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To me, "Hey, do you mean partial cover, total cover, cover cover..." here or the rules not being written with one coherent idea of how they worked in mind seems more likely than
1) accidentally creating an entire thing (observed) that has zero purpose
It doesn't. The other states of awareness all apply only when/cause someone to have total concealment. Observed doesn't mean you're seeing someone perfectly, just that you can see them at all.
2) accidentally making a bluff check to break that thing (observed) 99.44% superflous
You're really hung up on that bluff check. In Pathfinder it was written a bit ambiguously, but in Starfinder it's clear that it's really just a substitute for cover: "If you succeed, you can either attempt the hide task of Stealth as if you had cover or concealment". You seem obsessed with the idea that the bluff check should be THE way of getting hidden. It's really not. It's more like a last resort way. It's useful if you want to escape and don't want people to know in which direction you escape.
You keep saying that cover is so plentiful so if cover was enough then the bluff would be useless. But if cover is plentiful, bluff is actually pretty useful, because then people will be wondering which of many covered places you went to hide in.
3) Creating an unrealistically easy ability to start sneaking in front of people (mundane skills tend to be realistically realistic)
"Realism" is almost always a bad argument. How many calories does the wizard need to eat to cast a fireball?
Cover as a sufficient condition for stealth seems perfectly plausible to me. That wall is sort of high enough that if you crouch you're hard to see but if you stand up straight I can see you clearly. If it's too low for that, you should check the conditions, it probably doesn't count as cover either but only as partial cover.
4) making a skill grant a fairly common combat bonus to hit (in the form of making your opponent flat footed)
But at the cost of a move action, so no full attacks. And you have to actually beat the monster's perception check, which is normally at least rated "good" (AA p. 128, 142) so it scales up by 1.5 per CR, meaning that only characters with some scaling bonus to stealth can keep up with it. Which are only operatives, but operatives have trick attack which basically does this but for more damage against a lower DC. So this is really not the big problem you think it is. More like a feature at low level that kinda tapers off at higher level for PCs. Stealthy monsters could keep doing it instead of full attacks, but that's also not a bad thing, creates interesting battles where the PCs need to maneuver so the monster can't keep lurking in cover. Pushing people to be mobile in combat is clearly something Starfinder wants to do.
5) bringing up observed as something stealth enabling abilities deal with.
If you mean the Cloaking Field exploit, that one works perfectly fine. It allows you to stealth without cover. Which is useful if you need to operate in the middle of the room, for example to walk up to the console and press some buttons or to get to a fallen teammate and stabilize them without being seen. Or to bypass mooks and attack the boss from an unexpected direction.
It you mean the Stealth Warp revelation, that one also mentions When you are attuned or fully attuned, you can use this revelation to reduce your sensory output so much that you can attempt a Stealth check even when you’re directly observed and lack cover or a distraction. You are not invisible, simply difficult to see clearly, and if a creature was observing you prior to your Stealth check, it remains aware of your location until you successfully reach cover or concealment. This again says that you need either cover or a distraction to begin stealth. Unless you have this power in which case you can do it in the open.
These are the only abilities in the CRB I found that mention observation, and they are both specifically ways to hide when you don't have cover to break observation.
I searched Archives of Nethys for other mentions of "observation", "observed", "observing" and "observe". Most of them deal with either watching scary aliens from afar or cases of Disguise or hidden weapons/Sleight of Hand. A couple more things float to the top though:
The Eerie Perception manifestation of Shadow Corruption gives or improves darkvision and then allows you to observe creatures otherwise hidden by dim light, darkness, or invisibility, if you know where they are and that is the only thing they're using to hide. Implying there might be another thing they're using to hide: cover.
The Shadow Cloak manifestation of Shadow Corruption allows you to hide while being observed as long as you're in dim light or darkness (regardless of the senses of the observed).
Shadow Mastiffs are so shady they can hide without cover as long as they're not in bright light. Again going with the shadow critter theme that the darkvision of the observer doesn't matter so much against these beasts.
The Shadow Creature Summoning Graft allows the shady critter to hide even while observed or lacking cover, as long as it's not in bright light.
So that's Alien Archive 1 and two more AP books also using cover as a sufficient condition for hiding.
6) Not intending, but accidentally having a converse reading of the rules that works with MOST other parts of the rules AND
You're still hung up on one awkward section, while every other part of the rules consistently says cover is sufficient for hiding. Just like it said in Ultimate Intrigue and the Pathfinder CRB.
7) reality. If you read the stealth rules the way I do, what breaks in the game, what breaks in between the game and reality?
Observed not covered: Polonius in the middle of the room. Can't hide
Covered and not observed: Polonius behind the tapestry. Can hide
Observed and covered: Polonius does "gotchyournose" you off and walks behind the tapestry. Can't hide you see where he went.
That seems a little too good for a random rules screwup (mind you I have had some epic achievements in ignorance that are probably not past the statute of limitations yet..) . I would expect a bad reading of the rules to screw something up besides the same phrase and problem copy pasted: either between functionally working to mirror reality or to functionally work with the rest of the game.
To go with your Polonius analogy:
* Unaware: You didn't know Polonius was in this scene. He has total concealment.
* Aware of Presence: You know Polonius is in the room somewhere. It might be behind that curtain, but it's 20ft wide. He has total concealment.
* Aware of Location: He just coughed and you know which part of the curtain he's behind. He has total concealment.
* Observed: this could be one of several sub-cases;
- Concealed, but hasn't succeeded in hiding: you see his toes sticking out, so he just has 20% concealment.
- Covered, but hasn't succeeded in hiding: Polonius is actually behind that compensating-for-something high backed chair.
Now if Polonius drew in his feet a little (a succesful Stealth check to Hide) you'd no longer be able to observe him behind the curtain (but you're Aware of Location). He could start to quietly shuffle to the side and then you're only Aware of Presence.
And if he crouched a bit and held quite still, he'd be hard to see behind the chair. You're still Aware of Location, but maybe he manages to quietly crawl under the table and then you'd only be Aware of Presence.
Bonus point. You keep complaining that if concealment is enough to hide that you could have a ridiculous scuffle in the dim starlight between two peasants, but the rules say exactly that that is possible:
Dim LightIn dim light, you can somewhat make out shapes, but you can’t see precise details well at all. Dim light includes moonlight outside at night and bright starlight, or a starship’s emergency backup lights. An area just beyond the range of a light source has dim light. Creatures within an area of dim light have concealment (20% miss chance; see page 253) from creatures without darkvision or the ability to see in darkness. Because dim light is not ideal for observation, if you’re in an area of dim light, you can attempt a Stealth check to conceal yourself from creatures without low-light vision, darkvision, or blindsight. Dim light does not affect creatures with low-light vision, which can see in dim light as if it were normal light.