Every year, Apple makes a big fuss about the new features in its forthcoming operating systems, and tech publications write about many of them, often before Apple’s final releases. But after the excitement of the eventual release wanes, how many people end up using those features in their everyday lives? Were they legitimate efforts to improve the user experience, or just some product manager’s idea being thrown against the wall to see if it sticks?
I’m sure Apple has statistics on feature use because David Shayer once explained how seriously Apple takes user privacy when recording usage statistics (see “Former Apple Engineer: Here’s Why I Trust Apple’s COVID-19 Notification Proposal,” 11 May 2020). Apple undoubtedly uses that information to allocate development and testing resources, but the company never shares such details with the world. The closest we get is when Apple either lets a feature stagnate or removes it entirely—remember Dashboard and iDVD?
Why should you care? In theory, you shouldn’t. In an ideal world, you’d sit down with the complete list of features in each of Apple’s operating systems, give each one a whirl, and see if it solves a problem or otherwise improves your life. If you have time for all that, I’m impressed! Exploring new features is literally my job, and even I can’t find the time to examine everything Apple introduces.
But I can think of three reasons we might care about how heavily certain features are used:
- Social proof: When we lack the time or expertise to evaluate something for ourselves, we often fall back on social proof: “Are people like me using this feature?” It’s a shortcut, to be sure, but we all do it, and it’s not necessarily problematic as long as you don’t just accept the crowd’s opinion as the gospel truth.
- Evangelism: It’s entirely human to want to share. If we think some feature makes a real difference in our lives, we want to tell others about it. To an extent, that applies on the negative side too. Although I seldom cover features for which I have no use, I sometimes feel the need to call out unchecked marketing (see “The Dark Side of Dark Mode,” 31 May 2019).
- Curiosity: We all have opinions about the utility of many Apple features but no way of knowing the extent to which others share them. I’m particularly curious if my instincts as a tech publisher are on target or if I need to adjust my beliefs to match the TidBITS readership.
All this is by way of introducing something I’ve started in the Discourse software that powers TidBITS Talk and our article comments: “Do You Use It?” polls about Apple operating system features.
These polls aren’t statistically significant because respondents self-select from the pool of regular TidBITS readers. But the results should provide a sense of what people who read TidBITS—and thus are like us—think about these features. I suspect some polls will generate more responses than others due to the strength of feeling people have for the feature in question—that’s fine and perhaps indicative in itself.
The beauty of building the polls in Discourse is that after people vote, they can post an explanation of why they voted as they did, what aspects of the feature they feel are well or poorly implemented, what alternatives they use, and so on. I’ll break branches off into their own topics as necessary.
I haven’t yet figured out precisely what I want to do with the results here in TidBITS. In some cases, covering the poll results might be an excuse to write about the feature itself. In other cases, I might merely link to the results after a few weeks to get them into the historical record. Similarly, I’m not sure how frequently I want to start a new poll—one or two a week might make sense, but it needs to stay fun and not become onerous. We’ll see.
One final point. My first two polls were driven by wondering how many people rely on Stage Manager on the Mac and the iPad, and the third stemmed from a throwaway comment in the discussion—does anyone actually use Launchpad?—that triggered so many comments I had to turn it into a poll to clean up the conversation. But future polls will cover features that undoubtedly enjoy broad adoption, like Time Machine or Spotlight. I also plan to use the polls as an excuse to call out helpful little features that many people probably don’t even know about, like proxy icons. Such polls will include an answer to account for those currently in the dark, and you’ll also be able to change your vote afterward, such as from “I didn’t know this feature existed” to “I use it daily.” I hope that happens for some people!
Here are our first three “Do You Use It?” polls. Click through to the Discourse poll, make sure you’re logged in with your TidBITS account, and vote!
- Do You Use It? Stage Manager on the Mac
- Do You Use It? Stage Manager on the iPad
- Do You Use It? Launchpad on the Mac