I recently wrote about Apple’s string of bad luck, with bad press, a bad keynote stream, the U2 album spamming fiasco, and, above all, the iOS 8.0.1 update that bricked a lot of users’ iPhones. If I were to go back in the archives of this website, I’d find other, similar articles about blunders when a new OS was released requiring an update quickly for some embarrassing problems, or when hardware issues that shouldn’t have happened plagued many users. (Remember AntennaGate?)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as much of my work depends on Apple’s product cycle. When there is a new version of OS X or iOS, I, along with many of my colleagues, have lots of articles to write. When there’s a new version of iTunes, I update my Take Control of iTunes book. It’s great to have new things to write about, but the annual release cycle is becoming problematic for many reasons.
I’ve increasingly had the feeling that Apple is finding it difficult to keep up with all these releases, and that quality is slipping. This generally isn’t the case with hardware – no, the iPhone 6 doesn’t really bend, unless you apply a lot of pressure to it – but rather with software. Bugs abound; shoddy releases are followed by broken updates. On the latest episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I were discussing the fact that Apple just released the OS X Yosemite GM Candidate. Back in the day, the golden master was the final build that was sent to the company that pressed CDs or DVDs. There was never a “GM Candidate,” but just one GM release. I think it was with OS X 10.9 that Apple issued a GM, followed by a GM 2; this is something that should never happen. Final should be final.
Right now, with iOS 8, the Health app was delayed on release because of some unspecified bugs. iCloud Drive doesn’t seem to work very well on iOS, and it’s caused problems because it’s not available on Mavericks; anyone turning it on on their iPhone or iPad will find that they cannot access their documents on their Mac. (Though, by some oddity, there is a Windows version of iCloud Drive, which apparently works.) iOS 8 is buggy, crashes a lot, has Wi-Fi issues and more. And Family Sharing, according to some of my colleagues, is problematic as well. (I’ve not tested it yet.)
Back in 2007, Apple had to delay the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard because it needed more developers to work on iOS. You get the feeling today that something similar is happening: that the company simply can’t scale to handle two operating systems released around the same time.
On Daring Fireball yesterday, John Gruber said:
“From the outside, it seems like Apple’s software teams can’t keep up with the pace of the hardware teams. Major new versions of iOS aren’t released “when they’re ready”, they’re released when the new iPhone hardware ships. On Twitter the other day, I suggested that perhaps Apple should decouple major iOS feature releases from the iPhone hardware schedule. That’s probably untenable from a marketing perspective, and it might just make things more complex from a QA perspective. But something has to give.”
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.