Kieran Healy's musings on living in a world where Apple tries hard to keep mere users from understanding what's going on in the background of their kit are worth a look:

Arthur C. Clarke's third law of prediction is, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Clarke's premise is that the technology works, but in so sophisticated a way that it is opaque to our meagre understanding. His promise is that, in the future, we will have technologies like this to hand and we will understand them - or at least, understand them enough to relate to and command them rationally.

What complaints about Apple's software design bring out, I think, is that Clarke only gave us half the story. Any sufficiently broken technology is also indistinguishable from magic. It just works … mostly. When it fails, it presents only a blank face by way of explanation. And when you want to intervene, it offers nothing. The result is that, instead of being the powerful wielder of a magical device, the user is forced back towards magic's traditional role in human societies: the ritual performance of obscurely relevant steps intended to force the Gods to do something.

One of the reasons I switched to Mac OS X back in the day was that I liked the notion that much of that system's underpinnings had Unix roots, so if all else failed there would be a log file entry somewhere that would at least marked the spot where the stumble occurred and give me some chance of working out what just (didn't) happen and why.

I like my iPad Mini 1 and my Mac Mini very much but I dread the day when Apple ends up pricing less well-off people out of the market for OS X systems and I have to choose between a locked-down iOS device and switching to something less elegant but more communicative.

  1. It's an ancient first-generation model, so old that it doesn't even have a Retina™ screen let alone a decent amount of RAM, but when it works it's really a delight to use. A nicely designed, very locked-down delight.