Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

This Week in Apple Input Bugs

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

When affected users type the word “it” into a text field, the keyboard first shows “I.T” as a QuickType suggestion. After tapping the space key, the word “it” automatically changes to “I.T” without actually tapping the predictive suggestion.

A growing number of iPhone users have voiced their frustrations about the issue on the MacRumors discussion forums, Twitter, and other discussion platforms on the web since shortly after iOS 11 was released in late September.

MacRumors reader Tim shared a video that appears to indicate the issue can cause the word “is” to be autocorrected to “I.S” as well.

Neither of these bugs — nor, incidentally, the “A [?]” autocorrect from earlier this month — have personally affected me. For what it’s worth, I keep the predictive bar turned off because I find that I get more errors with it switched on.1 I don’t know if that has an effect on whether I see these bugs.

It’s alarming to see a recurring theme of bugs in Apple’s software and hardware input devices. From dust under MacBook Pro keyboards to this autocorrect bug and the other autocorrect bug, it’s a worrying sign. Then there’s the noticeable lag when using a Magic Trackpad 2 in El Capitan or later, and the seemingly-random capitalization of words on iOS.

I don’t know how accurate the broken windows theory is,2 nor how appropriate it would necessarily be to compare it to problems with input devices. But it kind of feels as though the occasional usability irritants — interactivity-blocking animations, occasional layout bugs, and the like — have been ignored as a cost of a rapid development cycle. It seems like the tolerance of these kinds of bugs has built up to the point where input device bugs are now shipping.

I wasn’t messing around when I wrote that input devices should never be buggy. Users already don’t fully trust computers; when their only control interface is disobedient, I bet it reinforces this mistrust — or, at least, increases user frustration.3

Bugs like the word “is” turning into “I.S” are not, in of themselves, all that alarming, but their accumulated effect is deeply irritating. Because parts of iOS’ system are shared with Apple’s three other operating systems — soon to be four, with the release of the HomePod — these bugs can occur in many contexts. And, of course, bugs from Apple are not the only ones users will be confronted with working around daily. I once tried keeping track of all of the bugs I encountered in everything I use, and I stopped after about a hundred individual notations in about three days. Fixing bugs — even little ones — needs to be as high of a priority as new features. I understand that developers often don’t get to make that decision, but someone should.

  1. I doubt that there is any effect on autocorrect behaviour no matter whether predictive is turned on. I find it easier to see when autocorrect is about to insert a word, though, when the old-style balloon appears over whatever I’m typing. ↩︎

  2. I understand that the broken windows theory has had very racist connotations, particularly in Giuliani’s New York, but I can’t think of anything else that communicates a sense of fixing small things prevents bigger problems. My understanding is that the theory itself isn’t racist, but its implementation often has been due to socioeconomic circumstances and aggressive policing. If you have any suggestions on what I can replace this with, I’m all ears. ↩︎

  3. I can’t find many studies specifically about users’ trust in computers and how computer-made errors affect that. I did find a study on children’s use of handwriting recognition software where computer-made errors caused concern for users, and I also found plenty of other user interface studies noting the importance of predictability and consistency. However, I think users’ concerns and frustrations are borne from a sense that they do not trust the computer when it behaves unpredictability. ↩︎