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.

27 thoughts on “Apple’s Software Problems Are Eroding Confidence in the Brand

    • As i cain before in joking .. Apple could have paid my grandson to draw the stick icons and i could have made a water glass for a trash can… Most of these things work well on a hand held device but looks and terrible on a desktop .. hand held devices and desktops are two different animals no matter how similar the software is. I also said .. if you want to improve a device that works well it is better to tweak it gradually and make improvements,nit tare it totally apart and start over forum the ground.. there are many things the new engineers and software people mist or know little about.. iTunes is a example .. everything is there but it is as if someone having a bad day decided to totally strip the parts out and throw them up in the air and see where the parts fell .. The operation is now totally illogical and crazy. Now with all that i must have a solution … Take it apart and put everything back together as it was in OS 9 and gradually tweak in the logical improvements .. If not ..all those bright eyed cell phone operation lovers are going to take the company over a bridge to nowhere .. am i just old and crazy????

  1. Absolutely correct. Things are much worse than even the late 90’s, where Mac OS had some real stumbles. iOS device syncing is not reliable. Certain features that had been present (option-dragging to copy more than one contact into an email as separate vCards, being able to set a preference to be able to copy text from QuickLook windows, etc) are no longer there. Continuity (Handoff? I’m not sure what the hell the difference is) doesn’t work seamlessly and in any case, is not necessary given iCloud tabs, the need to have one’s iPhone close anyway, etc). I’ve yet to be able to make a Facetime call by answering my iPad with my phone right next to it and with everything on the same network; the call invariably fails.

    What concerns me is that much of Yosemite’s new features are graphical; flatter icons, a dark menu theme, etc. Big deal. None of that impacts functionality. Sad.

  2. Unfortunately, that’s how it is for me, too. I’ve been using macs – and nothing else –since 1987. Now is the first time I made the resolution not to install any new os before a .2 update.

    And, by the way, where is a substitute for iTunes for music, and nothing but music?

    • Vox is a great alternative to iTunes and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a lightweight music player.

  3. I have been frustrated with both networking under iOS 8 and OS X 10.10.x Yosemite, plus performance of Safari on both platforms has been just awful. MP4 Video playing on both platforms has also been very slow and unreliable too. Syncing with iTunes has also been a problem at times. I am beginning to regret upgrading my devices to iOS 8 and OS X 10.10.x Yosemite. BTW, the Developer Preview of OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite does nothing to address these problems.

  4. I received an airport express for Christmas that I set up last week. After 2 hours of messing around with it I finally got it to work, but I am not real sure what I did to get it to work. All I wanted it to do is stream music. After I got it to work on the network the next issue was getting iTunes to stream to it. The computer I use for iTunes streaming is still on iOS 10.6.3. The airport express requires iTunes 10.4 to stream to it and I was running 10.3. I found a download to iTunes 10.6.3 which seems to work fine. I was hesitant to change to iTunes 12.1 even if I could.

    My new iPhone 6 required at least iTunes 11. something to run so I had to upgrade iTunes 12.1 to sync it on my newer mac mini. I didn’t have any issues with it yet, other than I hate the new design of 12.1. Basically I only upgraded OS’s because I was forced to, since what I had before was working fine. I think we are still on OS 10.7 on the mac mini. Basically I don’t trust Apple to have all the bugs worked out of things, so if what I have is working fine why should I upgrade. I had had an iPhone 4 before upgrading to the iPhone 6. I stayed with iOS 5 until iOS 7.1 came out. There was nothing compelling in iOS 6 to upgrade to and I waited until iOS 7 was stable and not as laggy with the iPhone 4. Only reason I upgraded to iOS 7 is that most apps required at least iOS 6 to install.

  5. The hardware quality is also not as good as before, my last 3 MacBook Pro (2009,2010) all have a dead battery, meanwhile my iBook (2001), PowerBook G4 (2003) and iBook G4 (2005) are still running and never had any problem. Similarly my last 3 iMac (2007,2009,2012) all had to be serviced (drive,display) while my iMac (2002), eMac (2004) and iMac G4 (2006) are still running and never had any failure.

    • I’ve had hardware problems over the years, some devices have been great, others not so good. I’ve never had any problems with iOS devices, but lots with desktop computers. The last laptop that had a problem was ages ago. I think it’s just a lottery regarding hardware issues.

    • the newer MacBook Pro’s from 2009 and on drastically increased battery reliability. the 2006-2008 models were lucky if they got up to 300 charge cycles, as a tech I was replacing several per month. With the 2009 and later models it took 1.5 years before I had to replace one for anyone (including doing work for a couple of schools with hundreds of Mac Book Pros)

      (and with the PowerPC Macs, I also replaced batteries only slightly less often than the 2006-2008 MacBook Pros)

      Hard drives are as common a problem as ever with any computer – every hard drive will eventually fail. I still know users who haven’t had one fail on them, while other people have had multiple (even on desktop systems that don’t get shocks) just comes down to luck.

      I have seen more iMac display failures with the 27″ models than before, but not super common like the drives are.

  6. Agreed.

    That said, I subscribe to “The Star Trek Theory” when it comes to OS X updates: “The even numbered ones are the good ones.” 10.6->10.8->10.10. In the case of OS X, I do not update to odd-numbered releases and will usually wait for .1 or .2 before updating.

    iOS? If it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it.

    I’m fine with the two year update cycle for major OS X updates. I have no problem using 10.10.8, 10.10.9, or even 10.10.10.

  7. I’ve been a computer scientist for over 35 years, spent my career in software and have been an avid Mac user since the Mac Plus (1986). I’ve been bemoaning the continuing and escalating loss of quality in Apple’s software for over 4 years, now. I’m still a heavy user (both consumer and commercial use) but find an increasing amount of my time wasted in dealing with, and working around bugs.

    The once “slick ‘n polished” “it’s obvious how to do that” UI has been replaced with an ever-increasing “flat ‘n cheap” “let’s see how obscure and inconsistent we can make it” UI. When people were having Windows woes, I used to tell them “get a Mac!” because it mostly “just works.” Now I’m increasingly seeing a need for people who are not computer professionals to take their Mac issues to a pro. Nearly gone is any semblance of “it just works.”

    A major OS release every year — with high quality — is both “more than difficult” and completely unnecessary. It’d be shocking to most people if they realized how many millions of person-hours are wasted, each year, simply doing updates that people really don’t need or want … but must do in order to be able to keep things working as new devices, etc. arrive.

    I’m afraid that Apple’s software is well into the M$ approach — “we know better than you do about what kind of software features and reliability you want and need” … and, as soon as you start thinking you’re always smarter than your users, you’re wrong in a significant percentage of the cases.” The result of this is that we’ve seen a stream of constant UI changes that don’t add any real value (and often make things more difficult to use). Ives is clearly a gifted hardware designer, but he should be kept away from software. Minimally, he should read the early UI-design papers put out by the early Mac UI teams — and take it to heart.

    About 25 years ago, I developed a saying (mostly as a joke, at the time) that, unfortunately, is all too true these days:

    Definition

    software updates: trading known problems for unknown problems

    This saying also “works” (oxymoron) for hardware.

  8. I have been reading about iTunes 12 problems for a few months and smugly thought they didn’t apply to me. But then I noticed some problems with iBooks on my iPhone and tried to fix it using iTunes sync. Yikes. What happened to iTunes? It took me hours to straighten everything out including having to wipe my iPhone once because of phantom books and tv shows. Nothing would fix the sync except a complete wipe of the phone and then a bunch of deletes and hiding of problematic items in the iTunes store.

    I’ve never had that kind of trouble with iTunes before. I was very disappointed.

  9. As a Mac user since 1991, I agree with Marco and Kirk — it’s worse now than it’s been in the past. Every day yields a new random example (today: why does the contact photo for coworker X show up in Mail’s list of mail, but not the photo for coworker Y?).

    I do feel like Jobs himself articulated this problem long ago in discussing the decline of other companies such as Xerox and IBM. Isaacson quotes him saying:

    “The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues.”

    I hope that’s not what happens to Apple, but I increasingly worry that it may be inevitable.

  10. Enjoy reading your writing. Not to nitpick but there is an error in the second to last sentence of the second paragraph. “Ardent suggests that Apple has lost the functional high ground, and says:”

  11. Apple is just another tech company, it needs to sell. Most tech companies need to “spit” products on a fast pace or they will lose ground on the market wars. Apple, Toshiba, Sony, HP, they all need to show cash results and because of that they forget about “quality” on the long run.
    I remember a time when tech releases were slower and products weren’t design to last just a couple of years.
    I have a deep respect for the company and some of its engineers. The problem is that they don’t care about long time users anymore, they need new users to sell their ecosystem and I’m sorry to say “old” users are not the targets of their marketing teams.

    • I disagree. It’s not about long-time users or not. It’s about getting the software right. Long-time users are more likely to be irked, because there was a time when their software was pretty reliable. But even new users have problems with these new features that don’t work, and that runs the risk of losing new customers because of a sub-par experience.

  12. No way its worse… people have short memories, or maybe were lucky enough not to be affected by the many many more serious issues there have been in the past.

    First Mac I purchased didn’t have enough ram to run the quicktime videos on the CD that came with it, not to mention the many many OS crashes per hour with system 7.5.2 – much of it due to the new TCP/IP on PCI Macs, but still major – that was partially fixed by 7.5.3 – down to several crashes per day instead of hour. By 8.6 and even 9.2 it would be a few weeks to a month or two of stable running if I was somewhat careful, on exactly the same hardware (PowerMac 7200/75)
    And this is when I first started learning about filesystem repair and data recovery – with frequent OS crashes comes corrupt filesystems. After learning how to fix my own Mac, it was only weeks before I was helping other students at the same university with theirs.

    With early Mac OS X updates, maybe most people chiming in here didn’t have external hard drives, had to do data recovery for a few people with most major OS updates until around 10.5 or 10.6 (There was one specific to WD drives using their 3rd party software if a user updated to Mavericks, although I actually had no users I do support for run into this one)

    What most of these more recent problems are – are annoyances not major issues. Since about the 10.6 range, I have only had to do data recoveries on failing hard drives, not because of the OS.

    Most Mac users I know are still using their Macs for 5-8 years with a small number that upgrade more frequently (even as a tech I only recently replaced my 2007 Mac Pro with a 2012 model quad i7 Mac mini – although was purchased 2014)

    There have been bugs in MacOS X and various included programs for years that have not been resolved, or take 3 or so incremental updates to resolve – this has been a longstanding recommendation from all Mac techs I know around the world, if it is a working computer, wait until X.x.3 before updating

    What did surprise me with 10.10 (Yosemite) was that SMB was actually stable with the initial release – even though it was a new SMB 3 implementation – that is a first. Of course it was offset by Wifi issues for anyone who upgraded rather than a fresh install. Something that should be resolved in the next update (10.10.2 if the dev notes hold true for what they are focusing on)

    in some ways the iTunes issues are worse, but iTunes sync issues are far from new – something I’ve been assisting users with since iPods came out – for most people it worked fine, but when there was an issue, it could be a pain to figure out – sometimes it is the iTunes library itself has some corruption – may not show up in the app itself, but only when syncing – reloading things to a fresh library (or restoring to an earlier backup, both painful if there are many changes) usually fixes.
    I’ve actually had to help less with Calendar related issues than I used to back in the iTools/.Mac days, Apple appears to have sorted out/worked around some of the event corruptions that were occurring.

    I do agree that a 2 year OS cycle would likely be better for everyone involved – especially when they aren’t charging for the OS updates.

  13. I recently upgraded to an iPhone 6, I have a windows 8 laptop and running iTunes v 12, however, iTunes cannot see the iPhone, the computer does, as an external USB drive so I can see my photos, but what I would really like to do is to sync the phone with iTunes. I have an iPad Air as well, and I have not dared to try to link it with the computer – it worked in Windows 7, so does this mean that there is an issue with Windows 8 that no-one is addressing? I think it is awful, when I upgraded my iPad to OS8, I lost EVERYTHING because I couldn’t sync and therefore backup what was on the iPad to the computer. Shoddy work in my humble opinion and I do hope they stop releasing updates in what seems every month to rectify issues they should have foreseen in the first place before releasing a major Operating System update.

  14. I think it’s becoming clear that Apple no longer give a hoot about operating systems anymore. It takes me an hour or two every day just trying to overcome memory issues with iOS or OS X operating sofeware anymore.

  15. Yes, Apples taking a big turd & it stinks. I switched to Mac over 10 years ago for multitrack recording (protools kept crashing). The adobe software I was using as I got my art degrees also worked better on Mac.
    It seems like there’s all this auto integration & auto data storage ect … All the code creates glitches. The new iTunes sucks. I’m not sure what they’re thinking at Apple but I want more control of my files.
    I’m an artist & musician I have several Mac’s. Some of the older models are just better for recording music. Granted these Macs do nothing else but audio. The code is better & they have less useless apps. I use a iMac with OS X Lion to run my Adobe Master Suites4, 5, & 5.5.
    Then for work last year I was given a air book pro with Mavericks, that’s when I noticed bugs & how devices acted when integrated not making sense.
    I got my first iPhone in March. The way photos are handled made zero sense. I found out the hard way deleting pics off the phone deleted them from stream & the auto sync or whatever. What’s the point of a cloud of some kind or uploading pics if the phone effects them post upload? Like hard drives are getting smaller?
    My next computer I get will be … I don’t know, I’ll carefully choose instead of trusting apple like I once did. Steve Jobs was absent from Apple before. The took a turd then as well.

  16. After trusting Apple for as long as i owned one–8 years–I am beginning to have wired problems like triangles with explaination marks in place of photos and other things as well that are really infuriating. It seems that upgrades –if that what is to blame–only make things worse. You get used to the way things work–them they change it. Why??

  17. I agree with most of your comments. Although it seems more than software issues to me.
    I’m a long-term mac user and recently upgraded to new iMac at work and at home.
    Work iMac crashed and had to have the hard drive replaced after only 3 months of use! Unheard of. (Or at least, rare.)
    The USB ports are somehow defective – the external drives seem to come ‘unconnected’ randomly – wiggling around the connections seems to rediscover them.
    InDesign crashes a LOT, and freezes up randomly, usually for a few seconds at a time.
    On my home iMac, the mail program freezes up almost daily.
    And InDesign crashes of course, more than ever. I’ve never experienced so many issues with macs.
    An Apple store employee mentioned to me that they were outsourcing a lot of components – don’t know what truth there is in that, but their stock has been declining and I think they are trying to cut costs – like so many other corporations do when they need to make more money for the stockholders. I do blame it on Tim Cook. And believe if Steve Jobs were still alive, these things wouldn’t be happening.
    Macs are still great products compared to the competition, but its so disappointing to see the decline in a once wonderful product. And frustrating that we have no recourse, as there is nothing else like it. : (

  18. Absolutely agreed. I won’t go into the details, but it’s like a marriage what started out full of hope and now I despise its hourly fuck ups, destroying my work in Preview, forcing me to take time to iron out its creases. If this was medieval England I’d petition for the heads of the software writers!

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