I really dislike tech for tech’s sake.
For instance, in the UK, we have a company called Sky. You’ve probably heard of them; they’re a monolithic media conglomerate that offers everything from satellite television to home broadband.
They have also made, without doubt, the most irritating piece of hardware ever.
It’s the remote control for their set-top box. You only have to brush past it to inadvertently begin rewinding whatever it is you’re watching. I kid you not: if my phone is next to it and I receive a text message, the program I’m watching pauses.
This is all thanks to some inherently stupid decisions made by Sky’s product development division, and I’m of the mind that the team at Apple often make similar decisions.
They mean well – they really do. They’re also flexing their muscles, and I have no issue with that. They did so with the iPhone 12 Pro’s needless ability to record 10-bit Dolby Vision video; it’s really impressive, but no one will use it.
Again, I’ve got no problem with that.
But I do have an issue with two specific elements of Apple’s product design. And I’d like to get a bit ranty about them today.
Automatic AirPods switching
Last year, Apple introduced the ability for AirPods to switch automatically between Apple devices.
The idea is simple and, on the face of it, pretty convenient. Let’s say you’re listening to music on your iPhone, via your AirPods Pro, and you decide to pick up your iPad and watch a YouTube video. With the feature enabled, your iPad will recognise that you’re using AirPods and automatically switch to their output once you start playing the video.
Then, once you’ve finished watching YouTube on your iPad, you head over to your iMac to join a team meeting on Zoom. Conveniently, the AirPods automatically switch to the iMac as soon as you join the call.
This actually happens. Occasionally. But, more often than not, it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it is teeth-itchingly frustrating.
In my experience, the AirPods won’t automatically switch at all, nor will I receive any prompt to manually switch devices. This leaves me fighting with the Bluetooth drop-down box on macOS or frantically tapping the AirPods icon on my iPhone.
Another oddity is that, if my AirPods are connected to my Mac, for instance, and I pick up my iPhone, a little drop-down notification will appear on the phone saying “connected” with a picture of the AirPods, but the playback will continue from the Mac.
Connected to what?
It gets worse. The other day, after numerous device switching issues, I headed out for a dog walk and my AirPods Pro resolutely refused to connect properly to my iPhone. I ended up having to restart both devices to establish a connection.
Is this related to my M1 Mac mini Bluetooth issues? Maybe.
Apple’s intention here really is admirable, but it’s a bit like someone constantly following you around, trying to guess what pair of shoes you should be wearing and forcing them onto your feet randomly. They’ll invariably get it wrong 95% of the time and you’ll just want them to leave the room.
All Apple needed to do here was offer a prompt to connect your AirPods when they’re in range of the device you’re using. Ironically, this prompt exists, but it usually plays second fiddle to the infuriating ‘automatic’ switching.
Leave the choice to us, Apple!
Oh my, if there’s one thing that gets me super-hot under the collar, it’s touch-sensitive buttons.
I genuinely don’t know why they exist. If we go back to that super-frustrating Sky remote, that too is plagued by touch-sensitive buttons.
I want tactile feedback. It’s why I love the JBL Go 3 Bluetooth speaker; it has chunky, clicky, satisfyingly mechanical buttons.
The HomePod mini, by comparison, has no buttons. Instead, it opts for a touch-sensitive lid, which you simply tap to operate. That’s great until you pick it up to move it and inadvertently invoke Siri.
I have non-Apple headphones that feature the same kind of controls. They’re hideous to operate because you’re forever accidentally pausing playback, adjusting the volume of even turning the damn things off entirely.
Apple is, mercifully, rather liberal with its use of touch-sensitive technology – at the moment. But that’s what bothers me.
They’ve always been on a fairly relentless quest to reduce the number of buttons on their devices, and my concern is that this will invariably lead to more touch sensitiveness. I’m not sure I can deal with that.
Ironically, Apple has nailed the touch-sensitive button operation on AirPods Pro. The stems need to be squeezed to invoke any kind of operation, and an audible (yet fake) ‘click’ adds to the affordance, big time. More of this, please.
There is no reason touch-sensitive buttons exist. For decades, we’ve been used to buttons that click to confirm the operation. This works; we understand it and it plays to our senses perfectly. Touch-sensitive buttons serve no purpose whatsoever and offer no measurable benefit; all they do is frustrate.
Please don’t take this any further, Apple. Please.
If you’ve woken up in a bad mood like I have and fancy ranting about your least favourite tech design trends – jump in below. Let’s have some fun.