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walled garden

Apple Doesn't Trust You

It thinks it knows what you want more than you do.

Emanuel Maiberg

Emanuel Maiberg

Image: Shutterstock

On Wednesday we reported that turning off Bluetooth from iOS 11's Control Center—the quick access menu where users can toggle the device's most used features—doesn't actually turn off Bluetooth.

Instead, pressing the button will immediately disconnect the iPhone from Bluetooth accessories, but Bluetooth will continue to be available. That is because Apple wants the iPhone to be able to continue using AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Location Services, and other features that Apple has touted as defining innovations over the last couple of iterations of its mobile devices.

Users can still completely turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi by digging into the devices menu settings, but essentially the button does not do what a user can reasonably assume Apple says it does, and that's because Apple doesn't trust you. This decision is the next logical step for what has always been Apple's design ethos: It thinks it knows what you want more than you do.

This type of design has permeated through all of Apple's products and software. This can be thought of as Apple's "walled garden," which is not necessarily a bad thing: Apple controls every little widget on its platform, and in return, the user gets an experience that is very convenient. If Apple controls everything on a device it can soften all the hard edges. It's why I always recommend easy-to-setup Apple computers to my parents, instead of having to deal with the chaos that is the PC/Windows platform.

But now Apple has taken this philosophy a step further. It has gone from protecting users by omitting or blocking features to outright deceiving users about what certain features do. "It just works," except when you actually know what you're doing but aren't allowed to do it. It would have been easy to make the Control Center customizable, but of course it is not.

As I mentioned, Apple designs for the lowest common denominator in everything it does. The "delete" key on MacOS does not allow you to delete files. Apps must be approved by Apple before entering the App Store. Increasingly, it makes it harder for you to install third-party programs on MacOS (in Sierra, this option is hidden). It does not sell repair parts to consumers or to third-party repair shops, requires you to get AppleCare+ if you purchase an iPhone through its upgrade program, and says its products are too "complex" for normal people to fix.

"To think about these very complex products and to say the answer to all our products is to say you should have anybody to repair and have our parts is not looking at the whole problem," Lisa Jackson, Apple's top environmental executive, said Tuesday at TechCrunch Disrupt. When designing products, "our first thought is you don't need to repair [our hardware]," she added.

And now, a button that a reasonable person could presume to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth does not in fact do that. In addition, iOS 11 inexplicably turns Wi-Fi and Bluetooth back on at "5 AM local time" even if you've turned it off in the settings.

To be fair, if you look up what the Control Center buttons do, Apple's documentation is clear that it doesn't really turn off Bluetooth, and when Bluetooth is really turned off via the settings menu, a line crosses the icon in Control Center. But I never read the documentation when I buy a new iPhone. I don't have to because Apple devices are so easy to use! And until today I had no reason to believe that a button in Apple's own interface will not do the thing it says it does.

I'm not a UX/UI scholar, but I imagine a user pushing a button expecting a clear result and not getting that result is some cardinal sin of design. I am sure that this happens all the time because of bugs or confusing icons or whatever. It's not ideal, but forgivable. Apple's Bluetooth button is even worse because it understands what the user is expecting but doesn't give them that because it thinks it knows better.

I can understand the thinking here: A user will want to turn off their Bluetooth in order to, say, save battery, but perhaps they don't realize that this will also turn off the AirPods they're currently using because new iPhones don't have headphone jacks. Why not just save the user the embarrassment of interrupting themselves during the latest episode of Pod Save America? Or, why not save the user having to flip Bluetooth back on when they get up in the morning by simply automatically turning it on at 5 AM?

Forget the fact that some of us might want to turn off Bluetooth for security reasons. What Apple has done here isn't only patronizing, it's a basic violation of trust.