Criticism and Clinging to the “Now”

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

I wrote this back in February when I was getting hammered by a small subset of people being at all critical of the impending HomePod release:

But I would not be good at my job if every time someone told me something was wrong I replied “well, this has to be like that because X, Y, and Z,” I’d be out of a job. Likewise, if I saw what our direct and even not-quite-direct competitors were doing and said, “none of that matters because we’re doing our own thing,” then we would be declining in influence. Finally, if multiple people brought up usability concerns and I dismissed them by saying, “you’re doing it wrong” or “you don’t get it, man,” then I would again be out of a job.

History likes to repeat itself, because this week I created a mock up for my proposal for how I’d like to see iOS notifications improve, and despite it being widely circulated and receiving mostly positive feedback, I still had a few people tech out to me to say that notifications on iOS are perfectly fine the way they are.

This is where I get a little annoyed, because as I said in that quote above, both my 9-5 job and this website are all about looking at what exists and trying to make it better.

While some (many?) people think iOS’s notifications are fine, a lot of people find them to be lacking. The obvious solution is to do something to make more people happy. With a user base over 1 billion people, it’s impossible to Mae everyone happy, but the goal should be to increase the number of satisfied users.

My proposal was just that, a proposal for a direction I think Apple could go to make things even better. I welcome feedback like “this would be challenging from a usability perspective” or “what if they did something like XYZ instead?” Unhelpful feedback is “Apple shouldn’t change notifications because they’re perfectly fine the way they are” or “they work for me, so you’re using them wrong.” Those are unhelpful and basically just shut the conversation down.

Nothing in computer software is totally nailed in 2018, everything can, and should get better. My position on this has long been to look at things that are clearly not good enough yet and propose solutions that move the bar forward. I find this to be a helpful way to be critical without being a jerk, and it also spurs conversation. Saying, “everything is fine” shuts down the conversation and is not a very forward-looking view of the world. Plenty of things are fine today, but we make tomorrow better by looking at what we have today and trying to push it forward.