Fetch a translator: Apple says it has ‘fixed’ the App Store app

In my summary of the changes claimed by Apple to be in macOS Sierra 10.12.5, I wrote:
App Store improvements to support future software updates (whatever that might mean)

Looking again at Apple’s release notes – which record just six improvements other than security fixes, in an update which for most was over 1 GB in size – I was trying to summarise Apple’s original statement that 10.12.5
Enhances compatibility of the Mac App Store with future software updates.

I’m still reeling at the almost complete lack of meaning in that line. But I can now announce one thing which it does apparently: Apple has removed progress indicators when downloading and installing App Store updates.

The App Store app has not been a particularly good example of human interface design or app reliability. One of its persistent weaknesses has been prompt user feedback: even before this version (2.2.1 if you’re counting), it has done some remarkably odd things. It has suffered update overload, and gone off into a sulk and refused to tell us all the updates that are available.

On other occasions, it has taken such a liking to certain updates, that it has downloaded and installed them more than once, and on rare occasions a few times more for the sheer hell of it. Without ever once informing us why we needed those updates multiple times.

When software engineers are struggling to accomplish something, there are generally three approaches that they can use:

  • kludge it, and hope no one complains,
  • struggle harder, and get it right, or
  • remove that feature.

So what does the App Store app do now when you use it to install updates?

The app itself now provides essentially no user feedback at all. There is no progress indicator, nor even a text indication that the update is being downloaded or installed: the app just sits there looking as blank as it can. Then all of a sudden, that update passes from the available list to the list of those installed in the last 30 days.

That isn’t the only feedback that the user gets, of course. If you care to open the Applications folder in the Finder, you can see a progress indicator by the icon of the app being updated. That’s really helpful if you’re trying to update, say, Affinity Photo and Xcode at the same time, isn’t it?

So I must presume that this is one of the enhancements to the App Store which improves its compatibility with “future software updates”.

Presuming that Apple will be launching something at WWDC in just over a fortnight’s time which will be a “future software update” to the App Store, I am eager to discover how that renders the courtesy of progress bars obsolete. But for now, I’m just assuming that getting the human interface of updates right has proved too difficult, and Apple has followed the third approach above: just remove as much of the feature that you can get away with.

And to think that accurate progress bars were once one of the linchpins of Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.

Postscript: I have since discovered that the App Store app does now sometimes provide progress bars for updates, presumably only for larger ones. In many ways, this is actually worse than providing none at all, and violates the principle of consistency in human interface design.