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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.

Room for improvement

Before the iPhone, hardware and software development at Apple didn’t have to be in lock step. New OS releases didn’t need anything special to take advantage of the latest Macs. Besides raw speed, the experience was more or less the same on a 3-year-old PowerBook as on a brand new iMac.

That’s not the case anymore. Product development is a two-pronged endeavor. Not only does Apple need to roll out new models year after year, it also has to tailor its software to take advantage of the latest hardware advancements. And this relentless pace of innovation isn’t just for the iPhone, but every product Apple makes.

Even crazier than the schedule is the scale. Over the past decade, Apple has grown from a niche computer maker to one of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world, with hundreds of millions of customers. Behind the scenes, Apple is working to blend multiple devices and interfaces into a familiar experience that naturally adapts to whatever thing we’re doing.

With that comes speed bumps, bugs, crashes, and inconsistencies. It’s not about letting Apple off the hook, it’s about understanding why some apps and aspects of the OS might have taken a step backward in simplicity and stability. Apple is moving forward at such speeds that when something doesn’t work the way it should, several revisions can go by before it gets fixed. And by then, there are new problems.

More features more problems

I’ve probably never used a perfect piece of software, let alone a whole operating system. And Apple is no stranger to flaws. Back when OS X was first released, it was barely functional and didn’t become truly useable until Jaguar, two full versions later. And let’s not forget that the first release didn’t even ship with a DVD player.

If innovation comes at the expense of usability, any advancement gets lost in the transition.

Under Tim Cook’s Apple, things move at a much faster pace. WatchOS 2.0 brought native apps and third-party complications less than six months after the first customers strapped on their Apple Watches, and Apple Music has improved dramatically since the first buggy release. Even the upcoming iOS 9.3 that twice bricked my iPhone adds several new features requested by users, most notably a color-shifting f.lux copycat.

It could be that Apple is just doing too much on its own. Apple’s biggest breakthroughs have always been on the software side, but if innovation comes at the expense of usability, any advancement gets lost in the transition. For example, Apple Music could have been the streaming service to beat with an enormous catalog, integration with your existing music library, and unparalleled voice control, but a clunky rollout saddled with confusing controls and frustrating bugs marred the experience.

 

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