No Apple, not you too. Really, no. You were supposed to be the good ones, the ones we user experience folks turned to when all around was chaos and disarray. Arguably, you were the company where user experience as a practice was born (all hail Don Norman). And now this.

My recent experience with you, Apple, has lost me the last little bit of UX innocence I had left. I am disappointed in the way that only an 8 year old boy discovering that Santa is not real can understand.** I am heartbroken.

Such an easy thing to go wrong. Upgrade to the new Mountain Lion OSX. How do you do that? Well, through the App store on the Mac, obviously. Really? Why not a direct download, or automatic upgrade like every other computing platform? Or maybe even through the automatic software updates feature on the Mac? That would be too easy. Where’s the mystery in that? Where’s the excitement?

So I open the Mac App store (for the first time in my many years of Mac ownership, mind you) to upgrade my MacBook to the latest OSX. I know there’s a fee, so I have asked and been granted this as an office expense. Extensive paperwork has been filled out to purchase this upgrade. I am ready.

No Apple ID on this computer. Ok, no problem. I’ll create one.

First hurdle: security questions. I look at the list. I don’t know the answers to any of these things… certainly not with the kind of certainty one would need when something has gone wrong and I need to remember the answers correctly. I must be getting old, but I can’t remember the name of my first pet (it could have been one of at least four, but who knows which came first?), the first dish I learned how to cook (is “tea” a dish?), or where I flew the first time I was on an airplane (I can barely remember the last place I flew on an airplane, let alone the first).





I am a user experience guy, so I run a poll of my adjacent co-workers. None of them can answer any of these questions. There was a great Forrester Research report written while I was there, and the title was fabulous: “Menus should be clear, not cute.” The same should definitely apply to security questions.

So I get through the security questions, and make careful notes of my answers so that if I ever have to use them in the future, I will have something to refer to. I play fast and loose with the answers hoping that Apple won’t know that I’ve used the pet name that was my favourite as a teenager, not my first. Oh wait, just realised I gave the wrong answer and it should have been the cockatiel I had called Chuck. Damn.

I muddle through the rest of the Apple ID setup, and it goes smoothly enough – except that I spent so much time answering security questions, and doing random usability testing off the back of it, that my session timed out and I had to do it all over again. I take some responsibility for this as I may have gone and made myself a coffee and chatted with a colleague about the zombie apocalypse.

Next, okay, all done. Back to the App store to make the purchase. Hit the download button, agree to the price. The download starts, goes all the way from 0 to 142mb then stops. An error appears in small red letters. It reads, rather helpfully: “An error has occurred.”

Here’s the Forrester Research expert review criteria for giving a major failure to an error message: “There are several instances (or one major instance) where required fields are not clearly indicated or an error message is not integrated into the display, does not describe what happened and why, or does not suggest how to fix the problem.” Pow. Failure. FTW, Apple.




I click the download button again. Nothing. Same error. I do it again (not sure why), and I get the same result. As I hover near the download button with my cursor, an ‘X’ appears. I click it. It’s right beside the error message and I assume this will clear it. The whole download item disappears. I mean really disappears. It’s no longer in my purchases. No download link appears on the original description screen. It’s like it never happened.

And then an email arrives, saying my account has been billed $20.99 for the pleasure.

I download a free app from the app store just to make sure it’s not my computer or network. Works perfectly first time.

I write to Apple support after trying to find an answer in the support section. Nothing. I Google the problem. Many many other customers have the same problem. One clever customer has written a short description of how to make your aborted purchase reappear. It works. Score: “regalialilith” on = 1, Apple = 0.

I have another chance to get the download working, a fresh chance, a clean slate. It fails. Again.

I write to Apple support. They come back straight away saying they have reset the download and I should do it again. I try it again. Same result – all the way up to 142mb and then kablooie. I write back to Apple support saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Sort it out or give me my money back”. They issue a refund and don’t even bother to try to sort it out. Only problem is, I actually really wanted to upgrade my computer, and now I can’t.

Next day I get a follow-up email from Apple support.

They write (not paraphrasing – this is the real email text): “I wanted to send a quick note to see if you are still experiencing any difficulties with the iTunes Store. Resolving your issue is important to me, so please don’t hesitate to reply if you need any further assistance.” Forget that I wasn’t doing anything in the iTunes stores for a moment, but I have already been issued a refund because they couldn’t fix the problem (or couldn’t be bothered).

Me: “Thanks for following up. But I’m a little confused. Your last email you said you issued a refund, so I assumed that you were not able to actually fix the problem and I will just have to live without the mountain lion upgrade. If I try to purchase it again, will I have the same problem again? It doesn’t feel like any fix was put in place – lots and lots of comments on the web about this problem from other customers. If you can provide me a guarantee that I will be able to download the update either through the App store, or some other more reliable means, I’d be happy to re-purchase it.”

Apple support – directly quoted from their email: “Craig, we cannot promise that the issue won’t persists again also you’ll need to purchase OS X Mountain Lion using another Apple Id because once we refund an item purchased from Mac App Store, you cannot purchase again using same Apple Id.”

Me: I wonder if Don Norman has any opinions about the Zombie Apocalypse.


**Editor’s Note: the author is in no way making a comparison between Don Norman and Santa Claus. Though there definitely is a resemblance.



One Comment

  1. This is so true! The App Store is a nightmare, every time I try to sign in and change my password using the security questions, I get asked what my ‘dream job’ is and I have no idea what on earth I wrote down two years ago since a dream job is a complex debate which has solutions on many levels and should never be used as a security question. What next, ‘What is the ideal characteristic your future spouse should have?’ or how about ‘If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would be the three things you would choose to have on it?’

    Seriously, (Cr)Apple, come on.

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