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Why Apple's opacity with developers is bad for users

Marco Tabini | June 2, 2014
It may cause customers to ultimately suffer from its opacity since third-party apps are often the most front-facing part of the iOS and OS X user experience.

Moreover, Apple's ecosystem has grown over the years to encompass all sorts of cloud services, which, like all Internet-based systems, are prone to the occasional bout of downtime. Thus, developers are increasingly faced with problems that arise after they've delivered a finished product into the hands of hundreds of thousands of customers, and often without any warning or notice from Cupertino.

Such was the case for Adam Grossman, one of the developers behind the popular Dark Sky app. In a follow-up post to Arment's article, Grossman described how a temporary outage in Apple's geolocation services—used to match the name of a location with a set of geographical coordinates--caused his software to stop working. "Apple's server was broken," he wrote. "You could still get a weather forecast for your current location, but location searches—which many users rely on--were out of commission."

Faced with a deluge of angry customers, the Dark Sky folks attempted to contact Apple through Developer Technical Support, which offers ad-hoc assistance to users who pay to join the company's developer program, and still got nowhere. "Five hours later, still with no response, I called up the Developer Telephone Support line to check on the status," wrote Grossman. "They couldn't even check on the status of our ticket!"

While developers bear the brunt of dealing with Apple's bug management system, all customers may ultimately suffer from its opacity, since third-party apps are often the most front-facing part of the iOS and OS X user experience. Reached via email by Macworld, Grossman explained that "bugs are bad for users. In my case, Dark Sky was broken for three days and there was absolutely no information we could give to any of our users as to how long it would stay broken or when, if ever, the problem would be fixed."

Red Sweater Software developer Daniel Jalkut, who responded to Arment's post by reinforcing the need to file bugs, takes a more sanguine approach, explaining that the company's tight-lipped stance is about managing expectations. In an email to Macworld, he clarified his viewpoint: "On the one hand, Apple wants customers to think [it] cares deeply about them, while on the other ... [its] priority is to remain silent about specifics of fixes so as not to make promises [it ends] up not delivering on. I can relate to this as a developer, and I treat my customers with a similar kind of no promises, but I hear you' approach. Ultimately I think it's the best compromise."

Of course, it helps that writing software for OS X and iOS means reaching a market of millions of customers who don't mind paying for the apps they find useful—a detail that is not lost on developers, who don't seem to be in any hurry to switch to competing platforms. Says Grossman, "Apple still has the best platform out there. Which is maybe part of the problem: it's not like [it's] going to suddenly lose a bunch of developers because [its] support sucks."


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