Apple’s Software Problems Are Eroding Confidence in the Brand

This weekend, I was looking at the statistics for this website. I was chagrinned that the articles that get the most views are the ones about problems with Apple software: sync problems with iOS devices and iTunes, AirDrop not working, the problems with Apple’s Family Sharing, difficulties getting Handoff and Continuity to work, and more. In September, I wrote an article, Why Has So Much Gone Wrong for Apple Recently?, listing a half-dozen gaffes and bugs that had plagued the company in the previous month.

I was wondering if it was just me getting cynical, but more and more seasoned Apple users – I’ve owned Macs since 1991 – have been echoing these problems. Today, I spotted an article by Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and the Overcast podcast app. Arment suggests that Apple has lost the functional high ground, and says:

“Apple has completely lost the functional high ground. “It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.”

That’s exactly my feeling. I no longer want to be the first to install an update to iOS or OS X, because I simply don’t trust that Apple will get it right. Arment suggests that this may be because marketing has taken over the company:

“I suspect the rapid decline of Apple’s software is a sign that marketing is too high a priority at Apple today: having major new releases every year is clearly impossible for the engineering teams to keep up with while maintaining quality. Maybe it’s an engineering problem, but I suspect not — I doubt that any cohesive engineering team could keep up with these demands and maintain significantly higher quality.”

It would be easy to blame this on Tim Cook; many of these problems have occurred on his watch, but Steve Jobs’ Apple had its share of gaffes too. (Remember antennagate?) However, it’s only under Tim Cook that Mac users have come to expect problems, that we simply don’t trust the company any more.

Arment says:

“The problem seems to be quite simple: they’re doing too much, with unrealistic deadlines.

“We don’t need major OS releases every year. 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.

“I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged their reputation, because if they realized it, they’d make serious changes that don’t appear to be happening. Instead, the opposite appears to be happening: the pace of rapid updates on multiple product lines seems to be expanding and accelerating.”

That’s pretty much what I said back in October:

“The problem is that, now, iOS and OS X are inextricably linked. A number of iOS features aren’t available, at least not fully, because OS X 10.10 Yosemite isn’t out yet. Being married to a release cycle based on hardware, not software, makes sense for iOS — certain features of the mobile operating system depend on new hardware features in iPhone and iPads — but it makes less sense with OS X, which does not have an annual hardware update cycle.

“Yes, something has to give. Apple is great at showing us how wonderful our world will be with new products, but they’ve been less successful lately at delivering on their promises. It’s time for Apple to take a step back, slow down, and get things right, instead of just getting things shipped.”

Apple is losing its trust among long-term users. The company may be gaining plenty of new users, who, for now, are willing to accept this kind of problem, since they’re used to platforms where things may be even worse. But if Apple loses the loyalty of their oldest users, the company’s reputation will change from the company that we trusted, to just another computer and device manufacturer.

Update, January 6: Marco Arment kind of regrets what he wrote. He didn’t expect it to be picked up by major news outlets. He says:

“Instead of what was intended to be constructive criticism of the most influential company in my life, I handed the press more poorly written fuel to hamfistedly stab Apple with my name and reputation behind it. And my name will be on that forever.”

Neither I nor the many others who echoed his feelings did so because of any desire to trash Apple; it was rather because we are genuinely concerned that this company with which we have a long relationship is showing signs of decreasing quality in its software.