Apple and the Expectation Of Perfection

Last week, I turned on my computer and was greeted by an email message from Apple saying my account was locked and I needed to reset my password. While resetting was simple, I was greeted with requests to enter my password no less than two dozen times on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook over the next two days. Sometimes they took; other times they didn’t. I needed to enter the password for email, iCloud, my calendar and numerous other apps.

This seemed so unlike the Apple experiences I’m used to. No reason was given why the account was locked and I was surprised Apple required repeated sign-ins for accounts all linked together with the same password. If this were my Windows computer, I’d probably just dismiss it as another problem with Windows 10. But Apple?

Apple has done such a good job of setting the standards for excellence that, when they falter, we are quick to criticize. But it’s not because most of us just want to be critical. It’s because we want Apple to continue to excel and because Apple has set our expectations so high.

This event has been symptomatic with other recent experiences with Apple products, particularly in keeping them competitive. It seems once they get a product released and the bugs addressed, the teams go off to do other things. While it may be more glamorous to invent an entirely new product, continuous improvement on existing products, even the mundane, is important.

I recently reviewed Fantastical, a calendar app from Flexibits replaces the Calendar on all Apple’s platforms. It’s the product Apple should be doing, with a better interface and a “natural language” ability to enter appointments. Simply type in a phrase like, “lunch with Tim on Friday”, and the appointment is set. It also incorporates to-dos and reminders, something Apple has never adequately addressed.

Apple’s mail client has also failed to keep up with the competition. Many of us suffered for more than a year when Mail didn’t play nice with Gmail, causing mail to take hours to retrieve and send. Apple blamed Google, yet other email apps, such as Postbox, worked just fine.

I’ve been enamored most recently with Email, an email app for my iPhone that’s faster, can unsubscribe you from spam, and even lets you recall an email within a few seconds of sending. I’m also using Google’s new keyboard that is far superior to Apple’s. Apple has failed to develop a good app for managing photos, giving up on Apeture and now offering iPhoto that’s mediocre compared to competitive offerings.

Now, maybe Apple intentionally decided they can’t be the best in all areas and are allowing third parties to compete. But, if that’s the case, it seems a major shift from the Apple of old that wanted to be the best at everything it does.

Apple has been a master at using communicating and convincing us they are different and special, even about the small stuff. I remember vividly the PR leading up to the Apple Watch where Jonny Ive raved about the winding stem of the watch, how precise, how special, how great it was. He expounded about the special aluminum and steel alloys used in the Watch’s cases. If these mundane details are training us to pay attention to things we might normally have ignored, what do they expect from us when they fail to meet our expectations elsewhere?

Apple has two choices. One is to get more aggressive in improving their own software. Study the competitive offerings and upgrade their own products. Or, better yet, be more aggressive in acquiring companies that have already proved what they can do.

Every time I use the mapping app Waze, I wonder why Google acquired it rather than Apple, particularly when Apple Maps has been so troublesome. It wasn’t due to a lack of money. Perhaps there’s a feeling within Apple that they can do everything better on their own. But evidence shows more and more this is not the case.

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Phil Baker

Phil Baker is a product development expert, author, and journalist covering consumer technology. He is the co-author with Neil Young of the forthcoming book, “To Feel the Music,” and the author of “From Concept to Consumer.” He’s a former columnist for the San Diego Transcript, and founder of Techsperts, Inc. You can follow him at

29 thoughts on “Apple and the Expectation Of Perfection”

  1. Isn’t acquiring leading companies only a short-term fix if Apple’s management structure ensures it doesn’t have the bandwidth to properly take care of all the cogs of their ecosystem ?
    Most of the talk around Apple apps and cloud these days is about issues, not innovations: OS updates bricking devices, Music deleting whole music collections, Maps released while barely a beta… That’s not something that can be fixed by acquisitions.

    1. An acquisition could make sense if it is a new feature (as iTunes or Siri was originally, maybe even was Claris Emailer, IIRC) or a fundamental overhaul (of which I have no example in relation to Apple, Okay, well OS X is an example of that). Apple has no track record that I can recall of acquiring for short term fixes as much sense as acquiring Waze would have made (even as Apple used Waze data for Maps). Which makes Google’s acquisition of Waze (post being booted out of Apple Maps) seem kind of personal rather than practical.


  2. “Now, maybe Apple intentionally decided they can’t be the best in all
    areas and are allowing third parties to compete. But, if that’s the
    case, it seems a major shift from the Apple of old that wanted to be the
    best at everything it does.”

    You have a selective memory. Apple’s free apps have always been weak sauce compared to 3rd party standalone apps. I’ve seen complaints about the poor quality, annoying crashiness, and limited features of the iLife apps going back to the early oughts.

    Apple has always been rather poor at sustained development of its standalone apps — this is a flaw in their corporate organization, in which there are no divisions. This is good for their products and the company overall, but bad for their standalone apps, which lack a dedicated development team to gradually polish and improve things over time. So the apps get spurts of attention interspersed with periods of neglect. Such is the cost of the otherwise very well done hardware/software amalgams that Apple excels at.

    1. Right. Apple has always let third parties deliver more broad, complex solutions and has always focused their own efforts on more simple solutions that are not meant to be comprehensive. Apple’s iWork, for instance, was never meant to be an Office replacement. But for general needs of normal people, it is more than sufficient.

      The Gmail issue was actually Google’s fault since Gmail was/is not as standards compliant as Google wants everyone to believe. The other email solutions were simply more interested in complying with Google than Google was interested in complying with standards.

      And Apple is still the best at what it does. It just doesn’t, and never has, done everything.

      I remember back in the day Guy Kawasaki came to our user group meeting promoting Fog City’s Emailer program. One guy kept asking all these questions and really went down an esoteric hole. Finally Guy said “You shouldn’t buy this software. You won’t be happy. It won’t do any of the things you need it to do”. But what it did do, it did very well.

      Apple has always focused only on what it can do well and leaves the rest to others. Apple has never tried to do everything.


      1. While Google may be responsible for the init issues, ultimately it’s up to Apple to make their mail work and not put their users through email hell for a year. Some of us are now suffering similar issues with Bluetooth in our card.

        1. I suppose. Not sure why Apple is responsible for Google. Especially when Google already offers an email client for iOS, even then. If you want flawless Gmail integration and all the benefits of Gmail, a more Gmail specific app should be your target anyway.


          1. While Apple has the history of not playing well with others, it’s not clear who’s at fault in this instance. I do know which company is NOT being defended.

          2. Reverse the companies, I don’t care. My response would be the same. If I was full-bore into Google, I would seek Google solutions, not Apple. And I would be hard pressed to blame Google for an Apple caused issue. Google is the same, too. They don’t try to do everything either. Why would I blame Google for something they don’t do?


  3. The expectations are justifiably high, and when unmet, it is indeed a failure (to whatever degree). The customer pays a high cost for Apple devices.

    a) In price per spec.
    b) On iOS, curation and limited choices coupled with mandatory IT services.
    c) From the very “It just works” position Apple claims. They need to live up to their hype. If their hype is unattainable, they’ve been serving BS.

      1. True. But having one’s account locked as described by the author is clearly an unmet expectation.

        1. Without knowing the details and based purely on inference, the issue sounds security related and should be expected. However, nothing in your initial comments addressed this, so that was what I was referencing, your usual lack of rational thought on Apple.


          1. I just went through the same locked out account process. My experience was easy. I enabled two factor authentication, set up new security questions, changed my password, authorized a couple devices, and that was it. Simple and slick.

          2. There was no mention of any security issue or any reason why I needed to reset my pw. And surprisingly I’ve been asked to re-enter my pw twice in the past 24 hours. In a search through the support forums, others seem to report similar experiences.

          3. As I said it was just an inference. I’ve not encountered it myself (except for a couple of phishing emails) so I’ve not had any reason to research the issue. Although I hope someone fixes the whole password system debacle in general. Nothing is easy when a password needs to be changed. I go through it with my bank on a regular basis.


          4. I’m sure you already know this, but there is a phishing email going around that says your Apple ID has been suspended and asks you to verify your account. Obviously, don’t do that. I don’t know the reason why I had to fix my Apple account either, but I don’t really care, it was time to change the password and I had been putting off two factor authentication. I haven’t had to enter my password on any devices again, but I’ll keep an eye out for that. It’s been about ten days now since I went through the process changing my Apple account info.

          5. I didn’t write it, the author did.

            An insufficiency in security would also be Apple’s failing, thus necessitating the need for a security measure. The user (our author) was given a poor experience. Being that “experience” is Apple’s hallmark, how is this not a failing?

            Now did I say anything of your irrational defense of Apple?

  4. Apple has been known to be a little bit weak on the software department. Sometimes Apple made a great software e.g. GarageBand, but most of the time Apple made software that is in the “good enough” zone. Good enough for the average Joe but bad enough for the pro Billy.

    But since Tim Cook’s era, Apple’s software quality seems to be getting worst. It seems Mr Cook is giving too much attention on the hardware department. For a little indicator, when was the last time we saw Apple highlights its self-made software on its stage? I mean software for consumers, not software as service e.g. Apple Music nor software for developers e.g. Swift. As far as I recall, the last consumer app Apple made is GarageBand for iPad. And that was like ages ago in term of technology timeline. CMIIW.

    Steve Jobs used to introduce a new hardware along with its new software. The software that gives a soul to the hardware. But I haven’t seen Cook introduced an Apple software that is dedicated to iPad Pro, for example. So, yes… I think Apple need to fix this situation.

    1. It doesn’t seem the hardware element is getting much love either (see iPse). Financials, maybe ?

      1. The hardware department seems to be quiet busy, I would say. In case you didn’t know, Apple under Tim Cook has been releasing Apple Watch, iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, MacBook, etc.

        What’s wrong with iPhone SE? It’s a great phone. In fact, I’d love to have one once it arrives on my country. I’m an asian guy with not-so-big hands, so I welcome iPhone SE.

        What do you mean by financials? Do you think Apple has financials problem? I don’t think as one of the largest company on earth would have such problem.

        1. I’m saying the focus at Apple has been on financials (which are excellent). Not software (obviously ^^), not hardware (all the introduced hardware is derivative, the competition has not only closed the gap but pulled ahead in features, and even design -that’s new-)

    2. The same thing was happening under the leadership of Steve Jobs. The iPad didn’t get iPad-centric features like split view or the pencil under him. The only time the iPad’s software was otherwise highlighted, was 2011 with the release of iPhoto and iWork.

  5. Apple does seem to be slipping a little on excellence in software. I’ve regularly updated iTunes on my computer (since I want to keep my software current) and now I find that several changes have been made that I didn’t want: (1) replacing an older version of a song with a newer one, (2) replacing a speech file with a song that had the same first word in the title, (3) duplicating files for no reason. I feel like this kind of thing wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, and Apple is trying to do too much.

  6. Apple’s suffering a “Catch 22” experience, as between it’s original and unique delivery of a simple elegant way to everything users want to do, and the increasing complexity of available things it has to incorporate to innovate or even keep up with competitors across its ecosystem and hardware platforms. There just may not be a Jobs “Apple Way” to do everything Apple wants to do.

    1. The solution is probably to trim heavily. Apple has done that a lot historically, simply leaving secondary features/capabilities by the wayside. That’s very least-common-denominator, but it does keep things simple.
      What’s disconcerting is the disconnect between going for premium, and focusing on simple. That’s why I call them more luxury than premium.

    2. Jobs could get away with stuff. He would cut out features as they suited the purpose and tell his users they don’t need/want it. Something like “a bag of hurt or something”. They obediently complied.
      Now Apple can’t get away with that. They need to add features (as it happens, slowly) in order to not be eclipsed. The “leveling effect” is setting in..

  7. You think changing your password is bad–try changing your Apple ID. I’ve been getting notifications on my current phone in order to use my Apple keychain to enter a password (neither the new or old one works), or to verify from one of my other devices (which receive no notifications).

    May sound like a small problem, but it has been happening daily for weeks now and I can’t find a way to disable it.

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