Curse of the Zeldman Curse
I HAVEN’T GRIPED about a run of bad luck with Apple products for some time, because I haven’t experienced such a run in years. So I was due. So pretty much all the Apple products I own are now malfunctioning, each in its own special way—a way that interacts cunningly with the malfunction in another Apple product I own to prevent me from, say, accessing internet content, or getting photos out of my camera and onto a device where I can view and edit them.
The interlocking details of these curiously synchronous malfunctions are of little general interest, but the cultural assumptions surrounding their discussion may merit some small call on your attention.
People used to talk about the Zeldman Curse, meaning things went wrong with my Apple software or hardware that didn’t go wrong with anyone else’s. But that was never true, of course. Google any problem I wrote about back then, and you’d find lots of other people having the same problem, usually quietly, on an out-of-the-way Apple message board, which only rarely contained an actual, working solution.
Media-wise, Apple was always mum on these subjects—the one exception being 2010′s notorious iPhone 4 antenna problem which supposedly doomed Apple and the iPhone and of course did neither because it wasn’t really a big problem and it was easy to fix.
But those other things that sometimes went wildly wrong for some users of some Apple products? Those things, nice people didn’t talk about. As a community, Apple fans were Victorians when it came to malfunctions of the hardware or software body, and those who complained—like Victorians seeking sexual information—were to be shunned.
This ban on complaint never stopped me because my filters are different from yours, and because I needed the psychological release that came with writing more than I needed your approval.
The real meaning of Apple design
Now, we all know Apple is smart. Their sales pitch is design, but not in the “pretty” sense people who don’t know what design is think I mean when I say the word “design.”
Their stuff is pretty, but that surface prettiness is merely an objective correlative—an indicator, if you will—for the beauty and emotional satisfaction of a generally seamless computing experience. It’s the comparative ease of creating and managing a music library, not the attractiveness of the surrounding chrome, that makes people connect personally with iTunes. Like the best websites, Apple products anticipate what you will need to do, and make it easy for you to do it, thereby enabling you to focus your attention on the content with which you are engaged, instead of on the interface that facilitates your interaction. Interaction design. Experience design. That’s what Apple is brilliant at.
And even when the hardware is visually gorgeous—like the MacBook Air, my road machine as a frequent speaker—the real selling point isn’t that visual beauty; it’s the fact that this powerful computer weighs little more than a pad of paper. You can toss it in your handbag or backpack and run out the door. That whole deskbound computing experience? The Air freed you from it even before the iPad came along.
If a brand’s whole essence is bound up with good experience, it makes sense for the brand to handle bad experiences quietly and with skill. This Apple does in its stores. If something goes wrong with a piece of hardware, or if an individual piece of software is malfunctioning in ways you can’t fix after fifteen minutes with the Googles, you walk into the Apple store, and a smiling initiate fixes the software for you, or replaces your bum iPhone with a free new one. Walking out with a free new iPhone kind of makes you forget that you were angry at Apple for the problems of the iPhone you walked in with.
The house that Jack wired
But you can’t lug your apartment or your whole network routing setup to the Apple store when your MacBook Air says it can’t connect to the internet because another device is using its IP address (even though no device is). And you can’t plug into ethernet because the Air doesn’t support it. And if you bought that ethernet converter enabling you to plug an ethernet cable into your Air, that’s when you find out that most ethernet cables don’t actually fit into that thing Apple sold you for $50. You can’t bring the Air into the Apple store to be diagnosed and fixed because it connects beautifully to the internet over Wi-Fi everywhere but in your home. And that happened suddenly, after you hadn’t changed anything about your network.
And it’s not just you, because your colleague gets the same error message on his Apple computer in the design studio you share. And it isn’t the way you configured your networks, because you hired a guy to configure the one in your studio, while you configured the home one yourself, using only Apple hardware and software. And the guy you hired to wire your studio is competent, because that is what he does for a living, and has done for 20 years, as his bald head attests.
And you want the Air to connect to the internet because you want to get photos off your camera, and you can’t do that with your desktop Apple computer (an iMac) because iPhoto will not open in that computer. iPhoto will not open in that computer because your iPhoto library is corrupted, and the usual secret fixes for that problem (Command-Option open) do not work. Besides, the iPhoto library on your MacBook Air is also corrupted.
Your iMac is set to open Aperture when you connect your camera to it, but Aperture shares iPhoto’s library, so if you plug your camera into your iMac, Aperture spins uselessly and stops responding, just like iPhoto does.
You can sometimes force iPhoto to open on the Air by holding down Command-Option on launch, but if you did that, the photos would just sit there, because the Air cannot connect to the internet in your home. So you couldn’t share the photos on Flickr or Instagram or Facebook, and what would be the point of having taken them? And besides, the Air has no room for photos because the Air has no room on its little bitty drive. And you can’t edit photos on your Air because it’s a “light” computer by design. So even if iPhoto wasn’t broken on your Air, and even if it had room on its itty bitty drive, the best you could hope to do would be dump a bunch of photos into it and then not edit or share them.
The iMac has internet access, but neither Aperture nor iPhoto will work on it because of the aforesaid corruption problem.
So I’ve bought iPhoto Library Manager to fix the corruption in my library, and I believe it will do that, but it’s been working on the problem for fourteen hours so far and it is not even halfway finished. Yes, I have a large library. By tomorrow night, if the software has worked, I may be able to access my photos—although there is the very strong possibility that when I connect the camera, Aperture will open, and will freeze, because it doesn’t know that iPhoto Library Manager has built an entirely new photo library, because that’s how iPhoto Library Manager solves the problem. So tomorrow night, when iPhoto Library Manager finally stops grinding away at my corrupted photo library, I may need to uninstall Aperture just to get the photos off my camera.
I also can’t access internet content outside my living room because my walls are thick and my network no longer recognizes my Airport Extreme (so I’m waiting for Apple to deliver another one) but that would be a third kvetch in the same post, and two is all you get.
So I think maybe Apple is telling me to go out and spend time with my friends on this cold but sunny morning, and to only use computers in my studio, where they and the internet magically work. Only, why would Apple tell me that? How does that message get me to buy more of their stuff? It doesn’t, logically. And yet I know I will buy more and more of their stuff. I’m probably buying some right now.
I should acquire an unfaithful mistress and lavish her with jewelry I can’t afford. At least then people would understand.
Big Web Show 80: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber
IN EPISODE No. 80 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) I interview Daring Fireball author John Gruber about his background in computer programming and journalism; the joy of designing print layouts with QuarkXPress and the transition from print to web; why investors who are angry at Apple have it wrong; why some web standards geeks who once passionately disliked Apple have grown warmer toward the company; and the secret story behind the name, “Daring Fireball.”
Listen to the episode.
Portrait by George Del Barrio
A List Apart Issue No. 367: Apple’s Vexing Viewport
In A List Apart Issue No. 367, Peter-Paul Koch, Lyza Danger Gardner, Luke Wroblewski, and Stephanie Rieger explain why Apple’s new iPad Mini creates a vexing situation for designers and developers who create flexible, multi-device experiences.
Each week, new devices appear with varying screen sizes, pixel densities, input types, and more. As developers and designers, we agree to use standards to mark up, style, and program what we create. Browser makers in turn agree to support those standards and set defaults appropriately, so we can hold up our end of the deal. This agreement has never been more important.
That’s why it hurts when a device or browser maker does something that goes against our agreement—especially when they’re a visible and trusted friend of the web like Apple. Read Vexing Viewports and contribute to the discussion.
This issue of the magazine also marks the departure of Jason Santa Maria as creative director after seven years of brilliant design and support.
Jason’s elegant redesign of A List Apart and its brand in 2005, together with the master stroke of bringing in Kevin Cornell as illustrator, brought the magazine new fame, new readers, and new respect. Over seven great years, his attention to detail, lack of pretension, and cheerful, can-do attitude has made working on ALA a pleasure. Jason was also a key member of the strategic team that envisioned ALA’s upcoming content expansion—about which, more will be revealed when the site relaunches in January.
Jason will continue at ALA as a contributing writer and as designer of A Book Apart (“brief books for people who make websites”), of which he is also a co-founder.
Will the last digital canvas please turn out the lights?
DESIGNERS. WE LOVE CANVASES. It’s what we know. Even the cave wall had predictable, fixed dimensions. On the web, in the past few years, we’ve finally had to acknowledge that the canvas is not fixed, that each user’s canvas is different, and that fixed-width design—while safe and comfortable because it’s what we know—really doesn’t make sense in the world of HTML, and probably never did. We’ve spent the past two or three years rapidly learning (and sharing) new ways of designing.
But while we were unwrapping ourselves from the notion of a fixed canvas on the web, many of us were gleefully tucking into a fixed canvas in Apple’s world of the iPhone and iPad. True, the iPad had more pixels than the original iPhone—an advantage also enjoyed by later iPhone models with their Retina displays. But they shared easily interchanged aspect ratios (4:3 for the iPad and 3:2 for the iphone), enabling designers to design right to the canvas.
Apple’s fixed canvas wasn’t just a designer’s security blanket. It enabled us to craft a certain kind of polished experience right to the device. We laughed (or cried) at the Android with its 500 “standard” breakpoints and counting. Apple had given us a fixed-width sandbox and we built castles in it.
Well, goodbye to all that.
The end of fixed aspect ratios
With the iPhone 5′s switch to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and given the unknown aspect ratio of the upcoming iPad mini, “we’re going to see a big change in a certain type of iOS app—the one designed for the device,” Craig Grannell predicts in today’s reverttosaved.com:
[Veteran developer John] Pickford summed it up by stating his approach would no longer depend heavily on screen shape, and I’ve heard similar from other developers, both of apps and games although especially the latter. In a sense, this could be a good thing—freeing up iOS from the constraints of specific screen shapes opens up developers to whatever Apple throws at them next and should also make apps simpler to port to competing platforms. But it also impacts heavily on those tightly crafted experiences that were designed just for your iPad or just for your iPhone. Having all the action take place only in the very centre of a screen, because a developer cannot guarantee what device you’re using, or, worse, carving out a viewport and surrounding it with a border, could cheapen iOS games and apps in a big way.
Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, but pre-iPhone 5, indies were already feeling the pinch. With that device and perhaps a new, smaller iPad to contend with, the shift towards more fluid and less device-specific apps seems inevitable.—Craig Grannell, iOS screen fragmentation points to a shift in app development
I share Craig’s assessment of what the change in aspect ratios portends for application design. But I believe that designers will rise to the challenge, as we have on the web; and that bright app designers will find ways to design experiences which, even if they are actually flexible behind the scenes, still feel like they were custom crafted for the device in your hand.
REDUNDANT MECHANISMS that fail to communicate with one another can make using Mac OS X Lion more confusing than it should be.
Consider the screenshot shown here. While Apple’s Software Update knows that I have downloaded the latest version of iPhoto (“Your software is up to date”), Apple’s App Store, pulling from a different database, does not know that I have already installed iPhoto. It only knows that a new version is available.
Because the App Store’s left hand doesn’t know what Software Update’s right hand has already downloaded and installed, the App Store flashes a red download alert badge, urging me to download 500MB of Apple software that Apple’s OS has already installed on my Apple machine.
Suppose I don’t bother to check Software Update and verify that the App Store’s “Update” tab is urging me to take a nonsensical action. Suppose I actually go ahead and click “UPDATE” in the App Store’s “Update” tab. What will happen?
The software, all 500 MB of it, will download again, and install itself again. That’s what will happen.
And the cream of the jest? After installing the software again, if I click into the “Purchases” tab of the App Store, the “Purchases” tab will inform me that an iPhoto update is available, and urge me to install it. And if I have been huffing nitrous all day and take Apple’s advice, the 500 MB package will download for a third time and install itself a third time.
And you thought Retina images were tough on bandwidth.
(A friend tells me that Mountain Lion resolves this clustercuss by removing Software Update from the equation. I suspect that those of us still using Lion are receiving unintended anal leakage from UI decisions that make sense in Mountain Lion but are idiotic in Lion. #imisssteve)
Facebook goes native
“IF I WERE advising them on these decisions, I would have had them look at what people actually want from Facebook — fast access to their friends’ photos and posts — and … helped them design an HTML5 web experience that actually works for mobile.”
.net magazine: Facebook iPhone app to go native By Tanya Combrinck on June 28, 2012
Shutting off Compass Calibration in Location Services can stop iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S on iOS5 from sucking battery life and running hot.
I have an iPhone 4 and fwiw, mine was losing 10% per 2 hours and running warm as soon as I upgraded to iOS 5. In my case the culprit was quite easy to track-down. The new OS Location Services has a new sub menu: System Services. These services by default do not show the familiar arrow icon at the top right of the status bar. However, a new setting allows System Services location usage to be displayed. Just as well as in my case (I hasten to add that your mileage might vary) the culprit was ‘Compass Calibration’ which was perpetually holding on to Location Services even through restarts. Switching the blighter off cured the problem. What’s odd is that I have tentatively switched it back on since and it no longer activates Location Services. Very odd, but there’s my tale.
via Troubleshooting a battery-sucking iPhone 4S | Macworld By flyperson 4:48:54 PM PDT Oct 24, 2011
Filed under: Apple
In which I unwittingly befoul an otherwise fitting tribute to the late, great Mr Jobs
“SHARE YOUR MEMORIES of Steve Jobs” read the email from Faith Korpi, producer of the 5by5 network to which I contribute a podcast. I thought she meant memories of actually interacting with the guy. I had one such experience: Steve fired me from a freelance project. That being my only “memory” of Steve Jobs, I responded to the assignment by telling that story.
5by5 created a beautiful audio tribute to Steve Jobs. The other contributors, who understood the assignment correctly, carefully crafted personal tributes to Steve Jobs and his legacy. Listening to this series of heartfelt recollections, you get a sense of the contribution Steve Jobs made to all our lives. The testimonials of my colleagues make me feel awe, wonder, hope, and terrible sadness.
A little over twenty minutes into this love fest for a giant of our time, my little story comes along and quickly sinks like a stone. I didn’t write it out in advance (no time, I was chaperoning my daughter’s second grade field trip) and I didn’t record it in my pristine podcasting studio (same excuse). The gist of it is, Steve Jobs fired me and another guy from a project before we did a lick of work, paid us anyway, and afterwards, for nearly ten years, Apple hardware and software that worked perfectly well for everyone in the world misbehaved for me — as if the aborted project had left me cursed.
I admire and marvel at Steve Jobs every bit as much as my better spoken, better prepared colleagues. Not only did he understand that computing is about people, not technology; he also had the will to unapologetically demand perfection from the human beings who worked for him. If I live to be one thousandth the creative director he was, I will tell myself, “Well done.”
Essential iPhone Photo Apps
“EVER SINCE the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone has become my primary camera. Aside from its terrific image quality, it’s the abundance of photo apps that make it shine. I get asked a lot about what apps I use, which are good, etc. Here’s my list.”—Jim Barraud