Apple is turning iOS into an iTunes-like mess

Apple's method of bolting endless new features to iOS and then burying the settings is creating a kludgy user interface, mystery meat navigation, and end user confusion.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

So, Apple has been hit with a $5 million lawsuit related to the careless way that the new iOS 9 Wi-Fi Assist feature burned through user's cellular data plans. This is a mess Apple could have easily avoided.

Now, $5 million is chump-change to Apple, and no one is going to be losing sleep over this lawsuit, but it's also a sign that while Apple can still come up with innovative new features for its mobile platform, it's not able to integrate these into the platform in such a way as to make them visible to the end user.

Wi-Fi Assist - a feature that switches your iDevice to using your cellular data plan if you happen to be in a spot where Wi-Fi coverage is poor - is one such feature. The only reference to this feature is buried at the bottom on an obscure page under Settings in such a way that only the informed or highly determined will find it.

If you want to find it, you have to take a trip to Settings > Cellular (called Mobile Data in some regions) and then scroll to the bottom of a very long page. Oh, and the default for this feature is on, so when you're inhabiting spots with poor Wi-Fi, your iPhone or iPad is burning through your data plan.

And this is only one of hundreds of features that are buried behind a thick, near-impenetrable wall of menus and options in iOS.

Think Apple is too smart to get itself into a big software mess? Think I'm an idiot for even suggesting that Apple could make such a goof? Think again. I remember when iTunes was a sleek and simple music player, but over the years it's had so many new features thoughtlessly bolted onto it that it's not a long-winded, tortuous muddle.

Unless Apple gets a better grip on how features are added to iOS, this is the future that awaits iPhone and iPad users. And the slip-slide into chaos is already on the way. You can't just keep on bolting new features into the OS and then scatter those settings far and wide throughout the settings app without creating a usability timebomb that's will one day explode in the face of the users.

Apple clearly knows that there's a discoverability problem because in iOS 9 it made the options within the Settings app searchable, but that's only any good if you know what you're searching for. That's not going to be any good to you in tracking down why your iPhone or iPad is burning through more cellular data since you upgraded to iOS 9.

And to make matters worse, when people turn to Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo or whatever search engine they're happy with, they're now going to not only come across information on Wi-Fi Assist, but also news of horror stories and lawsuits.

Not the best way to find out about a new feature.

As an aside, I'll close with a link to a piece on Wi-Fi Assist written by Alf Watt, a former Apple employee who worked on the Mac OS Wi-Fi client user experience (he's the developer behind the iStumbler Wi-Fi discovery app). He claims that features such as Wi-Fi Assist come from an idea at Apple that systems should be "self-healing," and that when it comes to networking, it's a misguided concept.

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