Is Apple Trying to Do too Much Too Quickly?

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.

22 thoughts on “Is Apple Trying to Do too Much Too Quickly?

  1. I’ve set up Home Sharing, it works, however there is no way to share an address book or a group of contacts (surely critical for families) unless you create another ‘Family’ iCloud account that you then need to log in and sync contacts across all your families devices, it seems an oversight adding complexity when it should be simple.
    When you turn on Family Sharing you get a shared calendar, shared reminders, find my friends and find my iPhone but not contacts, unless I’m missing something.
    I’d like to hear this discussed in a future Podcast.

    • I’m very hesitant about testing this, because it seems that you cannot change someone from one family sharing account to another for a year. I don’t want to have my account blocked like that. I’d like to set up some test accounts, but you can’t do that easily either, I don’t think. And the same thing might happen; my iOS device might get locked in one of those “you can’t change the Apple ID for 90 days” things.

  2. Yes, you need to be careful about that.

    Re OSX, back in the days of Leopard to Snow Leopard to Lion etc wasn’t it around 15-18 months between releases, not every year?

  3. Another example, the last iTunes update broke something within many systems (including mine) which caused a somewhat baffling error message to appear after installation. While one never expects any form of apology or explanation from Apple, no fix for this misbehaviour has ever been issued either.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Kirk. QC has slipped and the ship needs to be righted. I’ve been finding it more difficult to defend Apple to my Android-loving friends these days. I’m also concerned that the breadth of Apple’s product line is increasing too fast. Mutliple sizes, shapes and colors of phones, and same for Apple Watch. They either need to increase resources, scale back, or as you suggest, slow everything down.

  5. I’m amazed and love Apple can release as much as it does with so few issues. I’m running Yosemite beta and have two new iPhone 6 running iOS 8.1 without any glitches. Most of the issues are overblown by the press, similar to this article.

  6. Agree with the general tone of the article. However, we all look upon the past with rose-colored glasses. I’ll bet if we do some digging, we’ll find all sorts of bugs accompanying every major OS release, Mac or i-device.

    Would you double-check for us and see if each major iOS release came exactly with a major upgrade to the iPhone or iPad?

    That’s the evidence part.

    And, if indeed it did, they could decouple them. After all, people would buy the iPhone 6/6+ just for the size, even if it were still running iOS 7. In fact, it would be better to do so, so any software bugs wouldn’t hurt the iPhone 6/6+’s aura! However, that’s not so easy, either, as an iOS 8 is needed for scaling old apps, reachability (to stave out detractors that it’s too tall a screen), etc.

    Not sure exactly the solution– perhaps a small set of features– an iOS 7+ for iPhone 6/6+ could have worked!

  7. Regarding your statement “iOS 8 is buggy, crashes a lot, has Wi-Fi issues and more,” I guess I’ve just been lucky. I installed 8.0, 8.01, and 8.02, and have not had a single issue with any of them. The “crashes a lot” statement was particularly interesting, because my impression has been that iOS 8 is significantly more stable that iOS 7, even at its most mature state. I’m not discounting that people are having issues, I’m just relating my experience. I’m currently using the iPhone 5S, which is a stellar device. Just received an iPhone 6 today. Hopefully, I’ll feel the same about it.

    • I currently have 1,451 crash logs for my two main iOS devices, an iPhone 5s and an iPad Air. For the iPhone 6, which I only used for a week, there are 567 crash logs. QED.

    • I just gave my 5s to my wife and got the 6. It is often sluggish when turning to landscape direction. It also has been freezing up when typing in Safari forums. I updated the iPad to iOS 8 and had the same freezing problem. Just yesterday I updated both to 8.0.2 (missed 8.0.1) and am anxious to see if it’s fix.

  8. “I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. 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 salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers…. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.”

    Steve Jobs, quoted in Walter Isaacson’s biography.

        • “Tim Cook is not a sales guy. He’s a an operations guy.”

          Well, technically, he’s a supply chain guy.

        • True — he’s not a sales guy. But the larger point is that he’s not a product guy. I think that Jobs’s obsession with the product is matched by Ive on the hardware front, which is probably why they were such kindred spirits. But Jobs also obsessed on the software front, and I wonder if that is lacking in Apple today. It’s not like there weren’t software failures or imperfections on Jobs’s watch. Of course there were. It’s not so much that mistakes happen. It’s that they seem to be coming in waves.

  9. Do we really need a whole new iOS just to take advantage of some hardware features? We couldn’t have the iPhone 7 run, say, iOS 8.5 which is the same old iOS with newer device drivers?

    Don’t get me wrong–we don’t want versioning hell. But I’d be fine with two-year iOS “major” updates and one-year iOS hardware support updates.

  10. Drivin’ that train
    High on cocaine
    Casey Jones you better
    watch your speed
    Trouble ahead
    Trouble behind
    and you know that notion
    just crossed my mind

  11. I don’t think much has changed over the years… I can very well remember a firmware update that made my Superdrive a readonly drive… It was never fixed.
    Software is a dangerous beast. New hardware often needs the updates because they contain drivers, so they have to be released simultaneous. However, on all these devices, that have already been in storage for the big launch, the old version had to be preinstalled. So, an update must be ready for right after install. Only then the real world situation can be experienced, and this time it broke the phone functionality on a number of devices…
    The only thing that changes is that so many more people now own these devices, so the number of configurations and uses out their are also a multiple.
    Apple is still doing a great job. Nothing as hard as building a reliable operating system.

  12. Are you kidding ? Apple does much too little and too slow. It’s nowhere near what could be done with that humongous ressources.
    They’re just cheap and lazy. They don’t invest enough ressources to do the job correctly.

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