Bad Design: Apple Notes (iPhone) undo

Let’s say you are selecting a large swath of text in the Apple Notes app on your iPhone. First, I am very sorry for you because doing this is a tedious and finicky task. And let’s say once you select the text, instead of tapping Copy you hit something by mistake and delete the text. How do you get the text back? Simple, just tap Undo!

Except there is no undo option. It turns out there are two ways:

  1. Shake the phone vigorously. This assumes that you have the option enabled and that you are shaking the phone in the correct way.
  2. Tap on the Markup icon at the bottom of the screen. Next, look at the top of the screen and tap the now visible and visibly tiny Undo arrow.

Neither of these are anything even remotely close to being discoverable or obvious. The second one doesn’t even make sense. Why is the Undo option that works on text buried under a completely unrelated function? If you look at the Notes app, there is plenty of space for Undo/Redo icons at the top of the main screen. Why aren’t they there? Who knows! But hooray for Apple being so stupidly big they can’t keep themselves from making idiotic UI choices like this. Maybe invest a few tens of billions into fixing these kinds of things.

Creepy photos done wrong, Apple Vision Pro edition

If you’ve seen anything about the Vision Pro, Apple’s new don’t-call-it-AR headset, you’ve probably come across this photo:

I’m here to tell you why it’s creepy and bad, and Apple should feel bad for using it.

In a list, of course!

  • The black void behind the person is off-putting. Where is she? Is she just floating in nothing?
  • The ultra-white starched dress shirt with the buttons done up to the top. This is incredibly twee and so very Apple. It’s a look that comes pre-dated. No one dresses like this.
  • The light around the fake eyes make them look dopey, as if the person is tired and wants a nap. They also look unreal and your brain will constantly be reminding you of this every time you see them.
  • The slightly-parted mouth is off-putting. She’s not smiling1You may argue that she is, in fact, smiling, but the fact that we have to debate it proves the point. So says I!, so why is she showing her teeth? It’s like she got a shot of Novocaine and her jaw is hanging slightly slack as a result. Also, the way the light bounces off her lips and chin is unnatural. Is she holding a flashlight at her waist and pointing it up? I used to do that to tell spooky stories when I was 12 years old. I also didn’t need a $3500 headset to do it.
  • The hair. It’s hipster hair. I’m willing to let this one go, though, because it is, in the end, just hair.
  • The ears do not look like they are part of her head. Again, this is a lighting issue.
  • Airbrushing. Yes, every face gets airbrushed in ads, and it still makes the skin look plastic and fake, like a glossy mannequin.

Other than the above, it’s a perfect photo to represent Apple’s Vision Pro don’t-call-it-AR headset (it’s totally AR).

EDIT: I made the following on request.

Apple is boring and fat (my last Apple rant*)

macbook pro beside white ipad
Generic photo of outdated Apple products. Burn! Photo by Pixabay on

And yes, even its shiniest, newest products, like the Apple Watch Ultra, are ho-hum.

I used to get at least a cheap thrill from some of the Apple rumours that would come out, but Apple has fallen so madly in love with its image as a “premium” brand that I now no longer look forward to anything, knowing how absurdly high-priced it will be. I feel like the entire company is in a funk, even as it hits massive new profit and revenue records. It’s also boring and cut through with a deep cynicism.

Both of its monitors are overpriced and its “consumer” monitor is an overengineered and actually pretty ordinary 27″ LED display ($1600 US with no way to adjust the height without paying extra)

The Apple Silicon era started impressively in late 2020, with the M1 MacBook Air, but there were disappointments right from the start, such as reducing ports on the Mac mini and restricting the M1 to only a single external display (technically two for the mini). Since then, it’s been a decided mixed bag, In two years Apple has only released a single new SoC, the M2, with some minor improvements, and has yet to update its entire line. The Mac Pro is still MIA, the higher end Mac mini is still an Intel machine, they nuked the 27″ iMac with no replacement. The M2 MacBook Air clearly shows cost-cutting shortcuts, despite costing $200 more.

The iPad line is a muddled, confusing mess, filled with a confusing array of features sprinkled across its low and high-end offerings. And dongles!

The iPhone 14 is about as close to an incremental upgrade as you can get without actually not updating at all. I’m not sure why it even exists. The “Dynamic Island” of the 14 Pro is not only the most twee name Apple has come up with in many years (and Apple is generally terrible and wildly inconsistent about names1Explain the difference between Pro, Plus, Max, Extreme and Ultra.), it’s also bifurcating the UI experience between product lines, which is bad design. Users should not have to pay more to get the “best” UI experience.

And then the price hikes as the US dollar strengthens, making its stuff even less affordable around the world.

And of course, let’s not forget the real legacy of Tim Cook: hitching Apple’s success to China and bowing obsequiously to its government’s every request as it continues to be an oppressive force against its own people. But hoo boy, that supply chain is efficient!

And yet…record revenue, record profits. Apple is secure. If they ever fall, it will be, as I’ve said before, a slow descent (though it will quicken at the end).

And I really do think it will fall, eventually. The company is no longer hungry, it’s fat (and nakedly greedy–I don’t think the company has ever been more transparent in trying to squeeze as much from their customers as they can), content and full of itself, convinced of its own greatness. It displays naked hypocrisy and misrepresents reality all the time to make its case on whatever the topic may be (like claiming a forced USB-C connection on the iPhone will stifle innovation, even though their lightning port has remained unchanged for the past ten years). Only direct government action, such as the changes mandated by the European Union, will actually push it to change. And, like a petulant child, it will only do the absolute minimum it can get away with.

One rumour going around is that Apple will allow third-party app stores to comply with upcoming EU regulations, and it’s all but expected that Apple will make such stores as unappealing as legally possible, such that no one will ever want to use them, technically complying with regulations, but completely thumbing its nose as their intent.

And so I end here, disillusioned by a company that once tried to position itself as the ones who did things differently. Apple has eaten itself. It’s time for others to show real innovation and kick it to the curb.

* My last Apple rant for now, though I really do not plan to write more. Honest!

Oh, Apple: Chapter 98

Yesterday, Apple updated its base iPad and iPad Pro models, along with the Apple TV box, via press release and tweet. Speaking of tweets, here’s one showing how you charge the Apple Pencil on the 10th generation iPad (that’s the one they announced yesterday if you aren’t a hopeless tech geek like me):

I had the 10.5″ iPad Pro from 2017 and it used the first generation Pencil–it charged just like in the Old shot above, though I used the female to female lightning adapter to charge it via cable rather than risk it snapping off while plugged into the iPad in what was an ill-considered charging scheme.

Speaking of ill-considered, the new iPad still only supports the first-gen Pencil, but eliminates the lightning port in favour of USB-C, thus creating a situation where there is no way to charge the Pencil (the 2nd gen Pencil charges via induction by magnetically attaching to a side of the iPad).

Apple’s solution is to now include (another) adapter with the first-gen Pencil that allows it to connect to a USB cable, which then plugs into the iPad. This is also how you pair the Pencil. It’s cumbersome and requires two separate items (the adapter, the cable) in exchange for previously needing none.

It’s silly and dumb and Apple is rightly getting roasted for it.

Some are speculating that Apple did this because they finally moved the front-facing camera to landscape mode and couldn’t figure out a way to also includes the magnets in the same space to allow induction charging. That’s possible. Did Apple make the right choice? Will more people use the front-facing camera than a Pencil? I really don’t know. It seems like six of one, a half dozen of the other to me, but I can’t help thinking Apple either should have found a way to make induction charging work, or not move the front-facing camera until they could. This solution is an awkward, muddled compromise.

And it’s an excellent example of the current state of Apple.

Also note: The iPad Pros announced do not get the landscape camera, because they’re just getting a spec bump. Fair enough, you might say, but people are inevitably going to wonder why the low end model now has a superior camera to the high end, and rightly so. Apple wasn’t forced to spec bump and release the updated iPad Pros at the same time–but they chose to.

This is also an excellent example of the current state of Apple.

(I didn’t even mention the absurd $120 increase in price for the base iPad, which Apple acknowledges by keeping the old $329 model in the line-up. We’re at a point now where it makes more sense to buy older Apple stuff than the latest, because the latest is overpriced, even by Apple’s lofty standards.)

Oh, Apple. Why are you always such an easy, juicy target?

Bad design: The placement of the front-facing camera on iPads

The iPad copied the iPhone when it came to front-facing (selfie) camera placement, by putting them at the top of the device when holding it in portrait orientation.

It makes perfect sense for a phone, since you are basically never going to hold it in landscape mode when taking a selfie, which is what most people will use their phone’s front camera for.

No one takes selfies on an iPad. Okay, there are obviously some (odd) people who do, but for most the front-facing camera is used for a couple of things:

  • Face ID to authenticate on the iPad Pro
  • For video meetings using Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, etc.

For video meetings, it makes little sense to have the camera at the top, because most iPads are in landscape mode for these meetings, which means the camera is now off to the side. The same applies to Face ID, which often has trouble “seeing” my face when I have the iPad on my desk, usually forcing me to lean to the side that the camera is on to get it to work. It’s a minor but persistent annoyance.

In a rare display of independence, Samsung has actually moved the front-facing cameras on its tablets to the top when in landscape mode–like they should be!

Apple should do the same. They should have really done it about ten years ago, but doing it now will suffice. They have a chance this month when the rumoured revision of the base iPad is released. Will Apple do the sensible thing? (lol no)

UPDATE, October 18, 2022: lol yes! Apple announced the 10th generation iPad via press release and it has a front-facing camera in landscape mode! They also raised the price from $329 U.S. to $449, so, uh...enjoy the new camera placement, if you can afford it!

Speaking of buggy software: Everything Apple produces

When you speak to old Mac geezers (OMGs), they will often wax poetic about Snow Leopard as being the best version of OS X (and remind you it’s the Roman numeral 10, not the letter X), not because it came with a boatload of new features, but because it didn’t. Apple advertised it as having “0 new features” because it focused on improving existing features and fixing bugs found in Leopard, the previous version of OS X.

Back then (roughly the first decade of the 2000s) Apple released its updates on a “when they are ready” schedule, which meant you could go almost two years between updates. That changed in 2012 when Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) came out a year after Lion. Henceforth, all Mac OS updates would come out on a yearly basis, ready or not.

Ready or not.

iOS updates and the rest of Apple’s lowercase-Uppercase OS releases followed suit, and now yearly releases are the norm.

And they are a bad idea, bad for the industry, bad for users, and Tim Cook should feel bad.

Why? One word: Bugs.

Apple has tacitly admitted it can’t keep up with yearly releases, because it now regularly leaves out major features until “later”. Just this year they delayed iPadOS 16 altogether from September to October just to get things working properly. Yearly releases are not sustainable, they’re dumb, and serve no one when they come with incomplete or missing features and copious glitches. Apple is the 800 pound gorilla in consumer electronics, so if they change course, the industry is likely to follow. And they should!

And the thing is, if Apple switched to updates every two years or “when they’re ready” people would still buy tens of millions of iPhones, plus oodles of iPads, Macs and AirPods, not to mention staying subbed to the cash cows that their services have become. But Apple is not only gigantic, they are incredibly conservative and unlikely to change course unless forced by circumstance or the law (but mostly the law).

Why do I think this? Why am I posting now?

Because watchOS 9 is a bug-riddled mess and since I use my watch for my running workouts, the glitches affect me on a regular, ongoing basis. None of these issues happened before watchOS 9 was released (Apple eventually forces updates, so you can’t even just stay put, eventually you’ll need to upgrade).

Among the bugs I’ve encountered:

  • Stuttery or missing animations (not a big thing, but annoying)
  • Unreliable heart rate monitoring, especially at the start of a run (this is a big thing)
  • Music playback on the watch being permanently muffled when interrupted by a notification. It happened today (again) and even closing the music app did not fix it. I restarted the app and tried three albums before the music finally popped back to regular volume.
  • Pausing music playing from the watch via the AirPods (clicking the touch control on one of the earbuds), then unpausing, and the playback switches to whatever you were previously listening to on the iPhone. It’s like having someone come into your living room, quietly pick up the remote, change the channel from whatever you were watching, then just as quietly leaving the room.

I suppose I should be happy most things are still working. But bleah, the yearly updates are clearly not going to improve, so I really wish Apple and the whole industry would move away from them.

My one-emoji review of Apple Books

Ah, Apple Books. I remember when the iPad debuted in 2010 and along with it iBooks, because back then Apple named everything iSomething. Because there were no deals with Canadian publishers in place, the iBooks store in Canada was a virtual empty shelf. This is part of why I ended up buying most of my ebooks from Kobo, something I continue to do today.

But I wanted to give Apple a chance, so once actual books became available, I found one I wanted that was on sale (bonus) and purchased it: Redshirts, by John Scalzi. Now, part of the reason I bought Redshirts is because the publisher specifically sells it without DRM, meaning I could sideload it onto my Kobo ereader and not be stuck reading it only on my phone or iPad. But ho ho, it turns out Apple’s own DRM was still applied, thwarting my efforts and souring me on the experience. I did ultimately get a DRM-free version and read the book on a Kobo device. But it was the last ebook I purchased on Apple Books.

Until today.

BookBub noted that 3,000 Writing & Plot Prompts A-C was on sale for $0.99 from the usual places: Amazon, Kobo and Apple. At that price, it’s an easy impulse purchase because I love lists and some prompts might, er, prompt some writing.

But because it’s only $0.99 (not exactly a huge investment), I thought I’d be wacky and get it on Apple Books. I load up the Apple Books app on my Mac, go to the book’s store page, click the $0.99 button, enter my Apple ID credentials, watch the little spinny circle as the purchase is made, then…nothing. It actually navigates away from the page to a different part of the bookstore. I make my way back to the page with the book of prompts, and it is again showing the $0.99 button. I check my library in Apple Books. The book is not there.

Now, I think I saw something briefly flash on screen after the purchase began, but it disappeared in a blink and never came back. Dare I try the purchase again? Since I had money in my Apple Wallet anyway, I figured what the heck and clicked the $0.99 button again. It spun. I got prompted for my Apple ID credentials. I entered them. I then got another pop-up asking me if I was totally absolutely sure I wanted to buy this book and clicked affirmative. The $0.99 button then changed to a handy READ button because the purchase was now complete.

I don’t know why the second confirmation to buy comes up to begin with, or why it failed to stay up the first time I tried buying (I wasn’t leaning on the mouse or anything), all I know is that when I buy books from Kobo it just works every single time. My experience with Apple on buying books and something not going awry is now 0/2.

Here is my one-emoji review of Apple Books circa 2022:

Apple: Mucking up your music since 2001

Oh, Apple. How do you manage to take something that works and break it in such wonderful ways?

The other day I went for a run and decided to listen to the Jon and Vangelis album The Friends of Mr. Cairo. I had previously downloaded it from Apple Music onto my iPhone (the downloaded part is important–this saves me bandwidth because I don’t need to stream the music over cell while I’m out running). I had listened to the album on runs before, and had no issues.

This time I noticed something different.

The previous night, I had added two other Jon and Vangelis albums on my Mac–added, but not downloaded. These were faithfully reproduced (but not downloaded–as expected) on my iPhone’s Music app. All good so far.

Except the first song, “I’ll Find My Way Home” was no longer part of The Friends of Mr. Cairo. It was now part of another album, but only listed by itself. The two albums are:

  • The Friends of Mr. Cairo (Remastered) — the one that previously had all the songs from the album, but was now missing “I’ll Find My Way Home”
  • The Friends of Mr. Cairo (2016 Remaster) — which only has “I’ll Find My Way Home” and nothing else

Yes, by adding these other albums, the Apple Music app apparently tried to fix something that was not broken and now has split the single album across two separate albums, apparently pulling from two different versions or just two of the same but with slightly different names. For my run, I had to create a playlist just to play the actual album in order. I guess that helped warm up my fingers. I named the playlist in a crude, but I think fair, manner:

To fix this I had to delete both copies from my iPhone, then download the 2016 remaster, except the first time it only grabbed one song (this isn’t even the downloaded part, just getting the actual list of songs), the second time it grabbed two and the third time, by some miracle, it grabbed all seven tracks and downloaded them without setting my phone on fire.

Now to see if this actually stays in place or if Apple’s secret and evil gnome magic will start splitting it up into multiple albums again.

I could have been eating a cookie instead of doing all this. A yummy cookie.

Bad Apple.

On the Apple Studio Diplay’s webcam

Jason Snell (emphasis mine):

And yes, there’s hardware beyond the display itself. Most notably, Apple has placed the widescreen 12-megapixel camera that has spread across the entire iPad line in the top bezel of this display and enabled Center Stage. This is the first time that Macs have been able to take advantage of the automatic pan-and-zoom technology—and a desktop monitor is a perfect place for it, since so many of us sit at our desks doing video calls these days.

John Gruber:

I don’t really understand why Apple chose to support Center Stage with the Studio Display, and thus use this ultra-wide angle camera, in the first place. Center Stage feels clever and useful on iPads, which are often handheld and often positioned in all sorts of different angles and dynamic positions. But how is that [Center Stage] a good choice for the camera on a big desktop display that isn’t intended to move around, and which you tend to sit in front of in a fixed position?

Unsurprisingly, the Apple tech crowd have soft-pedaled their criticisms of the monitor, which is in the end an overpriced run-of-the-mill IPS monitor with some nice but strictly speaking unnecessary features (speakers, webcam, microphones) and ludicrously doesn’t include an adjustable stand. Gruber’s indirect reference to this is embarrassing cover for Apple (emphasis mine):

My review unit is the $1600 base model with the standard glossy finish and tilt-only base. On my desk, it’s the perfect height; if I had the model with the adjustable-height base, I’d probably set it at this exact height anyway.

Because everyone in the world is the exact same height as John Gruber, so obviously an adjustable stand is no issue being a $400 extra, amirite? Why include it when the monitor is already THE PERFECT HEIGHT. (Yes, I know Gruber isn’t literally saying this, it’s still stupid.)

Also, the power cord is permanently attached to the back of the monitor. What the actual heck, Apple? Did their design team journey back to the 1980s for reference? Just appalling, lazy, consumer-hostile choices all over the place on this.

UPDATE, March 21, 2022: It turns out you can remove the power cable on the display, if you have a special tool from Apple made just for the task. I think what we are seeing here really is Apple stepping back into the 1980s and the days when nearly everything they made was locked down and/or proprietary.

I kind of hate Apple now, even as they have finally started to turn around Tim Cook’s disastrous stewardship of the Mac.

DisplayLink dilemma done and dealt with

Well, mostly.

I decided to take another run at getting both monitors working with the DisplayLink USB adapter on my MacBook Air (previous attempts here) because I am a silly person.

I started by downloading the latest DisplayLink drivers and…that was the solution, actually. With the new drivers in place, both monitors began working. Hooray!

But…when I put the MacBook Air into clamshell mode, the “main” monitor suddenly stops displaying. It might be a refresh rate issue, but it could also be one of a million billion other things, and it’s working well enough now that I’m considering this issue sufficiently resolved.

Now that I have dual monitors working on the Mac, I can better evaluate using the configuration and I can’t help but feel that macOS still trails behind Windows in terms of things like multiple monitor support, as well as window and file management. A lot of the systems feel like they were designed 20-30 years ago and haven’t really changed much since then. Sure, even in Windows 11 you can still find legacy bits dating back 20 years or more, too, but it’s usually just some semi-obscure outdated icons, or an old-style dialog box. The actual systems in place are modern.

On the Mac, you have weird decisions like making the dock only appear on one screen in extended mode and having to click near the bottom of the active screen to move it over.

But man, the fonts render so nicely!

(I’ll have my comprehensive Mac vs. PC post up soon. It’ll be like living through the 90s again!)

The battle for multiple displays on an M1 MacBook Air, Chapter 1

Right now, I am caught between two worlds. Specifically, Mars and Jupiter. I’m stuck in the asteroid belt, send help!

Just kidding.

I use both a Windows 11 PC and an M1 MacBook Air. Both are very nice machines and perform well. I think Windows 11 has caught up in many ways to macOS in terms of appearance and UI, and even surpasses it in some ways (window management remains much better, as I’ve noted before).

I would be Windows-only save for one thing: my fiction writing is done in Ulysses, which is a Mac-only app. Now, it’s true that my fiction writing has been moribund (very, very moribund) for the last year or so and if I had no intent on changing this, I could just put aside the MacBook Air for the fabled time when I’d actually need to go back out into the world with a laptop again.

But I am intent on actually trying to revive my fiction writing and I’m too lazy to look for or switch to another writing app, so I’m keeping my Mac–for now, at least.

My previous setup was a single 27″ monitor and it worked well for both PC and Mac. Switching between the two was not instant, but it was pretty easy and only took a second or two. I added a second monitor, which has been glorious for my Windows 11 setup. However, for ?reasons? Apple deigned to make its initial Apple silicon offering, the System on Chip (Soc) known as the M1, only work with a single external display.

This means I can only use one of my two 27″ monitors with my MacBook Air and I am sad.

But wait!

You can use a DisplayLink adapter or dock to sneakily connect more displays via USB. It’s confirmed to work with all M1 Macs (it’s not needed for the newer M1 Pro and M! Max SoCs, since they support multiple external displays). I procured one of these devices, specifically a StarTech USB-A to HDMI DisplayLink adapter. I downloaded the latest DisplayLink drivers (also required), connected the adapter to a free USB-A port on my CalDigit 3 dock and…it didn’t work.

With both monitors connected, only one or the other would work, neither would work at the same time (the “permanent” monitor is working via USB-C to HDMI).

Thus I began troubleshooting.

It’s worth mentioning here that the reason I went with a DisplayLink adapter as a solution is because it would be the cheapest way to get a multi-monitor Mac setup going (about $100). The next cheapest option would be to trade-in or sell my Air and get an M1 Mac mini, which supports two external monitors because it really only supports the same number as the Air, but since it doesn’t come with a display, it can actually display to two external monitors. This option, no matter how I might finagle it, other than winning the lottery, would cost more than $100.

Troubleshooting involved a lot of the usual stuff. I won’t go into details. It was bad enough that I suffered through it. No one else should suffer through it by proxy.

In the end it’s still not working. I have one thing left to try–switch the “permanent” connection from HDMI to DisplayPort, but this would upset my PC configuration, which is working just dandy, so I am loathe to do it. I might, if I manage to reach the right balance of bored and desperate.

For now, my Mac work continues to be single monitor, with the second display dimly showing my forlorn reflection and nothing else.

I have considered getting one of those new MacBook Pros by selling my Air and using other monies I have from previous trade-ins, but there’s no getting around it costing a lot more than $100, and it would be serious overkill for writing. I rationalize it by saying I’m getting into game development now and video editing and it would be useful for those things. But my PC already works well for those. But it is now and shiny and solves a problem, and so I ponder, occasionally glancing up to that forlorn figure looking back at me.

tl;dr: DisplayLink is definitely a hack when it comes to M1 Macs. This isn’t the technology’s fault, really, it’s Apple’s strange and arbitrary regression on monitor support for their first batch of Apple SoCs. Still, it’s important to remember what you may be getting into before making the leap, as I did.

Also note: All PCs happily support multiple displays without any trickery!

I end with a repeat of this:

Bad design: Cryptic firmware updates

Yes, Apple again. Apple makes this too easy.

This MacRumors story outlines a firmware update for AirPods today. Here’s the relevant quote:

Apple does not offer information on what’s included in refreshed firmware updates for the AirPods, so we don’t know what improvements or bug fixes the new firmware brings.

Why would any company push out updates to a product and not tell the customer what the updates contain? I cannot think of any reason for this that is not consumer-hostile, and the Apple executives who have signed off on this policy are wrong-headed and dumb.

And on top of being needlessly secretive, Apple has pushed out firmware updates that have actually degraded the user experience, but with no way to opt out of the updates and no way to see what has changed, the user is effectively held hostage to the hope that Apple won’t screw up.

It’s just such a bad way to treat customers. It really baffles me. If anything ultimately brings down Apple, it will be the hubris behind its “we know best” policies and actions.