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Introducing “Do You Use It?” Polls

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!


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Comments About Introducing “Do You Use It?” Polls

Notable Replies

  1. This is a great idea! (even though I prefer dark mode, and not for productivity, I just find it more pleasant. :wink:, notwithstanding web sites that don’t abide my preference)

  2. i feel like this is another case of “old man shouts at (i)cloud” (that be me) but whatever.

    how about a poll on the unwanted stocks: home, find my (on a desktop? really?), stocks, weather, siri, &c? that these apps cannot be deleted on macos but can on ios defies any logic. in what world are they essential to the operating system?

  3. As one who has accidentally left her laptop or iPad at a job, find my is great!


  4. on a portable device, totally agree. on a desktop machine, it’s kinda pointless.

  5. As a tool for checking the location of more mobile devices and items, Find My on a desktop is far from useless. It also helps keep track of friends, if you are into that.

  6. Another use is to allow a friend who has lost a device to either try to find it or mark it as lost. For me it’s easier to log in to my iCloud account from somebody else’s computer rather than somebody else’s phone.

  7. A lot of these app management/window management “enhancements” strike me as gimmicks. They don’t really fundamentally change what is going on. And when I accidentally trigger one of them, much cursing ensues, because UNdoing the action is so counter-intuitive. At least some of these I can disable. Does anyone know how to disable the MISfeature in Ventura when a window accidentally touches the menu bar, it goes full-screen? Gawd, I find that annoying!

    (But -the most annoying MISfeature of all has to be the sequence that activates lock screen editing on the iPhone. Wife was in tears once when she accidentally lost her lock screen image and couldn’t figure out what happened or how to get it back, even after some internet searching. This was a total surprise to her (and that image meant a lot).)

    Now what I want in the next OS release is for stuff that used to “just work” (without periodic failure) to start “just working” (reliably) again, particularly AirPlay streams to an Airport Express from

  8. This is something that has always bothered me. Why can I not undo a window resize or a change of column width? Why can I not undo a change in toolbar? Some of these things are a pain to revert by hand. It would be nice if they could be undone as easily as any of the usual app interactions.

  9. I think it’s fair to say there are more “features” that Apple has tried to foist upon me that I have not, nor will ever use, than those I do. Oh, there are things I appreciate — and use all the time. But most of them have been around for some time. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old “get off my lawn” guy, but I’m set in my ways and not ashamed of it. What made me switch to Mac is that it works the way I want to, not the way someone in Cupertino thinks it ought to.

  10. Tried to respond to the polls but it wouldn’t let me - just kep saying login timed out, even though I had signed in.

  11. If you were able to post here, you should be able to vote in the polls. It’s the same site, so you must be logged in.

  12. That’s what I thought, and I did, but I did get that error message, several times, when I chose the first poll, not the others, and once I got in thru the others I could choose the first one, also. Thanks for replying, I only mentioned it because I thought it might be a general problem,

  13. Huh! Thanks for letting me know—I’ll see if others run into it.

  14. Adam, your mention of proxy icons as “helpful little features that many people probably don’t even know about” is perfectly accurate. Sadly, that particular UI control also is a great example for the problems caused by Apple’s misguided “Let’s hide all the things!” design aesthetic.

    These days, run-of-the-mill computer operating systems like macOS are extremely feature-rich. It’s not easy to decide which functionality to expose in the user interface at all times, and which ones to hide, so that on-screen clutter is minimized.

    This particular proxy icon, however, has been around for a long time. It’s useful and simple to use once you understand its behavior. And it so neatly fits into its spot in the window title bar that it hardly qualifies as screen clutter at all. It should never have been removed in the first place.

    Because hiding controls doesn’t just make it more difficult for new users to discover the associated functionality. It also removes the useful visual reminder for experienced users that this thing exists, and that it might be just the right function to use for a particular task at hand.

    Thankfully, there’s a way to show proxy icons (TipBITS: Always Show Window Proxy Icons, but it shouldn’t require users to discover that functionality to restore a certain feature to its original, well-established behavior.

  15. How MANY times have I wanted the DATE on the App screen!?

  16. Perhaps another for the future @ace , I’d like to know how many people use Tags. As mentioned in another thread, if search is powerful and accurate enough there’s no real need for file management.

    I’ve often though this about photos. If they’re sufficiently keyworded they could be found without a DAM but Tags would be more useful as they’re system wide. IOW, tagging images would be more useful that keywording them.

    I have tried using Tags in the past but found them a bit hit and miss - not always working.

  17. Ooo, Finder tags are definitely something worth asking about. I’ve never found them useful at all, but I’m curious about others.

  18. FWIW, I use tags, but they’re a lot less useful now than in the past.

    Originally (going back to the first color Macs running System 6), that Finder menu was “Color” and could be used to color an icon - either with a border or by applying a color cast (for 16- and 24-bit displays). I used this because it was a great way to highlight important icons, especially when the Finder would (far too often) forget my icon positions.

    At some point, colors got renamed to tags, but the functionality was effectively the same. You could assign a name to each color and configure the color for a name.

    But at some (relatively recent) point, they changed the appearance so instead of putting a color cast/background on an icon, it just put a colored dot next to the name. I understand that this was done to allow assignment of multiple tags per file, but it isn’t quite as easy as it used to be to quickly spot a tagged icon.

  19. I’m in the same camp as @Shamino. I used to use it because I liked being able to indicate important stuff by giving it a background color in my usual column view layout. But when they switched to tags that background color became a little LED next to the item. That essentially broke what I was trying to do. So I stopped using it. In Mail it still works the old way and there I still use it too. Of course there I miss that it obviously doesn’t sync over IMAP so its usefulness cannot extend beyond one Mac.

  20. I originally thought them a fantastic idea, but I’ve found the tags don’t always “stick,” which makes them of limited utility.

    I don’t remember if I had issues with Dropbox client, but once I switched to Maestral, I noticed that it doesn’t honor tags when it syncs files, so say, marking a file on one computer with a “red-important” tag doesn’t get that marked on another computer, which is confusing.

    (Same with tags to indicate I’m done processing a file. When I go another computer, I can’t tell which files I’ve edited and which are still to-do, so I end up putting things in folders to indicate status instead.)

    I still use tags, but just for casual, non-essential reasons, like marking which videos I’ve watched or want to watch on my media server (which aren’t files that sync). If it’s anything crucial, I add text to the file name or use a folder to do what I should do with a tag.

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