Developer Explains Why ‘Sign in with Apple’ May Actually Offer a Worse User Experience

Sign in with Apple Credit: Konstantin Savusia / Shutterstock
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For the most part, the Sign in with Apple feature that Apple introduced in iOS 13 last year has generally been of benefit for most users, providing a private and secure alternative to remembering more passwords or falling back on authentication through more invasive providers like Facebook. However, it’s not without its problems, and as much as Apple is trying to promote its adoption among iOS developers, there are some valid reasons why some are reluctant to adopt it.

Such is the case with popular shopping list app AnyList, which recently published a fascinating blog post explaining exactly why they won’t be supporting the new authentication system, and they make some pretty good points.

AnyList developer and co-founder Jeff Hunter explains that the company considered the advantages of using Sign in with Apple, but ultimately decided against it as there were more cons than pros in regard to the technology.

Customer Experience Problems

Chief among these, Hunter notes, is that all third-party login systems generally cause more user experience and customer support headaches than they solve. This isn’t a problem that’s specific to Sign in with Apple, but rather impacts every third-party authentication system, including Facebook, Google, and others.

The crux of the problem is that users often can’t remember which login system they originally used to create their account, and the developers can’t really do much for those users who get locked out of their accounts, since those problems have to be solved at the third-party provider. Even simple things like password resets become far more complicated than they should be.

However, Sign in with Apple also offers the potential for even more problems. For one, even though it’s possible to use any email address to set up an Apple ID, many users don’t realize this and create their Apple ID using an iCloud.com address, rather than their actual email address.

This naturally becomes the email address that’s associated with their Sign in with Apple profile, and when a user signs up for a service like AnyList with their Apple ID, that becomes their contact information. When the customer raises a support issue, the only identity that the developer has for them is their Apple ID, with its associated iCloud.com email address, which may not be an account that the user ever thinks to check.

So people would ask for help, we’d reply, and they’d contact us again later, angry that we never replied. Our reply was going to their iCloud email account, but they didn’t see it because they only ever looked at their Gmail account, in the Gmail app.

Jeff Hunter, AnyList co-founder

This is exacerbated even further with Apple’s “Hide My Email” feature, which generates a special email address to hide the user’s real identity. This creates a situation where it becomes even more difficult for a developer to look up the user’s actual account when there’s a problem.

For example, if you sign up for a service with “Hide My Email” enabled, the developer will only know you as something like “asdfakljklj34@privaterelay.appleid.com” and although it’s possible for the user to find this on their iOS device, it requires an extra step.

Further, since AnyList is heavily focused on sharing lists with other people, the use of private relay addresses makes this very difficult, since your partner or friends may not have any idea which email address to use to share a list with you.

In fact, it creates an even more potentially confusing situation for users, since if you’ve signed up for AnyList with a private relay address and a friend tries to share a list with your actual email address, you’ll get an email inviting you to sign up for an entirely new account.

While Hunter concedes that AnyList could certainly request that users provide their actual email address when signing up, that obviously defeats most of the purpose of using Sign in with Apple in the first place.

We agree with Apple that privacy is a fundamental human right, and understand that the “Hide My Email” option in Sign in with Apple is well-intentioned, but it feels like Apple didn’t really think through all of the implications for basic user experience, customer support, and collaboration.

Jeff Hunter, AnyList co-founder

Hunter goes on to note that these are just the issues that affect user experience as well, adding that for smaller developers like AnyList it’s also a lot of work to implement SIgn in with Apple, for relatively little benefit, and it doesn’t help that Apple’s documentation for the feature is relatively poor at this stage, while also pointing to the recent security flaw discovered in the system, which, as Hunter notes, doesn’t fill them with a lot of confidence.

Going Back to Basics

In fact, Hunter notes that rather than implementing Sign in with Apple, they’ve decided to remove Facebook Login from their app and service as well, and just get back to the basics of having users sign up directly with an email address and password.

Since Apple’s new rules, which came into effect last week, require that all developers who offer other third-party sign-in methods must also adopt Sign in with Apple, removing Facebook login is really the only out that AnyList has to avoid adopting it entirely, but Hunter is clear that this is not the only reason. Facebook Login shares many of the same problems as Sign in with Apple, and the developers “begrudgingly” added it years ago simply as an experiment.

Our support for signing up using Facebook was begrudgingly added years ago as an experiment in offering another signup option, but we were never enthusiastic about it. That’s become even more true as time goes on, since Facebook constantly seems to be upping the ante with creepy privacy practices.

Jeff Hunter, AnyList co-founder

If anything, AnyList has been looking for an excuse to get rid of the Facebook integration anyway, since with each new release of the SDK, there seem to be more and more new creepy tracking options getting turned on, not to mention other problems such as the recent bug that caused hundreds of third-party apps to crash on launch due to a misconfigured server.

While Sign in with Apple still certainly has a place among many services, it clearly doesn’t make sense for apps like AnyList, and all of Hunter’s points are generally quite valid as to why there really are certain apps and developers who will gain no benefit from the feature, at least not until it matures a bit and addresses some of these problems.

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