Their products and services could be so much better with a bit of my shameless meddling in their business.
If I could steer Apple for a bit
If 80’s movie magic suddenly enables me to make company-wide decisions —steering Apple even for short time—this is what I would do to make things better. Summary: Padbooks, iPhones, Watch mini, iCloud Home, XR, Store 2.0, PWA, and Apple ID.
They can afford it, really.
Apple makes devices and services I prefer using regularly and I think they could be a whole lot better. Why are things the way they are? Mostly I think it’s their strategy for profit to sell more devices.
Apple certainly does that. I have two problems with that as a primary strategy though.
- Apple has already made sooooo much profit. The company can go the other direction on a few things and still be perfectly fine.
- There’s only so far you can go with that strategy before you start trying to push device-as-a-service (DAAS)—which I’d argue is kinda what the iPhone Upgrade Program is. The hardware isn’t really made to be sold sustainably as a subscription, so that doesn’t quite work.
Simplify the hardware line, open up the software
The first thing I’d address is the device fragmentation. I think enough profits have already been made to stop creating these devices to be so single-purpose and single owner. Particularly in light of Apple Silicon for Macs, the barriers between devices should really fade away. The overall product range of Watch, Phone, Tablet, Laptop, Desktop, Station still makes sense but the middle can blur and a lot of the variations are needless.
Next I would address a series of software oddities that I think would make the ecosystem work a lot smoother and fairer.
Let’s start with the very middle:
iPads and MacBooks… PadBooks
Why would anyone really NEED both an M1 12" iPad + keyboard and a 13" MacBook if they could really just do each other’s job? They use the same chip! The M1 Macbooks can run iPad apps but not the other way around? This makes no sense. Apple is the company that sold the world on touch input. They make the best touch devices and laptops in the world—and yet they are the only company who refuses to add touch to their laptops.
Being constrained on both devices is logistically frustrating. Buying both is financially frustrating. Using similar devices that run Windows and ChromeOS is a frustrating workflow compared to MacOS and a hot/noisy experience without M chips. Trying to configure a hackintosh with comparable components might just be impossible. There is literally nothing you can buy that is what I’d like to use—what you might call a “PadBook” or something:
- Choices of this merged device are in 10", 13", or 16" sizes.
- All run MacOS/iPadOS interface and apps, supporting multiple accounts.
- All can be purchased with or without a detachable keyboard.
- Keyboards can be “Air” for minimalism or “Pro” to add extra battery, processing, and legacy ports to the device.
- All have at least two Thunderbolt ports with new MagSafe adapters to increase the life of the port and protect your device.
- All have support for touch and Pencil (1 and 2).
- All support multiple external monitors.
- Face and finger authentication.
- Splash resistance, wireless charging, and LTE/5G.
- If folding screens can work at this size, let’s have them.
UPDATE: In spite of backlash, others increasingly agree
After posting this on Reddit, some people thought my suggestions were so scary and blasphemous that they downvoted my post to oblivion and banned me from both the Mac and iPad channels.
Really? Opinions really rage that strongly from me posing alternatives to Apple’s decisions? An increasing number of reviews about Apple products point out the same things I’m addressing here. I’m far from alone.
iPhones and iPads… Phones
Between the largest phone and smallest tablet, are they really so different? I think they also could get merged into easier devices to choose from:
- 5.4", 6.7", and 7.9" screen sizes.
- All have a Thunderbolt port and wireless charging.
- All have a minimal exterior with mounting points made to attach easily with cases.
- All can also connect with the PadBook keyboards for enhanced capabilities.
- Face and finger authentication.
- Folding screens? Yes please! My pockets will thank you.
Watch Mini — you know, for the kids
The Apple Watch is great and so fashionable but it’s really not appropriate to put anything over $50 on a child’s wrist. Of the many smartwatches and fitness trackers out there for kids, there really isn’t much available that aims for general utility. They’re all centered around either paranoia (gps tracking + calling), exercise (steps, etc.), or distraction (games, photos, music).
Since #CovidLife, kids learning remote are expected to manage their own school schedules and handle their own school/life balance—as if they’re suddenly little adults in white-collar jobs. There’s not much yet to help them with that. A Watch Mini just might allow them to keep on schedule and on task. Particularly if we could get more school software to offer Watch apps.
- Sized for a kid’s arm
- Ruggedized for the impacts it will certainly endure
- Priced for the misplacements that are bound to happen
- Gamified reminders and notifications
- Subset of the other Watch features
New devices? AR/VR/XR please.
The Watch is a great wearable but you know what would be an even better wearable for a lot of the work I do? Augmented or Virtual Reality glasses. I personally can never have enough screen space and unless I need to show things to people in person, I’d be so much happier working with an infinite document space projected around me through a nice headset, goggles, or glasses.
Whether it’s a tethered device or a self-contained thing like the Quest, I’d welcome this with open arms. The only headsets out now have nothing to do with any of Apple’s products. Great for Windows things like games but bad for work I prefer to do on a Mac.
VR/AR/XR features I’d try to get:
- Connects to all the Apple devices, wired and wireless.
- Lets me use all my legacy apps (desktop, etc.) in fully immersive 3d around me.
- Come with at least a couple of landmark apps for 3d computing (think Final Cut, Logic, etc.) that work beautifully in XR.
- Easily switch between AR and VR modes — either via overlay or passthrough (whichever works the best).
- Send apps to and from physical screens to allow precise physical touch or Pencil drawing.
- Include advancements like hand tracking, AI rendering, varifocal tracking, and foveated rendering to remove the last experiential barriers for general audience adoption.
- Works with WebXR, OpenXR, and of course AR Kit.
- Offer basic and pro versions because price.
Desktops and stations
Do we need the Mini, iMac, and Mac Pro still? I can’t answer that because I’m too far from needing desktops these days.
The closest I got is when I wasn’t sure if I should take a chance with the M1 MacBooks—so I bought a Mac Mini to test. Apple Silicon passed with flying colors so I got the new MacBook and returned the Mini. It was a bittersweet experience. The Mini was literally the best computer I ever returned. There was nothing wrong with it. It was wonderful in every way a stationary computer could be; but I knew that I’d need portability and I couldn’t justify the costly luxury of laptop + desktop—and I knew that I’d eventually have more frustration working across a MacBook Air and a Mini than just a using a single MacBook Pro.
What I can say is that having an always on, always there device is really nice for home. There is still a division of purpose: a stationary Mac is potentially for anything but a TV or a HomePod is really about entertainment. But particularly with the silence of Apple ARM chips, stationary devices never really need to sleep or become otherwise unavailable. I think they should go beyond providing a stable window to the online world by providing a reliable crossroads.
Ideas for stationary devices:
- Complete storage sync (files, photos, music, etc.)
- Cross screen functionality (example: phone becomes trackpad or controller for Apple TV)
- Utilizing hardware across available devices (example: camera on your phone captures video for Apple TV app)
Along with home device fusion, iCloud should work differently depending on whether you want to invest in online storage vs online routing to local storage. Local storage is increasingly cheaper yet online storage is ballooning in price. Stationary devices can then allow people the option to keep the majority of their photos, videos, and file backups at home—with the same functionality as using Apple’s data centers.
- iCloud storage: Everything is backed up to the cloud and stays there. Storage requirements for any devices are low. No home devices are necessary. Subscription cost depends on library sizes—but all are lower than before. Your personal photos shouldn’t be something to gouge prices for.
- iCloud routing: Everything is routed through the cloud to and from your home devices. Libraries of photos, music, etc. can grow as big as your local storage without effecting your lower subscription cost.
Go the rest of the way with identity. Apple ID 3.0
“Sign in with Apple” is a great start but there are still many holes in identifying yourself online/digitally that could be addressed by Apple in coordination with other major identity providers.
Your ID should be:
- Sharable and instantly replaceable — rendering it meaningless to spammers and criminals
- Utilizing any of the following contact/confirmation loops: app, email, sms
- Utilizing biometric readers, encryption keys, or hardware keys instead of passwords.
- Not relying on passwords anywhere in the security chain—ending the era of forgotten access and crack-based data breaches. Pins and unlock patterns are as far as that method should go.
- Reviewable by you at any time for every site and app. Anything that doesn’t look right to you can be removed.
- Accessible across all major devices and platforms (yes, outside the Apple ecosphere)
- Verifiable with agencies, allowing you to attach your State ID, Passport, or other issued identification.
Getting all of this right and gaining industry support, people could participate in and remove themselves from any site or app without friction or spam. We could finally stop the chaotic idiocy of passwords and the massive hacks they inspire.
App Store: Open the walled garden
While I understand that one of the reasons for running a tightly controlled App Store is to insure a certain level of quality—it hasn’t really worked out that well. There are plenty of terrible apps in there, while some great apps are excluded from us. The app stores don’t scale well by any measure. The sheer number of apps and lack of community controls make curation for quality or finding useful apps nearly impossible. I’d do the following:
- Introduce controls for easier shopping: wishlists, comparisons, price tracking, and $ales! If Valve has taught us anything, it’s that offering frequent sales on software makes a lot O’ money.
- Add controls for community curation: public lists, updating reviews, and adding photos/videos to reviews.
- Establish acceptance tiers: Highly trusted, Acceptable, and Unknown. The first level is full compliance with store guidelines and a history free of badness. The second level is basically apps that pass the min bar but aren’t going out of their way to gain favor of store employees checking the apps. The last level is basically open country, the wild west. Apps can do what they please but are marked as such and can be removed if reported as doing something egregious.
- Let tacos be inside tacos: With the new acceptance tiers, let apps that should sell or stream other things be free to do so. So you could finally buy books in the Kindle app, download games in the Steam app, stream games with a GeForceNOW app.
- Keep tiers in the store: The new tiers also allow Mac apps that currently have to offer non-store versions just to offer their full capabilities. This way customers won’t have to go through a developer’s web site and potentially a completely separate store, trying to keep straight which version they downloaded and/or bought.
Xcode & ADP: Less friction for coding and porting
You currently have a lot of barriers for devs/publishers to invest in making apps for Apple: no options besides Mac hardware and the semi neglected Xcode dev environment, the pay-up-front Apple Developer Program (ADP), and the pricy app store. I think the app landscape would benefit from a few new ideas.
- Cloud code and compile. No Mac? No problem! Run the dev env in the browser, process online, and debug in virtual machines and/or hardware you do have (iPhone, etc.) Provide a simple API for 3rd party languages/tools to send compile jobs for multi-platform apps. Use a freemium pricing model and let people code from wherever they are.
- All devices compile. Only developing for one or some Apple devices? That could be all you need, especially with all of the share Apple Silicon technology. It might not process as quickly on an iPhone but that shouldn’t stop you from compiling on it directly.
- Collaborative coding. What’s better than adding a web version? Making it multiplayer for effective collaboration across both native and web versions. Stop keeping people in silos and let them actually work together.
- AI assistance. All the wheels that have already been invented should just be reused, not reinvented. Wasting your time on standard, boilerplate, non-creative portions of code should be a thing of the past. Use this to help especially with porting from other platforms and even older Apple hardware. Free up everyone to focus on the bigger dreams and creative sparks.
- Open up Xcode to improvements. Plugins, external editors, and community contributions to the codebase would all benefit the dev environment. Look at all the amazing enhancements continuing to take place with VS Code. It just keeps getting better. I’ve rarely seen software of any kind with that track record. Xcode deserves that kind of attention if you’re interested in people wanting to use it.
- Unreal-like Developer licensing. Remove the $100 stop sign at the front door of the ADP and replace it with freedom to deploy for free until you reach a profit threshold (like $1 million for example).
- Keep scaling the App Store cut. To make payments a bit more fair for smaller apps and developers, the cut Apple takes should be scaled further: 0% until the first threshold of yearly total earnings, then after ($1 million) the cut is 15%, then only after another threshold ($10 million) it becomes 30%. Also make it automatic instead of an opt-in situation.
So many of these barriers could be melted away to make developing for Apple devices worthwhile for more people, orgs, and companies. I think you’d get:
- a lot more people of all kinds interested in making unique and creative native apps
- higher quality apps, sharing the same latest optimizations that take full advantage of Apple technology
- more and better ports from other platforms—which in turn should lead to a larger installation base and market
- a more open App Store curated with a full selection of app types and major titles
Tweaks to the smaller things
- Fully support Progressive Web Apps. Native apps great and especially so for ones that leverage hardware. But many don’t need to be native and the sad reality is, most apps on any Store will never be found or installed. Even in the face of App Clips, it just isn’t happening. Most people just use the web version of anything because, well, there’s Google Search. Let’s not forget that it was iOS Safari that basically made everyone realize mobile web was a thing—which is now the dominant thing for most sites and most people worldwide. PWA is a great standard that works for many app types and really, for the good of the industry, should have support in Safari.
- Make Apple LTE/5G devices fully support Google Fi, with smart network switching. Telecom companies currently operate as unkind monopolies, so anything that allows people use them more like a basic utility is better for society in the long run.
- Give up on WebKit as the engine for Safari and all of iOS. Just adopt and contribute back to Blink so we don’t have Safari trailing behind in web standards. It’s becoming enough of a problem for web development that Safari is considered the new Internet Explorer—a financial and scheduling burden to support.
Then I’d be happy
With all these device and service changes, I’d be quite happy using them myself. I suspect I wouldn’t be alone. Maybe most Apple customers would be happier paying for these changes. I know I could do more of what I need to do and want to do—better, faster, and easier than I can now.
If you were in charge of Apple for a short time, what would you do?