I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Effecting Change From The Outside

I ended A Thicker Hope with this:

While the too-thin font was far from the only design flaw in iOS 7, I’d say it was the biggest. Just as the new APIs in iOS 7 were clearly the result of Apple listening to all of us, we now have a sign that they’re listening on the design front as well.

The best thing for us to do is to continue to make noise about the remaining issues.

In response, nervousMONSTER wrote:

Do you really think this had anything to do with bloggers bitching?

In short: Absolutely. (Also, “bloggers” doesn’t really mean anything anymore: this had something to do with people writing and talking about it.) To understand why, it helps to understand how Apple works.

Apple isn’t a waterfall dictatorship. It’s a company full of many smart people at all levels, and while those people are generally in agreement on high-level philosophies and priorities, they often have different ideas that need to be resolved through experimentation, debate, or executive order.

From what we can tell from the sidelines, the “executive order” option doesn’t seem to happen as often as the casual observer may think: even Steve Jobs, one of the most qualified people in history to make effective executive orders, was frequently swayed by good arguments. Apple does some things because a higher-up feels like it, but in most cases, they arrive at decisions only through internal debates that we rarely hear about.1

Since Apple is just people, they’re usually trying to figure out the best answer to the same decisions and trade-offs we argue about on the outside: what’s best for the user, what’s best for battery life, what apps should be allowed to do, how multitasking should work, how far sandboxing should go, and so on. Almost any decision that causes controversy on the outside has almost certainly caused just as much on the inside, it’s probably still being argued, and the decision probably isn’t set in stone.

We can’t participate directly in those debates, but we can provide ammo to the side we agree with.

I’ve heard a number of times in the last few years that something I wrote was circulated within Apple or brought up in an internal discussion, usually to support one side of a debate. And it’s very unlikely that is the only site that Apple employees read. (Less pointedly, filing bugs or enhancement requests is also used as a sort of voting system that also informs internal debates.)

Obviously, it’s mostly only productive to argue positions that Apple may feasibly take, and only in arguments that they’re actually having. And time is critical: it’s a lot easier to change parts of iOS 7 now than in October. But our opinions definitely matter.

We can effect change if we’re pushing for what’s best for Apple and its customers. Apple doesn’t get everything right every time on its own.

  1. Allowing the best ideas to prevail over initial executive decisions is different from design-by-committee. In design-by-committee, too many people have equal control (or veto power) over the output. Apple doesn’t appear to work that way: a very small number of higher-ups still have the power to make most decisions as they see fit, but they’ll consider valid arguments to the contrary and be willing to change their minds for the sake of making better products.

    Steve Jobs had that quality, but I think Tim Cook might be even better at it.

    We’ve seen a number of reports that Scott Forstall was “difficult to work with”. If that included being inflexible and unwilling to let the best ideas prevail over his own, Cook’s firing of Forstall to “increase collaboration” looks quite good so far. I believe we’re seeing a clear reduction in capricious or arbitrary decisions making it into the products. ↩︎