On Tools and Developers

During the (excellent) WWDC episode of The Talk Show, there was this:

John Gruber: I've seen in, day one, there has been some - to me - misreading the message, but some coverage along the lines of: "Apple is moving the Mac to its own silicon to further lock in [insert either developers or users or both users and developers]", that this is to increase lock-in. And I just have to ask... I don't see it, because I've seen these announcements and I don't see where that's coming from in terms of any aspect that was announced.

Craig Federighi [SVP, Software Engineering, Apple]: I think those guys are being total tools, honestly.

This comes in the middle of a segment where both Craig and Greg "Joz" Joswiak (VP, Product Marketing) are talking about the lack of respect they get from showing that their focus in on the Mac, and that they want the Mac to continue existing, not be subsumed by or replaced by or absorbed into iPads and its OS, and so on and so forth.

To begin with: I agree with them to a point. As much as I've been able to tell, you will not be allowed to do less on macOS Big Sur running on Apple Silicon than on Intel processors. The limitations that are there have excellent technical motivations: it is hard to straight up virtualize a different processor architecture, and they have still provided good support for everything up to that point in terms of automatic binary translation of programs compiled for Intel.

I also empathize with the pressure on a personal level. Although they are well-compensated for it and should be accountable for the decisions they make, there's no need for incivility or personal attacks. Luckily, I do not have to stretch myself as far in order to enumerate a number of reasons why this is the feedback Craig and his team gets.

Apple's modus operandi is to find big changes, make big bets, and go from the current status quo to where they want to be over a series of small, incremental changes. Once every blue moon, a big change is needed, or a new component or technology or device or market needs to be introduced, and this is seen by some, especially outsider experts, as the core of Apple, to the point where if they don't regularly do it, they have "lost the innovative spark" and you would be a complete fool to not immediately short AAPL. But the core is the silent trudge, the long term mixed with the incremental.

Apple is judged by their actions, by their behavior and by their history, and in the absence of roadmaps and rationalizations, and in the recurring presence of re-contextualizations as new changes happen, the guessing game is the result. Every change turns into a proposed Chekov's gun.

  • When Sandboxing is introduced, the logical conclusion is that at some point it will eventually be required for everything. Since Sandboxing is inconsistent, flaky and insufficient, and since many of the current applications many people depend on could not survive Sandboxing, this creeps me out. The conjecture is unproven - Sandboxing is not required for everything, but we are not also at the end of history. Office is now sandboxed, but also has loads of handcrafted exceptions. Sandboxing wasn't built to scale to accomodate all current app behavior, not even of just the legitimate apps, it was built to force developers into a box. For increased security, yes. At the cost of tremendous inconvenience and missing features to the apps that adopt it and their users: also yes.

  • When the App Store is introduced on Mac, with the bluster that all developers should find it manna from heaven because it unties knots many developers had never even ran into for several years, the logical conclusion is that at some point everything will be required to be in the App Store. This theory has gone both back and forth, due to the introduction of Developer ID and Gatekeeper, and then the subsequent move towards making it harder to allow non-Developer ID apps.

    I stopped writing Mac apps largely because of this. I want to maintain a pseudonym, and Apple's assumption that it means I can't be trusted to make well-behaved software offends me personally. My software was used inside Apple, and I got bug reports when it broke on in-development OSes. The last updates I released, I signed with my own signature chain - I have no qualms with the security aspects, or with cryptographic signatures or even with blocking them after the fact.

  • When 32-bit Intel application support was dropped, it meant people couldn't run some applications any longer. There's now excellent justification to believe this happened to lessen the burden of the already capable Rosetta 2. But it still means applications people paid for, learned, loved, were productive with, possibly got a Mac for, stopped being usable. This is the opposite of user-friendly, and there's not even a security angle.

  • When Mac hardware consistently and consequently lost ports and user-accessible/user-serviceable parts over the years, they hardly ever came back. Additionally, some hardware was left to rot, and had a tendency to return at a steeper price. There are exceptions – worth noting precisely because they are exceptions.

    Many developers could use Mac Pros in the cheesegrater days, because it was recognized that you didn't have to be a film maker with a studio budget for modularity and customizability to be useful. And yet, even when the Mac Pro reverted from the "trash can" form factor to a full-on accessible desktop workstation setup as it previously had been, the price was hiked significantly and the product was completely repositioned, in the same breath as Apple declared developers one of their most populous "Pro" groups; indeed, the announcement was made to a room full of developers. There's a wide array of displays, and if people don't need an HDR display, they don't need to buy the Pro Display XDR, but making an entire Mac model inaccessible is a different animal.

If you meet a person and they act a certain way, over time you learn to recognize that pattern in them. If you develop for Apple platforms and every year is a series of new inconveniences to manage just as much as it is new technology to consider adopting, you learn to assume a negative progression in convenience, utility and freedom, just as much as you have hopes for the advances in frameworks and hardware.

The "tools" Craig's talking about have all seen the beginning of, effectively, the closing of the Mac as a platform. We know that Apple doesn't like to dwell on the bets they make, and we know that Apple doesn't usually back out of things. We're waiting anxiously for the moment where the hammer drops. That means we assume that sweeping transitions will bring those changes. The small ratcheting moves have often happened without being announced, or by being announced with individual bullet points in presentations during the week of WWDC (the interview was recorded on Tuesday, by which point not even half of the presentations were available).

This bed is of Apple's own making. By never copping to imperfection, by never really listening to and answering the detractors who are in its own camp, by avoiding humility and the taking of other perspectives than its own, the only method of communication left is loud and clear dissent.

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