A Slight Detour: Apple and the Killing Fields.

This is going to be one those rare occasions when I don’t talk about anything related to photography. But the truth is I spent more time in front of a monitor than behind a camera this week, so I thought I’d do a round-up of sorts. Besides, all these tools that surround our photographic world are — to paraphrase an icon — insanely important. It’s a longish post so… Get coffee or perhaps wait for the next photo essay instead if you’re not into this ;)

Like most of you (according to my stats at least) I’m a Mac user. I’ve been using Macs all my life and I consider myself a pretty diehard nerd when it comes to all things Apple. Our house is Apple territory through and through.

This week’s announcements were humongous in this corner of the universe and on Tuesday, I was sitting down, Apple TV fired up, watching the live stream of the October event featuring Cook, Schiller et all. I was not disappointed one bit. At least not at first glance — but I’ll get to that in a moment. My main interest was for a new iPad Mini to replace my now crash-happy iPad 1 — yes, that’s 1 not even 2. Needless to say I’ve been waiting for this update a very long time and was glad to see the Mini will essentially be the exact same machine as the new iPad Air. No compromises.

I won’t go into all the details and announcements — you’ve all obviously read all there is to read about those. Needless to say it’s been an exciting couple of days.


the killing fields

This started out as a rather excited post about this week’s many announcements. But I’ve since been knocked down by the iWork update and what has become a disturbing trend with Apple software releases: killing features. Lots and lots and lots of features. After coming face to face with this, I had to sit down and add this current section to the page. If the tone is slightly more inflamed that's because I've gone from elation to downright anger and disappointment.  

First off I need to say that this Mountain Lion to Mavericks update has been the quickest, most painless upgrade I’ve ever done. I clicked the update button in the Mac App Store and less than 90 minutes later I was booted up in Mavericks as if nothing ever happened. I never touched the computer, the download never stalled (over 5GB) and it did its thing like a champ. So far I love Mavericks; I love the new independent Spaces, Finder tabs (at last!) and I think Tags are an overdue addition that finally makes use of the power of Spotlight, slowly weening us from our antiquated file systems. I haven t had any problems and all applications so far are running perfectly. Nothing has broken, knock on wood.

That said, I use Pages extensively for all my business “paperwork” and it’s important to me. With the death of Bento I moved to a combination of Numbers and Pages to fill my invoicing/database needs and although the functions are now split between two apps, I’m more than happy with the results. Well, I was…

What Apple has done with Pages is nothing short of a complete and utter destruction of what we once had. This is NOT an update, it’s an entirely new version that exists as though the older one had never been a part of this reality. In the presentation they spoke about iOS compatibility as though this was some great achievement — turns out they simply took out everything that wasn’t compatible with iOS. Easy enough. This means the entire Layout engine including all the templates that came with it. What we have now is LESS than Pages 1.1. Why 1.1? Because I remember this as the version that fixed dumb omissions like the ability to re-order or duplicate pages in a document. Know what? We can’t do this anymore. In fact we can’t even DELETE a page anymore!!!! I’m serious: you can’t delete a page! I’m sorry, section… Because it’s now just a word processor and the notion of pages no longer exists. In an app called P.A.G.E.S. To delete a page you have to delete its content and it’ll magically go away.

The ability to apply various saved layouts to individual pages the same way you do with slides in Keynote? Gone. GONE. I’m talking about this feature below, just in case you’re not sure what I mean:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 3.24.49 PM.png

That's history, erased from existence. Nothing left to replace the functionality either. Want more magic eraser fun? Check this out:

Nice and clean though huh? Certainly less confusing than some irritating menu. Take a look at this discussion that lists everything that is now missing from the application — it’s astounding. Labeling this version as “powerful” calls for a very special kind of hubris. It’s not powerful, it’s Pages for iOS running on a Mac. But then who needs trucks right? Below are the first two issues I had noted before diving any deeper and realizing the extent of the damage. I’m still including them but as you can tell, we’re not in Kansas anymore and these now seem rather trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Problem #1
When I first launched Pages and opened the Template Chooser to create a new document I immediately noticed an unwelcome change: all the custom templates I had created or downloaded were now presented as one big mess under the My Templates section. The categories I had created in Pages 09 by managing folders inside the Application Support/ User Templates folder? Gone. And all this new mess wasn’t in alphabetical order either — it was apparently sorted by creation date. Ok… I thought “no biggie, I’ll just re-order everything again”; nope.

My first reflex was to check if I couldn’t do this from the Template Chooser itself: nothing beyond individual Rename or Delete options. So I went to ~Library>Applications Support and looked for a new iWork folder (the installation doesn’t touch the old iWork 09 folder) only to find there wasn’t any. Nor was there a Pages folder or anything related to the new suite. I checked in the main system folder… Nothing there either. Preferences? Nada.

This was weird. For a few seconds I contemplated the possibility of cleaning all this mess up one template at a time, getting rid of all the accumulated cruft, renaming stuff in a more coherent way… But come on. It would’ve taken me ages, and these user templates HAD to be stored somewhere. I looked online but obviously, mere hours after the public release, I was on my own.

The help files confirmed that user templates couldn’t be re-arranged in the Template Chooser window. Thanks for that. I figured I’d create a new template and then search for it by name or by creation date to get to the location. Fuck all — excuse my language but I was getting pissed. Finally after almost giving up, after my umpteenth time staring at the Library folder, I noticed a folder in there called Containers. Hmmm…. Not sure why but I opened it up and saw a file called com.apple.iWork.Pages. I right-clicked on this file and it was a package, a folder disguised as a file. I selected Show Package Contents and what I saw astonished me: inside this folder was an entire hierarchy more or less mimicking the old library path to the User Templates folder. There were aliases to local folders and other “normal” folders. After clicking and digging I finally found the new location of the templates… Here it is in case you’re also going bonkers: User>Library>Containers>com.apple.iWork.Pages> right-click and Show Package Contents then Data>Library>Application Support>User Templates.

Simple right? Uh huh. Same deal with Numbers and Keynote except that for some reason, com.apple.iWork.Keynote is an actual folder, not a package. It’s a really weird name for a folder so I don’t know if this is just a glitch on my end.

Anyway, from there I was able to manage everything quickly and easily. However, the ability to create new categories by simply creating a folder in there is gone. Doesn’t work. I’m sure there’s an XML file we can hack somewhere but it’s no longer a quick user-friendly process.

Problem #2
This is much less important but it denotes a weird lack of consistency on Apple’s behalf. One of the things that irked me about the previous version of Pages was that it didn’t make use of the new contextual text menu options:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.28.51 AM.png

Instead we’d get this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.28.33 AM.png

It may seem trivial but when you’re used to quickly correcting uppercase/lowercase errors by simply choosing the option from a menu, it beats the crap out of re-typing everything. So this is one of the first things I checked, fully expecting zero surprises. Silly me. Here’s what you get in the new Pages:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.30.08 AM.png

Are you kidding me? What the hell is this? I’m not a programmer but isn’t this all wired in advance through frameworks or UI widgets or whatever? Shouldn’t ALL native apps using the proper Cocoa guidelines offer the exact same options? Or is this the shape of things to come, a dumbing down of more advanced options for the sake of… A cleaner look? Now, to be fair the functionality is still there but has now moved to the new contextual inspector panel. I didn’t see at first because it’s now under a gear icon:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.32.18 AM.png

Obviously this works just as well. But I’ve always expected low-level functionalities such as this to be universal on a Mac, at least between Apple applications — like print to PDF for instance. When this new contextual menu appeared (in Lion?) I figured it would eventually make its way to all the other apps as they were updated. I was apparently wrong; iBooks Author for instance uses the old menu from Pages 09 even in this week’s new update. You simply can’t know what happens when you right-click on text in OS X. Consistency is not part of the equation and it bugs me.


I understand there appears to have been compromises made to Keynote in order to strengthen its compatibility with iOS. I’m all for this. Having presentations that can be played on a Mac or an iPad without issues is fantastic and gives us a lot of possibilities. So Smart Builds are now a thing of the past (they broke things on iOS). I didn’t have anything elaborate using Smart Builds but I did have some simple image slideshows: these were replaced by a bunch of images all sitting on top of one another on a slide. When you play it the effect is the same because the images are animated using the new Animate parameters. But while the new Build Order panel allows you to re-order the images or assign varying parameters, it no longer shows you a thumbnail of the image each build refers to. You get this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.44.31 AM.png

And the slide looks like this:


Sigh. Am I the only one who finds this half-baked compared to the old solution? Why get rid of those thumbnails? For reference, here’s the old UI:


I don’t know… Seems to me we’ve just gone backward in terms of usability. It’s not all bad: it’s much easier to manage individual durations and transitions in the new interface than it was using the old Inspector. But wasn’t there a way to combine all of this so we wouldn’t lose anything in order to gain something else?

The other VERY important change I couldn’t believe Apple had implemented: you can no longer customize the presenter display. That is, you can switch components on and off as before, but you can’t alter their size or position on the presenter screen. Why is that a big deal you say? Because your notes are now by default relegated to a thin window at the very bottom of the screen; if you have more than a little bit of text, you need to scroll through it because it won’t all fit in the window. Scrolling. While presenting. I quickly found out I wasn’t the only one freaking out about this and I still cannot understand how they could remove something so useful from the application. The ability to completely customize the presenter display was a huge asset for Keynote. Removing it is just …. Wrong. The screenshot below is from Keynote 09:

Click for a larger view...

EVERYTHING is movable, resizable, uncheckable. Your presentation, your rules. Here’s the new Keynote:

Same deal, click for larger view...

This is it. Apple decides how big the elements are, the amount of empty space, everything. All you can do is show to hide the elements. On a hunch I decided to uncheck everything but the Notes display: at least the window then takes over the empty space and you can get a workable notes area; but at the price of making everything else disappear:

Again: why???

Father knows best? Speaking as a dad: no, not always.

My problem is that when I string all those issues together I become uneasy about the future. I’ve never subscribed to the whole “walled garden, can’t customize everything I want on my machine, open rulez dude and Apple suckz” mentality. I believe that choices do in fact need to be made for the sake of clarity and simplicity. But it IS possible to go too far. Keynote isn’t a consumer app. Most people don’t go around creating and giving Keynote presentations. There’s a purpose to this application and taking away features users have come to depend on, that weren’t in any way confusing and hindering the use of the app in the process … How is this better? Yes, the Presenter Display looks very slick and can’t be messed up to look “ugly”. But that’s a problem: if I need to mess it up in order to do my work I should be able to. There are zero advantages to removing this ability. It makes my life more complicated, not easier.

Same goes for hiding the User Templates and removing the possibility to organize them in a way that makes sense to US, the users. I used to have a category called laROQUE (duh) for my few business templates, an Avery category for labels etc. and another category for downloaded templates of all kinds. Now I can’t do this anymore. Just adding Avery templates fills My Templates (god I hate that name, sounds like my computer) with dozens of template files I need to navigate through before reaching anything else. It’s useless. I’ll now have to add just a few items to the Template Chooser and save everything else as locked files in a set of folders like we used to do in the good ole days. Yay 2013.

I think Apple is in transition right now, navigating new territories and paradigms regarding UI and how the Mac and iOS will eventually integrate. I just hope they realize that not everything needs to be simple. Simple is good and refinement is good… But not every piece of software needs to cater to the masses. It’s ok to keep advanced features; no one’s going to get hurt hitting a slightly complex menu item.

So these post-presentation days have me feeling very ambivalent. I love much of what I see but I absolutely hate this now very clear trend towards oversimplification at the cost of function. What is the idea here? This is not making my life less complicated at all but forcing me to look for alternatives or find workarounds. In the case of Pages it's a little like taking Aperture and making it iPhoto. Actually scratch that: it's like turning it into QuickLook. It's a shell that's not even worth mentioning anymore. Does anyone at Apple USE these applications for any sort of serious work? Or do they all use something else and don't care what gets lost in these so-called upgrades... On the one hand the sheer number of major updates they gave us is staggering… I don’t believe we’ve ever seen this much in one go, in both software AND hardware. Hard not to be impressed. And a free OS? Coffin? Meet nail. I'm sure Redmond loved this one (no 8.1 doesn't qualify unless it's free to Windows 7 users. 10.8 users got 10.8.1 for free as well). 

But on the other hand... They're destroying for the sake of destroying, selling the car engine for a fresh coat of paint. Might look nice on the show floor but it won't get us very far. Final Cut Pro X was apparently a trend and not an oddity but here's hoping they follow their own lead, wake up and give us back at least SOME of what they've just taken away. Please.

Get out of these killing fields already. 
 Ok, now back to photography — Have a great weekend.

P.S One more thing: for a brief moment in time my heart skipped a few beats. Here was Phil Schiller, presenting testimonials for the astounding new Mac Pro with a photographer using “a new version of Aperture that’s been re-written to make use of the Mac Pro”. Whoa. Aperture 4? Really??? Not in a dream or part of some distant prophecy? Well, maybe. Eventually. But this week it was Aperture 3.5 and it added “iCloud Photo Sharing and SmugMug support”. Oh! And stability improvements. Whoohoo.

I certainly feel the tides turning with this one don’t you?
Listen, I chide because I love. But there is a point at which I stop caring. This shark is getting jumped to death.



Patrick La Roque

laROQUE, 311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada