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Apple's software woes: Problems or progress?

Michael Simon | Feb. 18, 2016
As Apple works to adapt one experience across many platforms, you bet there are going to be bugs.

Twice over the past month I’ve had to erase and restore my iPhone. Both times were related to an attempted install of the iOS 9.3 Public Beta; instead of upgrading my phone with Night Shift, secure Notes, and better News, I got stuck in an endless Apple logo loop that required plugging into the dreaded iTunes and wiping my drive.

My particular story might not be a common one, but I’m certainly not unique when it comes to Apple software issues. Some of the most notable Apple journalists and bloggers have taken the company to task lately over nagging bugs and deficiencies in both its systems and apps, and you don’t have to be an expert to see that Apple is in something of a quality-control rut when it comes to the state of its software.

Apple’s hardware might be the impetus behind its massive profits, but its slick, industrial designs are only as good as the lines of code they run. If the software isn’t free of crashes and complexity, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the enclosure is. But while my situation was most certainly a nuisance, I don’t think this is the new normal. Honestly, I’m not even all that concerned.

Great expectations

Apple’s coming up on its 40th anniversary, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at its catalog. Every one of its operating systems and apps are less than three years old in their current incarnations, and several are still in their infancy. There’s iOS, which was overhauled with iOS 7; OS X, which received a massive redesign just a version ago; tvOS, which is about to get a huge expansion of Siri’s capabilities; and watchOS, which hasn’t even been out for a full year.

Aligning such disparate operating systems is no small task, and it’s quite impressive how quickly it’s all come together. Just three years ago, iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion were the most distant of relatives, and now Apple has four major OSes that share more than a passing resemblance. Just as the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook echo each other’s design flourishes, the apps they run are moving towards synergy at multiple screen sizes.

But software is a tricky business. Where hardware is set in stone (or aluminum), software will never be finished. That’s the beauty of it; it can expand and improve as both the user and container evolves. For example, OS X was designed for a single-button mouse, and now it understands all sorts of gestures and touches.

Jony Ive is only just getting his feet wet in the world of software design, but he’s the perfect choice to merge the hardware and software worlds. Ive has clearly put a premium on seamless interoperability, and things like Touch ID, 3D Touch, the Digital Crown have added a touch of whimsy, almost magic, to how we use the device to navigate the software. Every one of Apple’s numerous systems are in various stages of transition, an immense undertaking that no other company is capable of carrying out. And there are bound to be some growing pains.


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