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Is Apple Ruining Software Quality?

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.”

 

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

948 thoughts on “Is Apple Ruining Software Quality?”

  1. Writing software is hard. Very hard. I tend to be more forgiving on technical snafu’s than on policy matters, so I’m inclined to be forgiving on these matters. In fact, perhaps I’ve been conditioned to be too tolerant.

    But here’s the thing…Apple only has to maintain an OS for a very small set of very similar machines, essentially identical. For all the purported benefits of “vertical integration”, of “tying the software to the hardware”, of “just works”, this places a greater expectation (self imposed by Apple) on the performance and quality. When this falls short, criticism is justified.

  2. Anyone who’s ever tried to use Windows versions of Apple software knows Apple’s quality has always been shaky at the edges. That seems to be spreading to their mainstays lately: the latest iOS and MAcOS releases were clear cases of “better wait for SP1”.

  3. I’m not concerned. “It just works” is a journey not a destintation. Any long time Apple user knows there have always been software AND hardware problems. If anything I’d say both have improved over time. Raise your hand if you ever had to sort through extensions on your Mac! In both hardware and software it has always been wise to wait for the second version of an Apple product, even the first Mac. Apple iterates, it’s how they operate.

    I tend to think it’s the new kids (Apple users/detractors for a decade or less) that are getting worked up about this as if it’s a new issue. That said, it’s always good to criticize and demand quality. But I’m not worried about Apple’s software today any more than I was 30 years ago.

    1. “I’m not concerned. “It just works” is a journey not a destintation.”

      Wankiest, cuntiest thing I’ve ever read. Excuse me while i vomit.

  4. I reluctantly agree that Apple’s ‘new OS every year’ efforts are less than spectacular. I know its against Apple’s mission, but I would like a version of Yosemite that lacks ALL of the phone-home constant-internet-access plumbing Apple has plastered in.

    Yosemite Enterprise Edition? Perfect. If I want to downgrade to the consumer edition that has all the internet plumbing installed, then give me the option. Better yet, how about a setting that disables ALL the network services so I don’t have to got to twenty different preference panes just to minimize my internet exposure? I’d pay for that option.

    I’m still using Snow Leopard on my music production machine, primarily because its stable and it isn’t constantly contacting the Apple services.

    1. If you’ve got the time, I would appreciate some-one listing the “twenty different preference panes” that will disable the cruft.
      I have just updated to Yosemite, but also can do without most of the “Features”added.
      Particularly call-homes and social-media.

  5. As with the original article by Arment, there is a degree of hyperbole in this headline. Ruin is a very strong word.

    The article is more balanced than the headline luckily. The whining from a minority of power users is hardly a damning indictment of the OS. Conflating the complaints of consumer features by pros with a .01 release of iOS that had catastrophic consequences for a very small proportion of users (<1%) is reaching.
    You raise the photos mess which you fail to reveal is in the middle of being solved and is probably at its nadir between old and new solutions. If the new solutions live up to promises I doubt we'll be yapping about it in 6 months.

    Pro complaints is the continuation of a trend that has been going on since the original iMac. The vast majority of users appreciate continuity and handoff capabilities, facetime, imessage, iCloud syncing of core data (contacts, mail, notes, etc.) which is what makes the platform more usable for most. I can't tell you how happy the users I support are when their contact updates on a Mac appear on their phone and vv.

    More users and more features will drive more issues and complaints but let's not invent patterns that really aren't there.

  6. I do not like the latest version of iTunes (I am being polite) as it has made it so difficult to organise my work. The latest update has also not fixed the ‘missing’ files problem. iTunes is bloated and I am moving my music files, once organised and labelled, to a separate file and then collecting the ones I want to listen to over the next month back to a thinner iTunes music file. I only keep the movies and TV programmes that I wish to watch in the next while on iTunes. I find both the book and the audio book element good enough.

    I will not upgrade to Yosemite until late in the game and it is perfected, and after I have tried it out at the Apple Store. Why does Apple have so much trouble perfecting its software? Maybe it needs to invest a little more in skilled programmers. The noise around its software and annual updates to OSes has been heating up a while now so maybe Apple will be incentivised to do something about the flaw in its software in its drive to perfection.
    Namaste and care,
    mhikl

    1. “I will not upgrade to Yosemite until late in the game and it is perfected, and after I have tried it out at the Apple Store. Why does Apple have so much trouble perfecting its software?”

      A wise move. But I must point out that this has always been the case with Apple, going back to the first Mac. This is not a new issue. Apple iterates, version 1 of anything they do often has many issues, and then those issues get sorted out. I wonder if this is simply a new experience for many Apple users who came to Apple early in the iOS years, gradually moved to Macs, and are now experiencing the normal ebb and flow of Apple’s iterative process.

  7. Until someone comes up (And no one has, ever.) with a meticulously documented and fair assessment of software “issues” and the magnitude of each one through all the years of software releases, I would consign any complaint about “Apple ruining software quality” to the hysterics and selective recall bin. Without that authoritative and exhaustive study, we’re all basing our opinions on personal (i.e. anecdotal) evidence married to possibly fallible memory and my anecdotal evidence has me experiencing or reading about issues pretty much with every version of OS-X and iOS since I got my first Apple product in 2003. And some of them, like installing 10.4 over 10.3 were pretty hairy for me.

    1. Sorry aardman, but if personal stories aren’t sufficient for you, you set an impossible standard.

      My opinion is hardly clouded by fallible memory. And it is hardly necessary to commission an “authoritative and exhaustive” study. Just ask your grandmother to try to figure out how to use Yosemite or iTunes. Mine had no problem with Leopard OS on a G5 MacPro I gave her several years back. After three weeks with a Mac Mini running Yosemite, she asked for the G5 tower back.

      Anecdotal to you. Authoritative proof to me.

      1. On the flip side, my sister is a total noob, seriously you would not believe what she needs help with on her iMac, and yet Yosemite gives her very little trouble, I help her far less with it than previous versions of OSX. The one exception was iTunes for a while, because it’s quite different, but after a very small learning curve she’s fine. I haven’t given it much thought but I think it might be because it’s more iOS-y. iOS on an iPad is by far the easiest computer she uses, same goes for my parents who are 76 and 80, the iPad Air is really the first computer they can use without help. I also think simplifying technology is terrifying to many nerds/power users, which drives some of the criticism of OSX and iOS.

      2. The standard for proof doesn’t get lowered just because it is logistically hard to attain. No matter how vehemently you say it, anecdotal evidence isn’t sufficient evidence. As you see from Space Gorilla below, to any anecdote one can come up with, counter-anecdotes are always available out there.

        If you let your anecdotal evidence convince you, then at least be honest and admit that you are basing your conclusion on a statistical survey of sample size one. Lots of needless debate would disappear if people were just humble enough intellectually to stop mistaking their personal idiosyncratic experience as gospel truth.

        I’m not the spring chicken you think I am, just a later convert to Apple. My grandmother would be 114 now if she were alive.

        1. I’ll bite. What do you propose? How will you define “quality?” What measurement standards will be applied? Who will define them? How large should your sample size be? Who will conduct the authoritative study? By what criteria are they to be considered authoritative?

          I can’t wait to dissemble the conclusions. How can this endeavor not end up being their opinion against mine?

          “Gospel truth” is an interesting choice of words, as it demonstrates the subjective faith-based nature of any discussion of relative quality.

  8. I appreciate (don’t know enough Macalese to claim to understand) pro users’ software (and hardware) gripes with Apple – well-publicised tirades against the changes wrought by Final Cut Pro X, issues with the thermal paste used for soldering the GPU’s of some MacBook and iMac models, disk encryption issues that had several users (myself included) stumped in the first few days into Yosemite etc, problems with getting the new Continuity features like Handoff and AirDrop consistently working are about as far into the matter I can fathom given the uses to which I put the shiny beast (17″ MacBook Pro circa early 2011).

    But given the fact that my MacBook Pro was by default blacklisted (ineligible) for the latest Yosemite bells and whistles and with the help of a BlueTooth LE dongle and some judicious sleuthing online for solutions now runs them with effortless ease (well, a few iCloud resets notwithstanding), I fail to see what constitutes justification for using the terms “ruin” and “nosedive” when debating software quality issues with Macs.

    My recent, ultimately successful grapples with issues regarding Mac OS upgrades have reiterated one fact that I’ve known for decades before I ever owned an Apple device: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”

  9. The problem is these updates are available immediately over the Internet and free. The wisdom of the ancients is to ignore the siren call of the update button if you value the ability to get some work done in the next few days. Particularly if you’re dealing with a Mac and you’re using it for serious work. Making updates so accessible to a wide range of users, new and old is bound to end in tears. Once upon a time, I could go to Apple Support Forums and get some useful advice about some specific problem. Now it’s just a flood of “my Mac doesn’t work, WAAAAAAH”. Followed by “I have the same problem, my Mac doesn’t work either, WAAAAAAAH.” I suppose for Apple it’s the cost of success but maybe they shouldn’t push their updates so enthusiastically. Or change the slogan to it will just work, after a bit of tinkering…. until the next update.