Being “Right” Or Letting Customers Read Their Emails

Why Is It Even Up For Debate That Apple Mail Should Let Me Read E-Mails I’ve Received?

The Problem

Like most people today, I receive almost all my bills electronically rather than through the mail.  It’s fast, efficient, and easy to file them where they don’t take up any space and review them later…except when a software engineer at Apple would rather be right than fix a serious bug in Apple’s iOS Mail app.

I was seriously concerned when I couldn’t find an bill of mine from Southern California Edison (SCE) on my iPhone, one I had seen about a week before, and I’d even filed it away in a folder for such bills on that very iPhone.  I tried looking for it on my iPad, and I couldn’t find it there, either.  I then moved on to searching for it on my Mac and found it using Apple’s Mail app there.  I was perplexed; I saw it listed between two particular emails on my Mac but not on my iPhone or iPad, and no search filter was in use on any device.

Being a software developer, I always like to know when there’s a problem with something I’ve written in order to fix it, so I investigated this more and was able to find the email using my ISP’s web mail app.  With all this evidence, I wrote bug rdar://27394423 on July 17, 2016, to similarly help Apple.  I even included the raw source of the email so Apple engineering could determine if there was something about it that their software was tripping over.  With the source, screenshots, and detailed information, I expected someone to get on this right away.

Apple’s first response on July 18, 2016, was to tell me to send a generated report of my Mac where the problem occurred.  I reminded the engineer that the bug was reported as happening on iOS.

Apple’s second response on August 31, 2016, was to have me install a diagnostics certificate on my iOS device and perform the search again.  I reminded the engineer that the bug reported did not happen while doing a search, but I tried it anyway and sent the report.

Apple’s third response on September 9, 2016, was to have me do the diagnostics again, this time with a beta version of iOS 10, so I did that.

With iOS 10 released and the bug still not fixed, on October 20, 2016, I suggested Apple send me a tool that I might use to actually peruse my IMAP account in order to help diagnose this.  I also suggested I could drop by Apple’s headquarters to help work this out in person to allay any privacy concerns about seeing my actual data.

Apple’s fourth response on October 28, 2016, was to ask me to attach the email that was not showing up.  I reminded the engineer that I’d done that weeks before.

Apple’s fifth and final response on November 1, 2016, was to apologize for not following up with the information they had for almost four months, but that the reason their iOS Mail app would never show my email was because SCE needed to resend it because they’d been using non-unique message IDs for a few months.  Effectively, Apple’s software engineer was choosing to only show me SCE’s latest email because he or she didn’t want to fix a bug.  The Apple engineer closed the bug as working as designed.

The Solution

Apple has been letting slip a larger number of bugs lately, and with the attitude of the engineer I encountered, I am seriously wondering if there’s a contest on how many bugs each engineer can get past his or her quality assurance co-workers and into shipping products.  I’ve heard how some developers in years past would do things like this so they could be the hero and fix them later, but then as now, such a philosophy borders on the criminal.

I guess there’s a good reason why Apple always has job openings for software engineers in their Mail app teams.  I hope the next person hired to work on the iOS team understands the logic in using an NSArray for storing an array of emails rather than an NSDictionary—Apple’s customers should be allowed to read their emails regardless of how “right” an Apple software engineer may be.

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