I’m using iOS 11 right now, and it makes me want to stab my eyes with a steel wire brush until I get face jam. I’m not talking about how Apple has adopted Apple Music’s jumbo-sized interface for the rest of its apps. No–that just makes me want to pop out my eyes with a rusty spoon. I’m talking about the lack of attention to detail that permeates every single corner of this operating system—a manifestation of all that is wrong both at Apple and with the people who keep lining up to pay $1,000 a pop for Cupertino’s Samsung S8 knock-off.
Tim Cook and his mariachis claim this is their best operating system yet (of course they’d never say, “forget about this new version and keep running the old one because that was our best operating system, you idiots!”). It has a new streamlined control center that doesn’t suck monkey armpits. It has new multitasking UX functionality for iPad that at last seems to put it on par with Microsoft Surface. It has AirPlay 2. It has ARKit, the Augmented Reality subsystem for developers that is actually the only truly exciting functionality in this release. And that would be it—except for the worst case of user interface inconsistency this side of its 2014 international festival of skeuomorphic clusterf–k.
I’m not going to detail all of them here because the list is long (developer Ryan Lau has done an excellent job of documenting them). The mistakes are sometimes tiny, and may not always be noticeable for the average user–like misaligned interface elements through all of the built-in apps. Particularly eye-twitching are the headings that don’t align consistently with the search bars in apps like Mail but align just as Apple’s own interface guidelines dictate in Notes. Another pet peeve of mine? The different spacing across different applications, or even within the same app. And the lack of consistency in the usage of color: Apple stresses to developers that the search bar should be of the same color as the status bar, but the Watch application breaks its own rule. Then there’s even more distracting lack of consistency, like the way the search and the Today Widget behave depending on how you invoke it, from the home screen or the lock screen.
The list seems to go on and on, from Music to Mail to the App Store to Settings. In the end, it all adds up to something very simple: There is no precision in this interface. The obsession with sub-millimetric margins of error in Apple’s hardware design goes down the tubes when it comes to software. It just doesn’t seem to treat iOS with the same care.
This inconsistency and lack of attention to detail are not new at Apple. The Apple Music interface was plagued with problems when it came out. I’ve harped on the lack of optical typography alignment in the iOS Calendar icon or the Calendar itself many times—until Apple finally fixed it, only to make the same mistake in the macOS version.
Perhaps this is inevitable, given the monumental task of having to update the operating system every year. But for a company that claims to have an obsessive attention to detail, this is not acceptable. I have a hard time believing that Jony Ive spent any serious time with this operating system without seeing the glaring mistakes that anyone with two eyes and half a brain would be able to notice at a glance (honest question: Is the actual Jony Ive at Apple anymore? Or is the voice from their marketing videos synthesized by an AI program in their servers while the real shirtless Ive is washing his Aston Martin Vanquish in his driveway?)
One of my sources at Apple recently told me the reason why things don’t seem to click the way they did in Steve Jobs’s era. It’s just a matter of scale: “We have been growing so fast so much that it is impossible to hire people that are excellent and obsessed with detail all the time.” There are so many teams and so much middle management and so much design by committee that it is impossible for them to keep the consistency they need to make not just a good OS, but the perfect OS that an obsessive Steve Jobs would have demanded back in the day.
Maybe that’s the reason. Apple has become such a juggernaut that it has succumbed to the same sickness that made Microsoft irrelevant (until it woke up and started taking risks with its Surface product family). Or Sony, which drifted into uninspiring territory after growing so steadily throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
The observable fact is that Apple has spiraled further away from its obsessive attention every year. But who cares? Nobody is counting. People will keep lining up to grab their premium hardware at a premium price without demanding that their software has a premium quality to match. Most people don’t care, and Apple itself doesn’t seem to care anymore. As long as the lemmings keep showing up at the “town square” and emptying their pockets, that is.