iTunes: The Missing About Box

My least favorite move that Apple has made in the past decade or so  has nothing to do with hockey puck mice or a fetish for proprietary display connectors; it was the decision to remove individual name credits from its programs’ “About…” boxes.

Today, all Apple products are simply © Apple Inc. But once upon a time, every Apple product big enough to have its own “About…” screen showed the names of the programmers, designers, and other folks who worked on it. Like the credits of a blockbuster movie, it was often a long, cumbersome list, but it was also a source of huge pride for the folks who worked all those 80-hour weeks to bring the product to life.

Getting your first About box at Apple was a tangible way of saying you’d “made it” as a programmer, and yes, ridiculous amounts of effort were often expended as a way of making the About Box itself look cool. It was common to joke (and sometimes it wasn’t really a joke) that the programming team spent more time on the About Box animation than they did on the program itself. It was silly in a sense, but in a way which is seldom recognized in a corporation, it hailed programmers as creative talents and not just code jockeys. For that reason above all, About boxes were important.

Of course, no system of credit is perfect, and About Boxes were no exception. Credits which were once only for programmers grew into a long lists which included documentation folks, QA specialists, and more. Even then, there were those (including interface folks) whose contributions often went unrecognized. One day, the order came down that henceforth all About Boxes would be stripped of individual name credit. Programmers rebelled for a time with “Secret About Boxes” which could be summoned by a particular set of keyboard shortcuts and clicks, but now even those are a memory at Apple for the most part.

But I, for one, wish Apple would reconsider, and for the most selfish of motives: I want to know the names of the people who come up with the things which amaze me.

When I click the “Genius” button in iTunes and it instantly figures out 25 songs that segue beautifully with some ineffable characteristic of The Divinyl’s “Pleasure and Pain”, I’d love to know who the heck figured out the trick. For that matter, I’d love to know who came up with the brilliant “Genius Mixes” algorithm, and which folks thought of the cover-cycling that shows entries in their Brit-Pop category. It’s a brilliant little bit of design, and I have the highest admiration for whoever thought it up–I just wish I knew who that was.

Come on, Apple: give your programmers and designers the same credit they’d get working at Disney or Pixar. Any programmer worth having on your team is a creator and inventor as well as a coder. It’s time to give them back their rightful credit  for having taken mere ideas and given them form and function.

Peter Bickford is Principal at Human Computing, an interface consultancy based in San Jose, California. A nine-year Apple veteran, he served as Senior Scientist, Human Interface for Apple’s Developer group and aided in the design of over three hundred Apple and third party products, as well as writing the “Human Interface” column for Apple’s developer newsletter and the book “Human Interface: The Art of Creating Easy-to-Use Software” He may be reached at pbickford@human-computing.com
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One response to “iTunes: The Missing About Box

  1. As an ex-Apple guy I agree with you, Peter, but I think Apple won’t change its policy for two reasons:

    –Avoiding the mention of employee names makes the Apple brand a little more prominent and magical. Nothing shares the stage with it (other than Steve and a few uncharismatic minions).

    –If no one knows the names of the people who create the software, it’s less likely they’ll be recruited away.

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