Sep 17

Apple and the common sense factor

We all know that Apple rose from the dead because Steve Jobs had a unique mix of talents.

He had vision, he understood human behavior, he loved design and he was a gifted conductor of a complex orchestra.

My experience with him makes me want to add one more trait to that mix. That is—he relentlessly acted on common sense.

Trust me, this is more rare than it sounds. Working with other iconic companies, I too often saw common sense take a back seat to cost, timetables and opinions. The result was always something less than our original vision.

When I look at today’s Apple, I still see the company I love. I still see products that are beautifully thought-out. I still see the love of design.

But common sense? I worry.

In the Steve Jobs Theater event this week, I found much to rejoice in. But I also saw three things that struck my common-sense nerve.

The X Factor

When I heard the iPhone X prior to the event, I wondered if it was meant to be pronounced X or 10.

Precedent (OSX and Final Cut Pro X) said it would be 10. But common sense said “Wouldn’t that be confusing?” Can we really have two 8’s, a 10, and an SE?

And so, post-event, common sense isn’t pleased.

Months ago, I suggested that this would be Apple’s big chance to right the naming ship after all the S silliness of the past. It would have been an extraordinary act of common sense to unite the entire 2017 iPhone family under a single umbrella.

Adjusting that logic to accommodate the X, the names could have been—

iPhone 8 Mini
iPhone 8
iPhone 8 Plus
iPhone 8X

These names would have been descriptive of the products, set the stage for naming every iPhone family to come, and eliminated the SE and X confusion.

Oh, to have Steve Jobs smack a few people around and get it straight in a single meeting.

The Siri Remote

Back when the first iMac was introduced, there was a firestorm of criticism over the horrible “hockey-puck” mouse —all of it deserved.

I’m not sure how Steve Jobs ever approved that mouse (perhaps his most visible design blunder), but at least he got the message. He was so proud of its replacement that he had us create a commercial for the mouse alone.

Common sense says the current Siri Remote would be replaced at the first opportunity. And the unveiling of the Apple TV 4K was an excellent opportunity.

Instead, Apple “let it ride” in the Remote department. Not exactly the behavior of a company that puts the highest priority on the customer experience.

Face ID [I’ve been schooled on this one and I take it back! Thanks, commenters.]

Face ID looked amazing, and it’s not hard to imagine this technology being key to a more secure future.

But there was one little “huh?” moment. I’m talking about the two-step process of getting into the iPhone X. You show it your face, then you swipe up to see the home screen.

That’s one more step more than it takes with Touch ID.

I’d understand if it was necessary. But common sense says that the phone would respond to your Face ID by opening the home screen.

It’s too obvious, so I assume there is some kind of engineering obstacle here. Clues, anyone?

Not a “what Steve would have done” issue

In his last days, Steve told Apple to act on its values, and not guess what he would do.

So this has nothing to do with what Steve would have done. It’s only about doing the right thing.

Product naming is rarely as easy as it looks. Re-designing faulty products is even harder. But, as Apple has amply proven in the past, difficult does not mean impossible.

Sometimes a project requires gargantuan effort. Other times it’s just a matter of common sense.

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  • Galaxy_Surfer_007

    Good column!

    Common sense also would have said no notch!

    As to this, however, I’m a tad confused.

    “But there was one little “huh?” moment. I’m talking about the two-step process of getting into the iPhone X. You show it your face, then you swipe up to see the home screen.

    That’s one more step more than it takes with Touch ID.”


    You left out a step! With Touch ID, you still have to pick up the device!

    Plus, on our iPad Air 2, Touch ID takes an additional two steps.

    1. Press the home button.

    2. Touch the home button so the fingerprint registers!

    OK! I tried this again and if you keep holding, or let go, unclear which, it opens. But it still shows you the lock screen with the TIME first!

    I hate seeing the time, especially in the middle of the night, so this is a no-go.

    We turn off Touch ID and use a Smart Cover type cover. Open up the cover and you’re right back where you left off!

    I presume the same thing happens with Face ID! Or, does one get a blank screen — or the Notifications screen? If should work just like a Smart Cover and return you to where you were.

    Also, as noted, the act of lifting the phone is a step one has to take with Touch ID, too, so you’re counting unfairly! If it really is Lift and back to where you were, then there is NO STEP AT ALL!

  • nuthinking

    Perhaps a bit too harsh.

    Naming: 8 and 10 at the same time, very confusing 👍
    Apple TV Remote: considering volume and design quality, much smaller issue than hockey-puck.
    Face ID: I guess you need a way to distinguish if you want simply to watch the lock screen (with time and notifications) or if you want to use the phone.

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  • cbirdsong

    “common sense says that the phone would respond to your Face ID by opening the home screen”

    This seems like a good idea, but I’m guessing the reason is that there’s so much other stuff currently accessible on the home screen. You would be racing against FaceID to view notifications, or swipe left/right to get to your widgets or quick access to the camera. You could maybe disable it if there were notifications present, but that would force you to evaluate the state of your phone to figure out how much you need to do to get to the home screen every time you pick up it up, instead of reducing it to muscle memory. The way they have implemented it means that all these things work exactly the same way every time.

  • Donald O’Shea

    How about the removal of iOS device management for Mac OS? Only the most fastidious among us will ever rearrange the apps on their iPhone screen.
    That defies common sense

  • I guess the reason why it doesn’t open without the gesture is so you can look at the name, notifications etc. without accidentally unlocking your phone…

  • I think you’re right. I’m not a big notifications guy, so I wasn’t thinking along those lines. Thanks for helping me solve that mystery (that perhaps was only a mystery in my mind!)

  • Yep. See my confession in another comment reply. You’re right!

  • In my opinion, the hockey–puck mouse run neck-and-neck as horrible design blunders. They’re both things that are/were essential to using the product, and they both make/made using the product far more frustrating than it needed to be. Again, I emphasize that Apple, above all other companies, has devoted itself to the user experience — so I put both in the category of “unforgivable.”

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  • MacServiceGuy

    “In his last days, Steve told Apple to act on its values, and not guess what he would do.”

    better said: Steve Jobs’ worst advice ever. Very well intended, but terrible advice.

  • MacServiceGuy

    this has happened with the latest version of ios & itunes

    terrible idea. it’s not about fastidiousness, it’s about simplicity. If you have hundreds and hundreds of apps and icons, for many of us it’s so much easier to do this with a mouse than drag them with your finger.

  • MacServiceGuy

    just upgraded to ios 11 this morning

    never thought I would ever say this about apple… but after perusing messages and mail, it’s so plain it’s horrible. it’s so flat there’s nothing there. it’s like looking at a flat text document. and here’s the part I never thought i’d say: it looks like microsoft did the layout and design of messages and email.

    talk about lack of common sense…

    absolutely terrible, i’m so disappointed I took the leap. ughh…

  • Hm

    If you think it through though, the 8# naming system you’re proposing doesn’t tell the story of the significant physical leap forward and difference between the 8 and the X models as well as what they’ve done. I also think this is a stop-gap before they clean up the naming and product line next year (surely they can’t have an iPhone 9 and XI!).

    The SE and X will likely go, leaving just two new models following the form factor of the X in 2018:

    iPhone Pro

    They will keep iPhone 8 and maybe still SE around, but I can’t see them retroactively renaming any of these if they aren’t changing their form factor.

  • While I could understand this feeling if you were somehow late to the party and were online now updating from iOS 6, I fail to see how you just now finally got around to being shocked at the flat look Apple has been running with since iOS 7.

    And I literally laughed when you said, “never thought I would ever say this about apple…” but perhaps you need to go back and read your comments. I can’t remember ever reading a positive comment from you anywhere on this site. You’ve always come across as long as I can remember as someone who is perpetually irritated with Apple. Perhaps you’re not, but I think the only one surprised by your sentiments here is you. Welcome to the path of self discovery ;P