Favorite quotation: Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes. - Jack Handey

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

iMovie '13: Apple's Worst Product Ever?

My favorite Apple-made premium iOS app has been iMovie for iPad and iPhone. I fell in love with it from day one and found it to be a brilliant, genius, intuitive, revelatory app for quickly slapping together a little movie. It's great!

With iMovie '11, you could import iOS iMovie projects that you exported from the app using that kludgy iTunes document sharing process. I don't understand why they don't just let you do it right in the Finder, but at least you can do it.

I recently updated the iOS version of iMovie to 2.0, so that I could use the high-speed video feature of my iPhone 5S within iMovie. I don't care for the way that they re-did the user interface; I really found the old one charming with its "movie house" aesthetic. It was charming. (I must admit I'm still not the biggest fan of most of the UI changes that iOS 7 brought, but that's another article.)

However iMovie '11 can't import projects exported from iMovie 2.0 for iOS. And as it turns out, neither can iMovie '13, which has 648 one-star reviews on the Apple Mac App Store! Reading through the user comments might be hilarious if you hate Apple, but if you're a true lover of Apple like me, then it's excruciating. I really do not like Apple putting out anything but the best software. I find it hard to believe that they would release something like this. It's just unfathomable to me that a company with the resources they have would release something that removes features.

We've seen this now several times with Apple, where they come out with an "update" to a product that is missing many features that the previous version has. The most glaring examples of this have been Final Cut Pro X, the latest version of Pages, and now iMovie '13. It honestly makes me scared to ever update my software, for fear that some critical, core feature that I rely on (like the ability to export my iMovie projects into the Mac version) will simply have been removed with no warning.

As a developer, I do understand what Apple is doing. In all of these cases, what they have done is not really to release a new version of the software, but to release an entirely new piece of software under the same product name. They have started the entire program over from scratch, but they only had time to add back in a subset of the existing features that the old version had. They figure that their customers will let them know which of the old features are most important, and they'll add back in those old versions.

But the thing is, they don't make it easy to go back to the old version of the software. On iOS, unless you keep backup copies of your apps on your computer, once you update there is no way to go back to the old version. Further, even if you do have the old version of the app on your computer, it's not a simple process to go back using the methods provided by Apple. It involves deleting your App and all your data, syncing your device using iTunes, etc. It's very time consuming. You can use a product like iFunBox or DiskAid to quickly copy your user documents out of the app first, then back in once you're done downgrading, but it's still annoying.

Not only is this a good reason to leave your auto-updates turned off, but also to write a letter to Apple and tell them they need to not do this anymore. They need to not release products and say they are new versions of a previous product, when in reality the "new version" is actually a completely new product altogether, which only has some of the features of the old version. When iMovie '09 came out and was a completely different thing altogether compared with the previous iMovie HD product, Apple did the smart thing and did not overwrite the previous version so that customers could still use it if they preferred it.

However with iOS it's not possible to have multiple versions of the same app installed at the same time. Given the fact that Apple and other developers seem to do annoying things like remove features, and given that upgrading an app can actually erase user content (since all user content is stored within the app, and it can erase whatever it wants), I really think that the app-upgrading process of iOS needs to have more protections for the user. There ought to be an option to install the new version of an app as a new copy of the old version, preserving the old version of the app and all your documents in the state it was in prior to the app update. That way if the new version is trash, you can delete it and go back to the old version easily. If the new version is really better, you can delete the old version to save space on your device.

Given that people are actually doing real and important work with their devices these days, it's unacceptable for updates to be this shoddy. No Apple product should ever be getting 648 one-star reviews. Something appears to be seriously going wrong inside of Apple, and I don't know why or what it is, but I hope they get it sorted out.