Apple needs to listen

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Apple’s new operating systems show its view of the future, but there are many, many problems as detailed in this open letter.

Dear Sir Jony Ive

Apple has made a name for itself by knowing what its customers wanted without ever speaking to them. But, the times have changed, and seemingly only BlackBerry is foolish enough to hold onto this mistaken belief.

It was fine in the early days of the iPhone when choice was limited and keep customers tied to Apple’s own apps was justifiable because of this and because they tended to be better than the alternatives.

No longer.

I’m a great fan of the Apple success story, but the world has changed and Apple’s methodology and approach needs to change with it. I still use iOS because it’s the best way to edit text (the thing I do most on a mobile phone.)

In a bizarre twist of fate, the mobile world mirrors the PC world: where once Apple was the niche, premium brand in desktop computers where Windows dominated, it’s now the premium, niche brand where Android dominates.

Anyone can see that Android, which has happily helped itself to iOS’s design and ideas, is now seemingly the source of several features in the Apple ecosystem. Slide down notifications and other enhancements made their appearance there first, and even if Android is the ultimate geek operating system (OS) because of its customisation ability, it wouldn’t hurt to learn those tricks too.

Here are a few suggestions from a long-time iPhone user.

* To get to anything in the settings menu requires three or four clicks. Other OSes offer handy short cuts. For instance, I use keyboard shortcuts a lot. I’ve trained my iPhone to complete words and phrases for me – It’s all I’m good for – but it requires too many steps.

* How about a favourites option, so users can choose their five top shortcuts to different apps. Why does the new slide up option default to the timer instead of the alarm clock? I use the alarm clock much more often than the timer, why force the 200-milllion or so iOS users into another click to achieve something?

* Customising the Contacts. Why, why, why, do I have to “add field” every single time I enter a new contract. Stop for a moment and think about just this one absurd default in Contacts: whenever you add a new contact, it has the name fields and company field – but you have to manually add the person’s title. I don’t know about you, but when I add new contacts, I ALWAYS add their title. Kinda obvious.

* In the same vein, why are the default email and phone number fields “home”? I have to re-label every mobile number so I can send them a text message.

Mavericks is a pretty good OS too, except for a few other absurdities.

When you open a Finder window, it always defaults to this absurdly narrow column, which means you can never see the name of the file.

To expand the Finder window, you have to click on the bottom of the column EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Really? And we all still believe OSX is user friendly.

Like iOS, every time I save an address from Mail.app, it saves it as “other” too.

But worse still, is that the new version of iTunes now insists I use iCloud to sync my contacts and calendar. There’s a reason Steve Jobs screamed at and humiliated the team who built the precursor to it: its sucks. Really, truly, profoundly sucks. It just doesn’t work. I effectively had to rebuild my entire calendar because iCloud destroyed it. Apart from a few exceptions, it’s happened to everyone I know.

Ironically BlackBerry’s new BB10.2 is now the most user-friendly OS I’ve tried. Being the underdog works, it’s what got Apple to where it is now. Try not to forget that.

This column first appeared on Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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