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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Editorial: whatever happened to 'It Just Works?'

Editorial: whatever happened to 'It Just Works?'
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NewsPoster
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Jul 17, 2015, 07:49 AM
 
The smart money said if anything were going to go wrong, it would be Beats 1: something live is automatically the most likely to fall over in some way. If someone had already taken that bet, you'd settle for guessing that massive demand would overload the streaming servers. Yet instead, the bit of the Music app and Apple Music launch that caused problems -- and continues to cause them -- is good old iTunes for OS X. We've had iTunes for nearly 15 years, and every thing else in Apple Music for a fortnight but it's iTunes for the Mac that has fallen down and can't seem to get up.

What's happening is that people's iTunes libraries are getting corrupted. Not everyone's, and not in a usefully predictable enough way that we can easily fix it. We know it's to do with when you share your music across a network, instead of having it physically on your Mac's own internal or external drives. If your music is local -- as in installed internally in your computer, not as in the band from the college down the street -- then you're probably fine.

You can see why people who are affected by this are somewhat unhappy, temporary though it (might) be. What maybe galls them more is that Apple released an update to fix the issues, and it might as well have just re-released the version. There no fix in it that anyone can see yet, though perhaps some iTunes Match subscribers have gotten their lot sorted.

You're clever: you can already see where we're going with this. Clearly, we're going to take Apple to task for doing a poor job, and yes but, actually, also no. Not completely. It is a clear and valid argument to make, yet we're also conscious of the sheer scale of what Apple has tried to pull off here. If you or we made something like Apple Music, and we got this much of it right, we'd be pretty chuffed.

Plus, if it were Microsoft who had got this wrong, we'd barely notice, because it always does. Failure is news with Apple, even if it's news we do see a bit more often of late. Even if it's news that, frankly, we are always going to see -- because it is surely impossible to launch so much at once. But while inevitability might explain why elements go wrong, it doesn't excuse it.

Apple has done simultaneous launches before, and they do generally go wrong, so if we've learned to be ready for problems, Apple should have learned that there is a limit to how much you can do at once. It's hard to argue what part of Apple Music could have been left to later, but maybe it's easier to argue what part of it could've been done sooner. It wouldn't have made headlines, and maybe it wouldn't be possible because of all the music artists' contract negotiations, but releasing an updated, Apple Music-ready iTunes early would probably have caught this problem.

We can't know that. Since the problem appears to be with your own music, and were it is stored in relation to your Mac, it doesn't feel as if it's an Apple Music issue at all -- and Apple Music, isolated from the iTunes issues, seems to be pretty splendid. Yet all things are connected, not least all the myriad different parts of iTunes because it has grown to do so much. So we can only suspect that staggering the releases would've helped.

Apple doesn't go for staggering releases, it goes for staggeringly exciting news that it particularly adores following up with the words "available today."

This is threatening the "it just works" fan-invented catchphrase, the motto that every Mac owner has used since Windows users kept asking them. We like that argument, and we use it; we use it as proof that PC and Android users are insane. However, it's like Douglas Adams' line that mankind believes it is superior to dolphins because man invented the wheel, wars and New York, while dolphins have just swam about -- and that dolphins believe they are superior to us, for exactly the same reasons.

Many Android and PC users like how infinitely customizable their machines are, and to them the "it just works" line is tantamount to Apple saying "do things our way or else," which is largely (but not entirely) a misconception. For us, though, "it just works" means we just work. We do our work. We don't customize the Windows blue screen of death, we don't wonder why our phones have three web browsers and two email apps. We want to get on with things, we don't want to stop to "enjoy" the minutiae of computers.

Problems like the iTunes one are taking that away from us. Certainly, if you enjoy the kind of intricate problem-solving that is modern PC computing, you will enjoy the challenge of sorting out iTunes database corruptions. It's only if all you want to do is play some music, please, that you can be in trouble.

Everybody makes mistakes, and if Apple made all that many of them, then we'd be off using Windows and lining the pockets of therapists the world over. Yet this particular technical mystery is one more thing that eats away at the Apple ethos we've all bought into. It is eight years since Apple dropped the word Computer from its name: this is not the time to be bringing it back.

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

William's new book on blogging for writers, The Blank Screen: Blogging is on sale now in print and Kindle formats, as well as through the iBookstore.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Jul 17, 2015 at 08:15 AM. )
     
bdmarsh
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Jul 17, 2015, 09:54 AM
 
at least it's just iTunes database corruption to worry about how compared with the Mac OS 9 and earlier days - especially system 7.5/7.6 era - where the most common corruption was filesystem from frequent OS crashes, or with earlier Mac OS X releases for 3 major versions it would likely result in firewire drive corruption (for those that had them) in the initial ".0" release.

Could it be better, with no major issues like this? hopefully, there seems to be some cultural changes within Apple over the past 3-4 years. We can hope that this will result in more testing and less problems.
Having done mostly Mac tech work since the 90's, while there were still less problems than with windows, it was far from problem free. So far no one I know was affected by iTunes database corruption, so this could be another case of a bug affecting a fraction of the total users (could be a large fraction, really don't know)
     
bobolicious
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Jul 17, 2015, 10:17 AM
 
10.10.4 has broken mail for me, and applecare hasn't offered a working fix yet...
Can a public beta strategy fix what seems an inefficacious annual upgrade cycle?
Clearly not yet.
I miss Snow.
It just worked, and then so could I...
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 17, 2015, 10:18 AM
 
@bdmarsh - of course, iTunes DB corruption is far from the only current Apple problem
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Grendelmon
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Jul 17, 2015, 11:04 AM
 
My theory is that Apple has become too big for their britches. They have become too aggressive with their operating system and application software releases. It's all adoption rate, adoption rate, adoption rate. Leave previous versions in the rear view mirror.

"It just works" was a consequence of them being the underdog in the desktop industry. Now that they are the top, the complications they have created for themselves is simply a liability to the quality of their products (software wise, at least).
     
Charles Martin
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Jul 17, 2015, 11:39 AM
 
I'm one of those people who has seen (reversible) iTunes database corruption -- wrong art with tracks, wrong titles/artists associated with the wrong albums, that sort of thing. Replacing the iTunes .itl file with a copy from before 12.2 (yay backups!) fixed the issue temporarily under 12.2, but the database would corrupt itself again. For me, 12.2.1 and one last replacement of the .itl file appears to have permanently fixed the issue, and now everything seems to be working as it should.

Apple takes risks. Mostly shrewd ones, sometimes dumb ones, and when the risk doesn't pay off it's ugly. I think back to the various @me.com era cloud services for another example, and the occasional really bad software update.

Despite the inconvenience those sorts of missteps cause, they're actually fairly uncommon -- and if that's the price we have to pay for Apple to keep taking risks, then its entirely worth it. A safe and comfortable life is what people want, of course, but down that path lies stagnation.
Charles Martin
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just a poster
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Jul 17, 2015, 02:47 PM
 
As far as I'm concerned iTunes is a broken product - syncing (which I no longer care about, I've given up on syncing), to track duplication, to overall bloat of the software. It definitely does not "just work" when I have to spend more time tracking and fixing file duplications than I do listening to music. The UI is also very un-Apple like and the new icon is gross. Are there any alternatives that handle music libraries? I have been a lot less than enthusiastic about each reiteration of iTunes since version 4 or thereabouts. Did they put the same people who made MacOS 7 on the project or something?
     
Charles Martin
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Jul 17, 2015, 05:25 PM
 
Bobalicous: yours is the first report we've seen of any problems with Mail specifically related to 10.10.4.

Just a poster: up until the recent (legitimate) issues in 12.2/12.2.1, I haven't had any trouble with iTunes in many years. I certainly sympathize with the claim that it does too much on OS X (let's break out podcasts and iOS sync like we did with iBooks), and there's some UI changes I'd like to see, but the addition of Apple Music has been brilliant IMHO and the general UI changes in the last version or two haven't given me much trouble. I'd suggest you try Apple Music -- that will restore your enthusiasm for the software.
Charles Martin
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bobolicious
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Jul 17, 2015, 06:38 PM
 
...and I have had no trouble with iTunes... But that doesn't earn my keep.

...is streaming just one more brick in the privacy wall ? Not only what but when & where I listen - no thanks - I'll continue to buy/rip CDs to lossless & listen to them on a pure amp & classic mid century horn speakers... Compressed music brings on fatigue with such accurate drivers. I like iTunes generally, but have no use for compressed audio, and embrace my musician friends critiques of revenue hijacking with streaming. I still have a turntable (a really good one), which may reincarnate if Apple or other interests ever flip a bait & switch or two... It seems a brave new world, where everything redirects through some corporate cloud server that could theoretically go out with the lights, or the next EULA, or annual 'upgrade'... New options are welcome, but at what holistic cost(s), and with informed choice...
( Last edited by bobolicious; Jul 17, 2015 at 08:38 PM. )
     
unicast reversepath
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Jul 17, 2015, 06:50 PM
 
The "it just works" has been a misnomer for years...
If you have Ghosts, you have Everything!
     
rtamesis
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Jul 18, 2015, 03:16 PM
 
I've noticed increased unresponsiveness since updating my iPhone 5 to iOS 8.4 where tapping on buttons in Safari and sometimes Mail doesn't seem to do anything or complete freezing that requires rebooting the iPhone.
     
panjandrum
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Jul 18, 2015, 03:49 PM
 
Nicely-written article with a good-point. Again, it's great to see mainstream Apple news sites finally calling Apple out on their recent issues. The recent iTunes debacle is only one indicator among many of a larger systemic problem at Apple. It's been quite a long time now since "It Just Works" actually applied to Apple software. If the mainstream press doesn't hold Apple to the standard Apple themselves set, then we may never see a course correction. Or, we will see something akin to what happened to the "big 3" auto companies; who stopped making great cars and in the span of a few years began building complete crap. It took a while for the world to figure it out, the American car fanboys (I was, unfortunately, one of these) turned a blind-eye and kept pretending all was fine, but in the end nobody could ignore it and it cost the big three their customer-loyalty, their reputation, and their profits. It took them decades to recover. I feel that Apple is on this same path: If Apple continues down it I think there will, at some point, be a nearly universal "AH-HA!" moment, like there was with American cars, where all of a sudden the trickle of people willing to take their heads out of the sand (or equally unappealing places) and say "Apple used to be great, but now it just totally sucks" becomes a flood; and then Apple loses in a big way.
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 18, 2015, 06:27 PM
 
@Charles Martin - was Mail actually ever fixed? It still doesn't work right on my wife's MBA (Yosemite 10.10.3.... which we can't update because the App Store update mechanism is broken since the Yosemite upgrade, and we've been through a couple waves of Apple Support so far, and they don't know either, yet.)

I've long since switched to Postbox, which isn't as good in certain respects, but at least it reliably works. I'd *LOVE* to get Apple Mail back one day again, but that's probably a has-been broken Apple product at this point, as they are apparently, 'on to bigger and better things' than silly stuff like core apps.
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Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 18, 2015, 06:32 PM
 
Also... Apple has never really done cloud well, so I try to backup everything possible related to Apple's cloud stuff and use Dropbox where I can. For example, I have a todo to remind me at least once-per-month to do a full export of my Contacts and Calendar apps. I never got too involved in the .me stuff, but a good friend (who is also an Apple technical expert) did and had nothing but issues over the years.... so it's not just stories in the press, I've heard the horrors (and a lot of the details) first hand.
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Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 18, 2015, 06:37 PM
 
@just a poster - I hear you. I once loved iTunes, but it is - in UI alone - a nightmare currently. I'm not sure what happened, but the former MacOS 7 folks would have never created something quite that bad, as they probably still understood UI at least.

Photos as well. And, in regards to alternatives, I guess the problem it that there just isn't anything else I'm aware of. I've looked at Dropbox, Google, etc. solution for photos and video, and they all seem to suffer from the same real-world-use type issues. It's like the people developing them don't actually use them (actually, that's probably really the case).
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Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 18, 2015, 06:40 PM
 
@rtamesis - Yes, iOS 8 is a disaster... not just on older devices, but even on newer ones. If iOS 9 isn't a pretty good fix, I'm thinking it's time to start looking for Apple alternatives (not a pretty picture... but it's best to start preparing at least).
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Steve Wilkinson
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Jul 18, 2015, 06:47 PM
 
@panjandrum - Agreed... plus, plus, up-vote, up-vote...

That is a really great analogy with the American auto industry too. And, back in that time, I was one who was trying to tell anyone who would listen, that they weren't doing these companies any favors by being loyal unless they made real changes. And, same with Apple. I've been an Apple evangelist for over 25 years now. I even stuck with them (and highly recommended them) back in the 90s when nearly everyone was sure it was over or they should be bought, etc. But this is different... and we're doing Apple no favor by ignoring the deluge of problems.

That said, I've also heard the theory that this is just rough transition after all the upper-management upheaval, and that Apple is well aware of the issues and already working on reform and correction. I guess we'll have a better indication of what is the case after this fall. I'm hopeful, but certainly won't be sticking my head in any sand.
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MitchIves
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Jul 21, 2015, 08:52 PM
 
Charles... add me to Bobolicious. Mail has been like an anvil until 10.10.4. Half the time when I launch Mail it displays a single email in the list... not the hundreds that I have. I can't quit Mail, I have to force quit it. Launching email a second time usually displays all my emails. This is repeatable all the time.

As for Apple starting to have problems, I agree. They are no longer the safe alternative to Windows. It works some of the time. Tim Cook should spend less time writing articles about gay issues and start running the company. I was generally impressed that Apple found time to march in the gay pride parade while so many people's iTunes libraries were being hammered. Can we get back to running the damn company the way Steve did? Please?
     
aroxnicadi
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Jul 28, 2015, 02:45 PM
 
It just doesn't work.

With ever new feature Apple adds to either MAC OS X or iOS, there should be a team backing it up at Apple, which I find isn't the case and with more features comes the chance that someone will find a hack for it even though it goes through beta testing (except the second to last iTunes release).

The Mail app on the Mac has never worked correctly and is why I choose not to use it, but rather Airmail or MailPlane since I have found that they at least continually work on their apps.

The Calendar app which I use in my work daily really needs to be improved across devices since it is clunky and just barely meets my needs and I have found third party apps in this department don't fulfil my needs either.

The one shining light that I truly love about MAC OS X is Time Machine. It's a life saver, even though creating a partition on a Airport Time Capsule is a major undertaking that Apple could have made easier.
     
   
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