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By Thomas Baekdal - October 2013

Apple, I'm not a Simpleton

For those of you following me on Twitter, you might have noticed my angry outburst against the new Apple iWorks '13. As you know, I create all my graphics and illustrations in Apple Keynote (about 1500 of them per year), which I have gone into great detail about in "Simple Ways To Dramatically Enhance Your Presentations" and "Inside the Graphics of Baekdal".

One key reason I loved Apple and iWorks was because they allowed me to create fairly complex results using apps that are free of distractions and optimized for efficiency. In other words, Apple was the master of allowing me to feel like a pro.

'Was', as in used to be. Because the new iWorks is an absolute nightmare. They have taken what was once a great app and stupefied it. As one commented in an article about iWorks no longer supporting scripting:

Apple seems to be dumbing everything down to the level of the iPad...

This is my main annoyance with Apple. Every single update takes away a little bit of productivity. iCloud, for instance, reduced the file system from a multi-person/app platform into a single-person/app service.

I don't know anyone who works that way, but that's how iCloud works. It's forcing each app to be completely separate from any other app and any other person. In an age of Dropbox and Google Drive, who could possible think that creating a cloud service per app/person would be a good idea?

Then we have full screen views. How many people do you know who only work with a single app at the time? I never, ever do that. I'm constantly working with multiple apps (although I do agree that full-screen apps are brilliant for multi-screen setups).

And now, we are facing the same problem with iWorks. Take Keynote:

In the old Keynote, the interface was carefully designed to get out of your way. You could focus *all* your attention on the story you were trying to tell. This allowed you to work extremely efficient. Far more efficient than in most other apps.

But the new Keynote is designed as a 'casual' app. One that you don't use every day and has to help you remember where everything is. As a result, the interface is now a huge panel at the right of your screen, divided up into actions that the casual user might want take.

Let me give you a very simple example. Here I have created two circles, with a colored calligraphic edge, a fill color, and a different font style and size than the default. Very basic stuff.

In the old Keynote, this was super easy to do, and to edit. All your tools were available in a small strip at the top, taking up almost no space at all. And every change was only one click away. This also made it highly efficient to do, and I often found myself playing around with different variations.

In fact, I timed it. To make this illustration (in the old iWorks), I only need to click 14 times and I could have the whole thing done in just about 38 seconds. Super fast!

In the new Keynote, every single change is now hidden in this big ugly 'settings' panel. Not only does this take up a ton of space, it also means that I have to click back and forth between panels to make the same shapes.

I timed this as well: To make the exact same illustration in iWorks 13, I needed to click 61 times which took me 1 minute and 54 seconds.

That's a 430% increase in clicks and a 300% increase in time spent. Not exactly what you would call progress. In fact, any UX engineer would be screaming bloody murder.

For a casual user, like your grandma, this is not a problem. The new interface does makes things a lot simpler for first time users, but for the rest of us it's an absolute nightmare. Apple just turned one of their best apps into a productivity sinkhole.

Worse of all, because the new interface is divided up like it is, you can no longer keep your focus on the story. You are constantly fidgeting with the interface.

Also, the new Keynote use a different line shape, which means that I can no longer edit any one of my old illustrations. I can change their size and color, but I cannot edit the shape in any way. So Apple rendered the past five years of work into non-editable objects (which was the primary reason for my angry outburst last night). And once you open a file in the new Keynote, there is no way to go back.

Another simple example of the lack usefulness is the color palette in iWorks. In the old iWorks you could choose between 120 different colors. This is incredibly important because the quickest way to be lame is to just use the same color palette as anyone else. If you want to stand out, never, ever use standard colors.

But in the new iWorks, Apple has reduced the color palette to only 29 standard colors. Again, Average colors for average people (and you need to click twice as many times to see them).

And for a person like me who made about 1500 illustrations in Keynote last year, this is a showstopper. I can't afford to spend 300% more time making my illustrations just because Apple thinks I am a simpleton. That's not acceptable.

BTW: Both Pages and Numbers have been stripped too. Several features have been removed to make it more like the iOS apps. Even simple things as being able to right click to quickly create a new page is gone. Just look at this list of added/missing features from Pages. iWorks is no longer a productivity tool. It's a toy.

As Pierre Igot wrote:

Dear oh dear. They really have done it, haven't they? They have taken what had evolved into a rather decent word processor / page layout application and have eliminated so many useful features that it effectively is now a piece of useless junk, and I honestly have no idea for whom this latest version of Pages is intended.

And this is not limited to iWorks either. Apple has been dumping down its apps ever since they launched iOS. Take Garageband. When it was launched, it allowed amateur musicians to create professional level music without the need of the overly complex world of pro apps. It was just wonderful.

But with this week's announcement, the new feature is that you can tell the app to play the drums automatically. As Apple puts it: "You can release your hit single to the world in seconds."

Apple is focusing on helping people create average results for average people. No amateur musician would want to use this. This is for people who don't care about individuality, but just want to quickly be able to put something together.

This is like giving a person who loves to cook a microwave oven. Sure, Apple's microwave is a technological marvel, but they are designing it for people who don't dream about food.

Apple has lost what it means to be Apple. The reason why I switched to Apple a long time ago was because with a Mac I could do so much more, far more efficiently, and with far fewer distractions.

Or to put it in another way:

With Windows, I was forced to be an amateur. With Mac, I could be a pro.

That was why I loved Apple. But today, all their apps are designed for grandma. They are designed for casual use, in which it doesn't matter if it takes 300% longer to do something, as long as it is so simple that anyone can do it.

It's the same with iMovie. It's main feature is its ability for people to just click on a button which will turn your movie into something looking like a movie trailer. It looks impressive until you see the thousands of other people who have also converted their clips the same way. And you suddenly realize that it didn't help you become a pro. It helped you to quickly create the same as everyone else.

It's the same on the iPhone/iPad. Apple's Newsstand, for instance, is a way for Apple to tell traditional media companies how to quickly and easily take their print business model and put it in the app store. That's what that is. It's allows publishers to take what they already have and create average publications for average people.

And don't even get me started about iBook Author. It's designed to help people who have never visited the internet.

As you can probably tell, I'm really disappointed with Apple. Sure, in terms of hardware, the engineering inside Apple's devices is out of this world. Just look at the new Mac Pro. It's just mindblowing. And the new iPad Air is absolutely crazy in terms of hardware sophistication.

But it doesn't change the fact that they give us this great hardware and then tell us to use it in a way that only casual users would like.

Of course, what I talk about here is what's inside Apple's devices. The devices have not changed at all since 2007/2009. It's like IBM's Thinkpad (before it was taken over by Lenovo). Incredibly machines inside, but they never changed the formula.

And before you argue that it's hard to change the basic shape of a tablet (as I also wrote about in "Apple Never Designed the iPad - They Undesigned it"), look at what's on the screen. Sure, the iOS7 background now moves around and gives people motion sickness, and sure the skeuomorphic crap has been replaced by slightly translucent flat colors. But that is what we call 'skinning'. All the other features have been available on other phones for a very long time.

Where is the inspiration, the dreamers, and the one thing that makes it Apple? Where is the spirit? The hardware inside is great, everything else is... meh...

Apple, I want to feel like a pro, but you make me feel like a simpleton.

Startups, your time to act is now

The upside to this is that it opens up a wonderful space for startups to make Mac (and Windows) users feel like Pros. I would gladly pay for a Keynote type application that allows me to design beautiful illustrations without all the complexity of both the tools and the interface.

I repeat, I would gladly pay to not feel like a simpleton! (and that goes for iOS apps too. Just don't lock me into iCloud).

The same is true for all the other Apple apps. We need someone to step in and design apps that get right to the point, help people stay focused on what they are trying to achieve (and not a dumbed down UI), while giving them the flexibility to create unique outputs that don't feel like it could have been done by anyone else.

Make people feel like a pro again, and we will love you forever!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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