How to ask Apple and others to improve their software

10 March 2016, 05:04

We can all feel impotent when faced with software that doesn’t seem to work as we’d wish. Perhaps an obvious feature is missing, or an existing feature isn’t implemented optimally. But there are things that can be done. Most computing companies invite feedback.

And it really does work. I know one person who suggested a tweak to Adobe Photoshop’s cropping tool that was implemented. A former colleague suggested a feature for Microsoft Word’s search tool that ended-up in the finished product.

How to make good suggestions
Before I explain where you should send your suggestions, here are some suggestions for being a good suggester:

  • Remember that you’re making a suggestion and NOT reporting a bug. That’s a whole different ballgame and should be done via the company’s dedicated bug reporting area (I haven’t listed these below but you’ll find them easily on Google). The difference between a bug report and a feature suggestion can be subtle, but ask yourself the simple question: Does whatever you’re discussing actually work in the way it was intended to, even if that’s sub-optimally? If it does then there’s no bug.
  • Start by explaining how the feature works right now. Then explain why this is bad. Finally, explain how it should work in your opinion, detailing your idea. Don’t assume the individual knows what you’re talking about.
  • Try to keep your suggestion positive. For example, explain that you love the software but you hate the way you have to input your data over three separate screens. Wouldn’t a single screen make more sense?
  • Add as much creative detail as you can. Really think through your suggestion, and imagine how it would work. As with any kind of report, it might be good to start with a one-paragraph executive summary.
  • If you can, check to make sure the feature doesn’t already exist. Microsoft reports that most feature suggestions for its Office product were implemented years ago. It’s just that people can’t find them. The obvious method here is to google for what you’re about to suggest: “How to input data on single screen in Thingymabob app?”

Microsoft’s really gone to town on the whole suggestions box thing, inviting users to suggest features within the apps themselves, as well on the User Voice website. What’s more, when it comes to the Mac products at least, they actually listen and implement the highest-voted suggestions. There are varying online voting areas for the different products, as follows:

Adobe Feature Request/Bug Report Form
Says Adobe about its wishlist form: “Use this form to request new features or suggest modifications to existing features. … We normally do not send personal replies to feature requests or bug reports. We do, however, read each and every message. We use the information to improve our products and services. Your comments, suggestions, and ideas for improvements are very important to us. We appreciate you taking the time to send us this information.”

Apple invites what it calls “Enhancement Requests” for its entire product line although, as a powerful reminder that Apple’s a hardware company, you can’t suggest improvements to things like OS X or iOS. Instead, you can suggest the improvement to the MacBook Pro you’re using, or iPhone. It IS possible to suggest improvements to Apple’s apps and cloud products, though – if you’re miffed about a feature in the Pages word processor or Apple Music, as examples, then you can let Apple know.

Google Product Forums
Google’s product forums are where you’ll have to go to suggest new features for Google’s various products. When making the posting, be sure to select the Give Feedback heading under the “I Want To” heading at the right. Your comment will be mixed into the mire of users reporting bugs and generally complaining, however, which perhaps indicates this isn’t the most efficient method of suggesting improvements. Still, Google apparently claims that the forums are indeed read by their staff, so perhaps it’s worth a try. Note that with some services you can send feedback directly – on the Gmail webpage you can click the gear icon at the top right, select Help, and then click the Send Feedback heading. It’s all a bit chaotic, though. Maybe somebody should suggest to Google that they get an organized one-stop suggestion box site?

Other developers
Most smaller outfits read their own support email and forums, so this is the obvious place to suggest a feature. If you downloaded via an App Store they’re also certain to read reviews too.

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