Is Apple Ruining Software Quality?

on January 7, 2015

Marco Arment, founder of Instapaper, podcaster, and coffee aficionado, wrote a weekend post criticizing Apple for inadequate quality focus on new versions of the Mac operating system. Arment certainly overstated his case more than a little and other posters grossly exaggerated it — Huffington Post wrote a headline describing Arment’s concern about OS X as saying “Apple’s iOS Is In Rapid Decline.”

Arment, a passionate writer, began his blog post: “Apple’s hardware today is amazing — it has never been better. But the software quality has fallen so much in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future.” (( Arment was taken aback by some of the reaction to his post and suggested he should have taken a softened stand in a second post of his own. After reading the hypervented posts of others, Arment wrote: “Had I known that it would go as far as it did, I never would have written it.” )) His main criticism is Apple is rushing Mac software out too quickly. “We don’t need major OS releases every year,” he writes. “We don’t need each OS release to have a huge list of new features. We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace.” [pullquote]Apple’s customers were once a small and fiercely loyal group; the expansive growth of both the iPhone and the Mac is allowing Apple to accept shaky quality and try to fix it later. [/pullquote]

Two part complaint. I think there are actually two complaints partially combined here. One is releasing software before the bugs are all squashed. This has been a problem in the last OS X versions, Maverick and Yosemite, and in a deeper history of iOS releases. The second concern is there have been too many changes to bring the Mac closer to the iPhone, creating a version of OS X that is particularly bothersome to those who use a Mac primarily for software development.

Apple’s willingness to release software now and fix it later, a habit practiced by others for a while, has clearly damaged that software. There appear to be a number of reasons for this. There is pressure within the corporation and in the market to get products to market as quickly as possible. At the same time, there are complaints about not enough development software. The ability to send software updates easily and often automatically, make it possible to cut corners and update when you can. Apple’s customers were once a small and fiercely loyal group; the expansive growth of both the iPhone and the Mac is allowing Apple to accept shaky quality and try to fix it later.

The iOS 8 problem. The iPhone has been a particular concern. iOS 8.0, released last summer, needed an update to fix initial release problems. Unfortunately, 8.0.1 had serious problems in distribution and failed to work in a number of the phones in which it was installed.  An embarrassed Apple had to rush out iOS 8.0.2 to fix the problem. There are also flaws in the design of software. I think as the versions of Mail have moved closer to each other on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, they have all gotten worse. And I find all the versions of photo storage all but useless.

The impositions developers see in OS X designs are more difficult to analyze and change. Particularly Yosemite which added an assortment of phone-like features, including the ability to get voice calls and receive SMS messages, that are likely to please Mac consumers but are more a nuisance than an advantage. An expanded iCloud allowing the sharing of data across devices is of value to consumers, but of less value to a professional using Dropbox and Amazon S3. If you are using a Mac (or any PC) primarily or exclusively for development, your concern will be on accuracy, security, and, above all, processing speed.

Stripped for speed. In a perfect world, Apple could go on adding the consumer features for the Mac users who want them and offer a speedy and stripped down version for processors, scientists, computerized movie production, and others whose need is for power, not fancy gewgaws. But it’s not going to happen. The consumers represent an enormous majority of the Mac market; the small audience of developers would make the cost of a specialist version of the OS absurdly expensive and even then probably not profitable to Apple.

And while a developer, Greg Wozniak (( No relation to Steve Wozniak, though the shared name produced a lot of confusion in reference to the issue )) wrote he has left the Mac for Linux (unfortunately, he has chosen to remove the post), Arment isn’t ready to: “I suspect the biggest force keeping stories like this from being more common is that Windows is still worse overall and desktop Linux is still too much of a pain in the ass for most people.”