Do I trust this computer?


This happened while out getting a burrito one day. Waiting in line, my watch asked out of the blue: “Trust This Computer?”

And it didn’t just ask, it rattled my wrist.

My first thought was “Quiet, I’m ordering a burrito.” But then it hit me. “What computer!?” Did it mean my computer... back on my desk... miles away? Or did it mean that suspicious looking laptop sitting on a corner table of the restaurant, with a guy looking like he could be typing commands in his Terminal to hack a watch?

It was a little unnerving.

The thing is, after all these years, our trusted devices are still not very... trustworthy. I’m not talking about security or privacy here. I’m pretty sure my watch was only being extra cautious, asking to trust the phone in my pocket (though I’m still not sure why it had to ask at that moment). The trust I’m talking about is more around how we want our devices to behave, instead of how they often frustrate and make us feel dumb.

I mean, I’m a software developer (or so I tell people) and I struggle finding settings on my phone… or even using it sometimes.

I find the Apple TV is another example. Is it the future of TV? It could be. There are a lot of things to love about it. Except why did it just tell me it “couldn’t find the web page” when I tried to watch the latest episode of Late Night? A web page? Or why are old episodes listed first, sometimes, making me scroll through weeks of shows to find the latest? It seems like a no-brainer (and a quick code change) to list new episodes first. I sometimes have to force-quit Showtime or Hulu, too, to get them to load again. Should anyone know they have to force-quit an app… on their TV? I’m not sure I could explain something like that to my dad, for example, who until not that long ago still had the same cathode-ray wooden console TV he bought the family when I was a kid. (Now that was some trustworthy technology!)

My guess is we just need to learn to love the edge cases again—those things we use, sometimes, as software developers to de-priortize our work. As in, "That's an edge case. We can fix it later." Then later never comes. Maybe, instead of putting ourselves through the endless self-imposed, new-feature, two-week release cycles, we focus again on some of that tech debt that keeps piling up around things like handling network delays and errors better, fixing those pesky concurrency issues, and really giving designers, developers, and QA the time they need to test and improve the features that are already there.

So do I trust this computer? That’s hard to say. I do know we could be doing a lot more to make the software on our trusted devices more worthy of our trust—or at least not having them ask us scary questions while out buying a burrito.


UPDATE 1/30: Looks like Apple may be taking some time to learn to love their edge cases again:


bits-and-bytes, shawnShawn McKee