I always knew that the Apple community had a bunch of different subcultures, but I was taken aback when Apple announced that it would add a new feature to iOS, and a bunch of people got angry about it. Why in the world would you argue against Apple adding a new feature that will make the iPhone user experience appreciably better for many users?
The new feature is RCS, which will dramatically improve the quality of text communication between people who use iPhones and people who use Android phones. (And yes, the timing of Apple’s announcement makes it clear to me that this is very much designed to take some of the political heat off of Apple in the European Union.)
I’ve always assumed that the Apple community would agree that Apple’s products should be great. We use these products, for work, home, and life in general. We love it when they’re good and hate it when they’re bad.
Few would deny that trying to send texts or photos in Messages to Android users has been pretty awful for a very long time. Why wouldn’t you want that to get better?
A few decades ago, Apple and the Mac were struggling against an unbeatable enemy: the Wintel hegemony. (Turns out that if you wait long enough, the unbeatable enemy becomes beatable–or even irrelevant.) We all used to fight back against misinformation about the Mac because we were trying to defend a down-on-its-luck company that made the products we loved to use. It made sense.
These days, it makes a lot less sense. Apple’s got all the money. The Mac is as healthy as it’s ever been. The user base of all of Apple’s products is at an all-time high. We are no longer rooting for the underdog.
And yet the old tribal impulses still come out from time to time. When Apple announced its RCS gambit–really an IOU payable later next year–I saw a lot of people who were disappointed because they enjoyed the fact that Android users would no longer be as severely punished for their heresy. It’s a bad look, but I was also surprised that there was so little regard for the ramifications of that decision for the customers who use Apple’s products.
For any iPhone user in the U.S. who texts with Android users, Apple’s stubborn refusal to support something better than old-school SMS and MMS formats has been miserable to deal with. It degrades the iPhone user experience by making text threads weird and unreliable and by lowering the quality of media.
Shouldn’t the user experience be the most important part of the story here?
It’s simply business
I have frequently heard that Apple shouldn’t support RCS because making the iPhone-to-Android communication experience bad is a bare-knuckled business decision to beat a competitor. It doesn’t matter if the experience of iPhone users is made worse, so long as Android is incrementally less appealing–because that makes the iPhone business stronger.
People (including, apparently, some Apple executives who sent emails made public in lawsuits!) sincerely think that it’s good for Apple’s business if the iPhone user experience is degraded… so long as it’s degraded to serve Apple’s overall strategic agenda.
This stuff pushes all of my buttons. In a past life, I had a job that required me to defend the user experience against those who felt like the only good business decision was one that resulted in a little more money for the business. Who would ever argue about not saying yes to less money?
But here’s the thing: They’re all business decisions. A decision to trade the quality of the user experience for a little bit of an advantage over a rival is not a no-brainer because that advantage comes at the cost of the degradation of your product. A fundamental part of Apple’s business is to have a good user experience. It’s the core of Apple’s brand and of Tim Cook’s favorite statistic of all–customer satisfaction.
Out of balance
I find myself most in conflict with the people in our collective Apple-watching sphere when I criticize Apple for making decisions that degrade the user experience. I understand why Apple advertises its services in the Settings app, during the set-up process, and via push notification–but it junks up the user experience. I know why Apple has increased Mac security over the last decade, but it’s also added a flood of pop-up alerts that have overly degraded the user experience.
I don’t mean to imply that Apple has lost its way and doesn’t make positive product decisions anymore. Of course, making great products is part of Apple’s DNA. But in the past few years, when I find myself being baffled by a decision Apple has made, it almost always seems to be related to the company prioritizing some aspect of its business over the experience of its customers. And to repeat: the customers and the quality of Apple’s products are aspects of the business. They are, in fact, the basis of Apple’s entire business. Apple degrades that experience at great risk.
As for the rest of us, I would hope that users of Apple’s products would be most concerned with them being better, period. Who cares if Android users benefit from Apple supporting RCS? It benefits iPhone users in heterogeneous environments, too. There’s no need to be petty about it. We all win when Apple products get better. That’s all that should matter to all of us.