My inconsistent, intolerable experience with people who make things “better”
A disappointing pattern has been surfacing in the app industry. Whether it be Web, iOS, or Mac—Windows is so far gone it’s not even worth mentioning—many big-name companies simply do not update their apps enough. iOS is probably the least problematic of the Big Three, but over the past year I’ve noticed a significant decline in the development of some apps there as well.
Twitter is a fantastic example. The company offers an okay Web app, a great mobile app, and a semi-modern Mac app. Back in 2012, MG Siegler said the Mac app was “done” and that the client would receive “no further updates”, but remain stagnant in the Mac App Store. People were sad, cake was eaten, Tweetbot for Mac eventually released, and so on. Then, in April 2013, Twitter surprised everyone by updating the app with some of the social network’s new features, like inline photos, Retina-optimized images, and support for 14 new languages. Since then, Twitter for Mac has been updated five times with various bug fixes and new features, including a design refresh with version 3.0.
In the end, it seems that the lack of updates for Twitter’s Mac app, combined with MG Siegler’s claim that it was no longer in active development were apparently not enough to stop the company from breathing life into its native desktop client. After all, the last update before April 2013 was 1 June 2011. They took two years off development.
Lately, Twitter has been overhauling its service a bit. It’s been providing a much more unified experience than before, which is wonderful for new users. The Web app matches the Mac and iOS apps so people can jump platforms without worrying about different icons and confusing verbiage. Unfortunately, their updates aren’t as consistent as one would hope. A look at the recently-redesigned Twitter.com today shows that much has changed, from the new birdhouse icon for Home to the adjusted width of the feed and sidebar. It’s even Retina-optimized—well, that’s what it looks like at first sight. If you take a deeper look, you’ll notice that all of the images—user backgrounds, cover photos, profile pictures, Tweets—are fuzzy. So, they essentially updated the main skeleton of the site without making anything else look good. Shoddy, if you ask me.
In past months, I’ve gotten more into development than I expected to. I currently manage a few websites on virtual private servers and am in the process of learning a bit of CSS, HTML, and PHP. That being said, I understand how difficult it is to get things running properly. However, I don’t think there’s a good excuse for what companies like Twitter are doing. They could say “We’re saving you bandwidth”, but that doesn’t really matter since most homes have decent Internet in this era. I think the real reason for this is that the companies just don’t care.
Who are these “companies” I speak of? Big developers, like Google, Spotify, and Rdio. These last two are integral to my point because they’re what caused me to write about it. A while back, I wrote about my music streaming service decision—I hate using two services for one purpose, mainly due to unnecessary complications. Right now I use Rdio for everything but sharing music with friends since most of them use Spotify. The problem is, their native Mac app is horribly under-developed. It’s updated every so often with bug fixes for the wrong things. I have a major issue with it lagging on my MacBook Pro with Retina display and the developers continue to ignore me. That’s a fun story.
Back in November 2013, a few months after purchasing a Retina display computer, I Tweeted Rdio multiple times asking about a lagging issue I had with their “native” app. (Quotes around that word because I do not consider it to be truly native. It’s a glorified Web app at best. More on that later.) They said to email them, which I did. No response there. Okay, on to the forums! Maybe someone else solved the problem. Nope. No solutions anywhere, just a bunch of user reports. I decided to start my own thread.
In the following weeks, I seemed to get the developers’ attention, but they suddenly stopped talking to me. Craig E., a member of the support team, wrapped it up on 5 December with, “Thanks for the additional info - we’re looking into this issue.” I hoped he’d actually told the developers about the issue, yet over a month later, the latest update included no sign of a fix. I posted to the thread again, hoping to get a response. Nothing. Then, two days ago another forum member found the thread and noted that he had the same problem. “So frustrating when I’m paying too. For nearly 3 years. I’m shocked I’m still a customer with this user-experience. Oh boy,” he noted. I see what he means.
I’m not the only one experiencing problems here. I would switch to Spotify, but then I wouldn’t have features like Play Later and nice-looking apps. I appreciate the fact that Rdio cares about design, but their user experience is very disappointing. It’s dismal on a high-resolution Mac. Another solution would be to use the Web app, which I tried for a few days. The thing is, I can’t use my media buttons to pause/play and skip the music. It’s much more inconvenient. I pay Rdio $4.99/month, which I do not consider a lot of money. I would happily pay more for a better service, but there’s nothing out there. Beats Music looks promising, but right now it lacks native desktop apps—I doubt we’ll even see them in the future with the mobile-focused world and all.
I want to be considerate of developers. I want to go behind their walls and discover what makes things so difficult to keep ticking silently. In the past few months, I’ve had my fair share of problems. I don’t want to blame Rdio, Spotify, Twitter, and other developers for simply giving up on their product, but there’s a point when things need to work, else the service is not worth the support of its users.
Obviously there are a lot of other things these developers could do to improve their products. I can’t even start talking about those because the basic functionality is broken. I’d love to make suggestions to these people, but they either don’t seem to care or don’t have time to listen. I’m not the only one who feels that developers get lazy over time; I would just expect larger companies to be at least a little more responsible with their product.
As a user, I’m disappointed. As a critic, I’m appaled.