The myth that iOS is easier to use

Apple hardware used to be great. I had three Mac laptops (and still use my 2008 Macbook all these years later although I run Linux on it now) and we still have a bunch of iPods around the house. I have to support countless iPhones at work (though being a BYOD company, I had nothing to do with buying them). The hardware quality has definitely gone downhill over the years – one particularly egregious example was chargers (2011-2012) with wires separating leaving exposed bare wires and there was no way to use any other kind of charger you have to buy a new $80 Apple charger and they only have the one that breaks. I could go on about bending iPhones, and now in iPhone 8 batterys apparently exploding.

But this rant is about iOS. There is a myth (much repeated) that iOS is “easier” which sets me off every time I hear someone repeat it. What they mean is –

iOS is more like the iOS that I’m used to than something which isn’t iOS

Its not “easier” by any real measure. What is a real measure? Here’s one: Try to use the operating system to get various tasks done and measure how long it takes to get them done, if you can get them done at all.

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The Apple upgrade mill rings the juice out of me

A recent job reminded me of why I no longer buy Apple products. The client calls to say they just got a new iPhone and are having problems getting a custom ringtone onto it. OK, sounds simple so I run over on lunch. Client had gone to a local AT&T store when their old phone gave up the ghost. AT&T store guy asks client for the password for their Apple iCloud account so they can set up the new phone. Client doesn’t remember it, OK, no problem – they ask for the client’s email password so they can reset the iCloud account and get into it to set it up. Client doesn’t remember it since I had set it up a long time ago and its saved on the phone and MacBook at home. Note: client has all the passwords written down but didn’t realize they would need that info and so didn’t bring it. AT&T store guy resets both account passwords, sets up the phone and the email account on the iPhone with the new passwords. Client hadn’t yet realized that all other devices tied to his account no longer worked since the new passwords had only been set up on the new iPhone.

Figuring this out upon my arrival I proceed to explain that we really need to reset these passwords again to something we control. The passwords chosen by the AT&T store were obviously default passwords they use for all clients they set up and so, are fairly insecure. Also, the client doesn’t want to run the risk of having the phone hacked into by someone connected to the store someday, right? It wasn’t as easy as I hoped given that iCloud forces you to use security questions and AT&T guy had changed them and not told the client? Selecting appropriate security answers and passwords and getting them all written down on the (previously forgotten) sheet of paper for the client as well as setting them on all the client’s devices took most of “lunch”.

Now, on an android device there are lots of ways to get a custom ringtone (or any file) onto the phone. Plugging an android phone into a computer you can usually just copy the file over to it (if your computer and android device are set up properly for this) or you could just email yourself the file and save it to the android device from the email. Apple on the other hand wants to ensure that any and all media files are passed through their “DRM managment system” (iTunes) to ensure that you didn’t steal that file you created yourself which pleases their Corporate Media Partners.

I had originally gone over to this client expressly to set up a ringtone so I plugged the iPhone into the client’s MacBook and fired up iTunes only to be greeted by an error message: “This iPhone cannot be used because it requires a newer version of iTunes” OK, so not a big deal – I downloaded the latest version of iTunes and went to install it but was met with a second error message because the new version of iTunes required a newer version of OSX than was already on the MacBook. At this point I realized I couldn’t finish the job right away, and made arrangements to come back later that evening..

The client purchased his MacBook in 2013 with OSX 10.8 and has been very happy with it. Certain third party software on the Mac required that version and since upgrading to a new version of an OS is sort of a drastic measure to take when everything is working fine, he/we opted to stay at 10.8 over the last couple years even though newer versions had come out. The new phone forced the issue, and I started the upgrade. Even though the update was free, when you are using an existing Apple ID, Apple requires you to enter a credit card for the Apple store to work even for a free download. This is horrible thing, and its reason enough for me to never use Apple again but thats the way it works. Supposely you can get around it by creating another Apple ID at the time of purchase and selecting None as the payment method, but what a hassle – we opted to just put in a card.

…and, it didn’t work. Thats right, for whatever reason a corporate AMEX didn’t work and we tried it several times. We ended up using a personal VISA card to complete the “free” purchase of an OS upgrade. Speaking as a Linux user, the idea of paying for an OS upgrade at all is sort of anethema, but to be forced to fork up a credit card number over the internet for a FREE upgrade is just plain ridiculous. The download took about an hour, and the actual upgrade somewhat less and it went fairly smoothly. After a reboot I only had one issue with keychain errors which kept popping up on the screen about it and I couldn’t close them all. It was disheartening and annoying until I found that all I had to do was delete a folder (the one named with a long series of digits) from ~/Library/Keychains and reboot.

Once OSX was upgraded on the MacBook and running, I could finally install the latest iTunes (thankfully a painless process), connect the iPhone (again thankfully the cable wasn’t some new proprietary connector the MacBook didn’t have), drag the ringtone over to the phone in iTunes… Whoops! iTunes recognized there was an important OS update for the (brand new) iPhone! Downloading that took some more time, and then applying that update took some more and restarting the iPhone and then I could finally attempt to copy one single goddamn file to the fucking iPhone once again.

As hinted at earlier, the OS update broke a vital piece of software which was purchased for and ran well under OSX 10.8 but would not run under OSX 10.12 at all. This required the purchase, download and install of a newer version of this large software. Not a fault of Apple, but this software’s authentication process was a bit arcane and took over an hour to complete properly. This software tested, the client wanted to print out a sample of a test document we created with the software …and the printer would no longer function. Luckily, Apple’s print dialog was smart enough to recognize that it needed new drivers and provided a helpful button to update the driver. It didn’t even require a reboot and started printing immediately after the driver was updated. Thank heavens for small favors.

While I’m not personally interested in being on the Apple upgrade mill, I do really appreciate the rest of you that are.

[update 161121]

In response to the very good point about this situation largely being brought upon the user by not keeping up with updates to the OS over time on G+, I feel I should add the following here:

In this case, the user is not particularly computer savvy, wouldn’t do updates on their own and would not pay for this kind of basic maintenance to be performed by yours truly. That said, the expensive third party software would have had to have been re-bought several times over by this time. I also find it interesting, actually, that just as every business person is now expected to be able to do all those things secretaries used to do now all computer users are expected to be their own IT staff. Generally I find most folks are doing those additional tasks about as well as you might expect. Very few can type as fast or as accurately as my grandmother did, and most folks can’t stand doing updates and dealing with the inevitable fallout thereof. As you pointed out, when otherwise brilliant people are not concerned enough about those things that IT folk care so much about they are indeed “sternly chastised” about it.

Ubuntu breathes new life into old MacBook

Last year when I got an HP EliteBook for work I thought my days with the old MacBook were numbered. The MacBook isn’t that old, its a 2009 Core 2 Duo aluminum body 13″ model, but the EliteBook’s iCore 5 was is faster. The Mac screen is better, but not by very much. Both processors support VTx which helps a bit when running Virtual machines. A big factor for me was the OS – I had set the EliteBook up with Ubuntu 11.04 (and upgraded it several times till it was running the latest 12.04 LTS), and I was constantly being annoyed by OSX every time I went back to it. Eventually I stopped using the MacBook almost entirely. Once in a great while I’d come across a task that was easier on the Mac – making movies for instance, something I’ve been able to work around in Ubuntu but never equal for the ease and utility of iMovie. But then the EliteBook died. Yes, it was fixed and returned, but my confidence in it had died as well. I moved back into the Mac and used the EliteBook for meetings and other drudgery. Eventually my annoyance with OSX grew and I eventually realized that I really had no need to keep OSX on the MacBook.

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My EliteBook FAILs, back to the Mac (long)

In the first week of July I received in a bunch of machines off my company’s UPS technology subsidy. The story of the subsidy is probably worth a post all its own, but suffice to say, UPS basically gives the company a bunch of PCs every so often based on how much we ship with them. One of the machines we got this time was a laptop that I thought might replace my aging desktop at work and be usable at home since I’ve often got to access our network from offsite. My personal Macbook, one of the early all-aluminum chassis 13″ models from late 2008 is also aging and I was hoping this HP would make a nice upgrade / replacement for home use as well and I’d just give my old Mac to my brother as I’ve done with my last two Mac laptops. I’m sure he was looking forward to that possibility as well. When the HP came in, I was in love. It took only four short months for this relationship to sour.

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Still no Mac virus

As far as I can tell from some quick research, there are still no true Mac viruses, a friend’s recent comment that there is a virus that can be installed on a Mac without user intervention does not appear to be correct. While the software in question can run automatically, if a certain option is enabled, and so then pop up a window which looks legitimate, the software can’t actually be installed on a Mac without user action (more below). If true, this is quite amazing considering that Macs have become fairly popular for home use (where there generally aren’t IT folks working to protect people from themselves all day like in the business world). There *are* several variants of a TROJAN which can be installed on a Mac but only through user intervention (requires the user to enter the admin password to install the software).

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