John Battelle: “Am I An Outlier, Or Are Apple Products No Longer Easy To Use?”

I just read this blog entry by John Battelle and it got me thinking — while I don’t feel like my Mac is particularly difficult to use, it’s probably because using a Mac is fundamentally one of the few things I’m good at. I know them well and can troubleshoot with relative ease.

But, it’s true, troubleshooting a Mac is not always easy — and other people probably don’t want to know what I know or study what I study — so the author has a point.

At the same time, though, I do get a little — word? — tweaked — when people don’t seem willing to take responsibility for even a little maintenance or management of their Macs.

Yes, Macs are reputedly easy to use. Fundamentally, there’s an advantage because Apple controls the hardware and software an thus knows exactly what their code is going to run on. Still… Mac’s aren’t flawless. They’re complicated. And, really, any smartphone, computer, tablet or similar device is going to require some care and feeding. Even your Prius requires a pitstop every few months and major maintenance every 18 months or so.

It is problematic (as illustrated in the screen grab above) that the iPhone can experience that much corruption without some sort of clean-up by iTunes; Apple should work on that. But sometimes crap happens. If the instructions are to restore your iPhone, then maybe that works. Here are Apple’s instructions:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414

They seem simple enough. (This weekend I’m going to set aside some time to walk through the process of restoring my own iPhone — I’ve never had to do it before — and see how hard it is, and if I keep my data or lose it. Hard to believe I’ll lose the data since I see it sitting there in iTunes.)

Other complaints by Battelle include trouble with shared calendars and Contacts; I get that. Frankly, I’m disappointed in iCloud right now; it’s really more about one person synching his or her own stuff on multiple devices, not workgroups or businesses working together. In that respect, it’s worse than .Mac tools were. Apple has taken a step backward on collaboration to take a step forward with effortless synching for one person and her gizmos. Google tools are better at collaboration, although not perfect.

In my experience, the best solution is to look for tools designed for the job. If you have thousands of contacts, get a CRM application, whether something like Elements CRM (http://www.ntractive.com/mac-crm/en/) or an online service such as Capsule CRM (http://capsulecrm.com) which we use in the JFP offices. Yes, it costs a little money. Yes, it’s better and offers you cool tools for tracking all of those contacts and doing business with them.

Battelle takes issue with iPhoto, saying he’s shot thousands of photos and iPhoto doesn’t help him much; I get it, and I agree. At the same time, he says “fan boys” will tell him he needs a different app.

I don’t know if I’m a fan boy or not — probably qualify — but I say he needs a different app. We deal with thousands of photos here at the newspaper and I wouldn’t dream of using iPhoto to do it. It’s a consumer app. I’d say get Apeture or Lightroom. If you’re going to take thousands of photos — and take them seriously — then realize the limits of bundled consumer software and move on up.

Otherwise, there’s good stuff in the piece, and I’m going to think about how address some of it and figure out what might be the simplest way around some of these complaints.

I’ll say one other thing — yes, I write books (and, soon eBooks) about Macs. So I’m biased.

But the idea that you need to learn stuff and figure stuff out — like how to switch back the scrolling behavior in Lion if you don’t like it, or turn on/off your hot corners — I don’t think that’s so bad.

Sure, we need new and better and more exciting documentation. But these tools are pretty complicated, as well as being sophisticated. Macs aren’t blenders. They’re crazy, wacky, capable multi-functional devices we could barely conceive of 20-25 years ago. Smartphones? Call it 10 years — at the outside.

So even if it’s not the user’s fault, it is the user’s problem. And you know what? I’d love to help if possible. I’m going to try to do just that as I relaunch MacBlog.com.

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