari.

Safari is so far behind the curve in terms of modern web features it’s not even worth getting into in any detail again. If you’re a web developer you know, you’ve experienced it first-hand and you’ve read plenty of pieces and commentary on the fact.

Bottom line: battery/memory performance, security — great. Features, visual performance, implementation of modern web platform features? Dog shit.

Unless something particularly enhances something Apple want to do in the App Store, it seems standard practice to bunt it into the long grass.

Here are a few of the choice omissions from my own perspective

That’s not even mentioning things around progressive web applications. Go speak to Maximiliano (@firt on Twitter), he’ll give you another list at least twice as long!

When it comes to implementing things in WebKit, I’ve heard the line that ‘there isn’t enough resource’. But you can’t be the worlds largest company and use that line. I don’t believe it because it’s not true.

Apple don’t want Safari to be as good as it could be. It can’t make Safari as good as it could be because it will cannibalise the App Store. This fact is a simple and irrefutable inconvenient truth.

Using an iPhone? Look at the Apps on your home screen right now. How many of those are or could easily be a web app? If ‘Add to Homescreen’ said ‘Install as App’ I imagine most of mine could be done that way.

Apple’s own App Store policy (section 4.2) states it doesn’t want repackaged websites.

Your app should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website. If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store

Apple, if you made Safari more capable, many applications wouldn’t need to be made as native iOS apps!

They have obviously sensed some growing disdain in the web developer community, and perhaps things are changing and they want to tell us about it. But rather than do some research and get themselves a few great devs from the developer community to become Developer Advocates, they have just nicked one of Mozilla’s existing Developer Advocates. It reeks of laziness and arrogance. I mean, get someone, anyone, interested in progressing the web at Safari, but get your own! A fresh voice, some new perspectives, someone from within???!!!!

Summary

Because I’ve admired Apple for so long, I feel so saddened by their current state.

Historically, they were the mavericks, and rarely took ‘the easy path’. Now they seem so weighed down by their financial success they can’t turn back on something like the App Store, even if they want to.

Ultimately, it seems Apple needs to re-find itself. Perhaps it’s like some popstar the world at large has been clamouring after relentlessly for so many years only to find up they’ve had to go to rehab because they’re emotionally and artistically spent.

I hope we get to see something of the Apple I admired in the past in the Apple of the future.