Walt Mossberg: Apple’s software needs work

“People think of Apple as a maker of excellent premium hardware. In fact, many reviewers regard Apple devices as the best you can buy. For instance, I’m on record as saying its most important product, the iPhone, is the best smartphone on the marke,” Walt Mossberg writes for Re/code. “But there’s more than just metal, glass and silicon to these products. Apple’s built-in software is a huge part of the experience, and has been since the company introduced the 20151021-Walt-Mossberg-Steve-Jobs-laughing-D5first Mac in 1984. Whether it’s the operating systems or the core apps, a major aspect of what makes both users and reviewers value Apple products is software that melds power, reliability and ease of use. ‘It just works!’ was a favorite Steve Jobs phrase.”

“In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform,” Mossberg writes. “It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.”

” hold Apple to its own, higher, often-proclaimed standard, based on all those ‘It just works’ claims and the oft-repeated contention by Mr. Jobs and his successor, Tim Cook, that Apple is in business to make ‘great products,'” Mossberg writes. “In ways big and sometimes just small and nagging, I think they too often fail to meet Apple’s self-imposed standards. Sometimes this is on iOS, sometimes on OS X, sometimes on both… Lots of small software disappointments and aggravations, adding up gradually over time, are putting the sterling experience of using Apple hardware at risk.”

Muchd more in the full article – highly recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: We said as much over a year ago. Unfortunately, our opinion still holds true today, nearly 13 months later:

Dear Mr. Cook,

“It just works.” That’s getting tougher and tougher for us OS X and iOS users to say with straight faces lately.

Apple, while certainly still the best when it comes to desktop and mobile operating systems, needs to do better. Our expectations, some of us as users of Apple products since the early 1980s, are not being met when it comes to the quality and reliability of operating systems, software, and services. Used to be, you could pretty confidently install brand new operating systems from Apple. Recently, we’re more inclined to wait for a few point releases than not. It’s downright Microsoftian. Lately, for the past couple of years, your software seems rushed. Is “rush job” really the impression you want to give your customers?

Slow down! Getting it right is far more important than getting it out.

Frankly, we don’t need a new Mac or iPhone/iPad operating system every year and Apple Inc. doesn’t need it, either. Annual OS releases shouldn’t be mandated. What we all really need, customers and Apple Inc., are operating systems that are rock solid and do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. Why not just add new features/services to existing OSes with continued point releases that refine and extend the experiences and services you want to deliver? Why not just release new operating systems only when they are rock solid and ready?

In other words, take a step back, take a deep breath, and focus on making sure that what you have now just works. Because too much of it doesn’t (Wi-Fi connectivity for one ongoing, glaring, vexing example). Getting it right is far more important than having two “new” free OSes to release each year. Seriously, nobody outside of Cupertino very much cares. We do, however, care very much that Apple’s software and services work as flawlessly as possible.

We occasionally hear things about the company from Apple employees.

Some of those things lead us to wonder if perhaps you should rethink some aspects of the culture at Apple? Specifically, what really should constitute a badge of honor at Apple? Working all day, all weekend and all night in order to squat out iOS 8.0.1 and then have to turn around and do it all over again, in a panic, to get iOS 8.0.2 out the door in order to clean up the mess? Or taking the time necessary to do the job correctly the first time?

People with proper sleep and lower stress levels do better work. Many major medical studies prove these facts. Shouldn’t quality, not quantity, of hours worked be the utmost badge of honor at Apple?

Working long hours simply for the sake of working long hours is counterproductive. It really doesn’t prove anything except that you have no life and that, despite all of their work on Apple Watch, Apple executives still do not understand basic human health requirements and are incapable of properly staffing their departments so that they can function without requiring sleep-deprived, mistake-prone employees who feel that it’s a job requirement to be able to reply to emails from managers at 2:00 am. That’s idiocy.

Driving too hard, too fast, and for too long leads to accidents.

We speak from experience, albeit at a far, far smaller level than yours. We’ve tried and been exposed to several methods as both managers and employees in the television, financial, and online media industries. Regardless of the size of your department or company, people are people. You can push people to a point that’s very productive, but when you exceed that point, it’s all downhill for everyone involved. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s not an “I love this company!” statement. It’s simply mismanagement. It’s verifiably unhealthy and it leads directly to diminished quality, increased turnover, and productivity declines. And customer satisfaction ultimately suffers. Hence this letter.

Bottom line: We long to again be able to confidently say of our Macs, iPhones, and iPads: “It just works.”

Sincerely,

MacDailyNews, January 5, 2015

SEE ALSO:
2015: Apple’s year in beta – December 29, 2015
​Apple’s dirty little secret: Sucky software – why Apple’s entire UX/UI team needs to be fired – November 19, 2015
What Steve Jobs gave Apple that Tim Cook cannot – November 18, 2015
Alternatives to Apple’s bloated iTunes – November 17, 2015
Apple’s new iPad Pro debuts with forced reboots, missing Apple Pencils – November 16, 2015
Apple’s perplexingly incomplete launch of the iPad Pro – November 16, 2015
Open letter to Tim Cook: Apple needs to do better – January 5, 2015
Apple’s major problem is Tim Cook – November 16, 2015
At Apple, it seems as if no one’s minding the store – November 13, 2015
Houston Chronicle’s Silverman reviews new Apple TV: This cake needed more baking – November 9, 2015
The new Apple TV has more rough edges than a sack of saw blades – November 3, 2015
Apple Music one month later: Not loving it, but I’ll be subscribing to it – August 10, 2015
The tragedy of iTunes: Nothing ‘just works’ – July 28, 2015
Apple Music, both on iOS and OS X, is an embarrassing and confusing mess – July 10, 2015
After many of complaints about Wi-Fi issues, Apple dumps discoveryd in latest OS X beta – May 27, 2015
OS X 10.10.2: Wi-Fi problems continue to plague some Mac users – January 30, 2015
The software and services that Apple needs to fix – January 14, 2015
Open letter to Tim Cook: Apple needs to do better – January 5, 2015

61 Comments

    1. He’ll never go. He’s Cuban. Counts as a hispanic in Cook’s precious “diversity” quotas. His level of ineptitude matters not. Without Steve Jobs in the room, Eddy Cue can’t get deals done (see Apple TV) and his software and services are messes.

  1. Apple under Tim Cook:

    1. Rode Steve Jobs’ momentum to world’s most valuable company.

    2. Lost title to Google via a succession of mismanaged product launches and loss of focus on details and quality in software and services. Perhaps sidetracked and distracted by promoting personal political/social agenda in the name of Apple. Perhaps just not detail-oriented enough or lacking in necessary skills, such as UX, marketing, etc. He is just an operations guy, after all.

    3. What’s next? Time will tell.

  2. How many times have you guys heard me say: Tim Cook has ridden the coattails of Steve Jobs since he took over.

    Apple’s revenue is 62% iPhone, a product Steve Jobs created. A monkey could have run Apple to its current state: it was all momentum. I didn’t buy the new Apple TV. I returned the Apple Watch. I didn’t buy the new iPhone: force touch isn’t that compelling.

    I’m not buying too many Apple products these days: just using what I have. From the botched product launches to the loss of magic and pushing a political agenda, Tim Cook is a deer in headlights.

    The big secret everyone will come to learn is that Steve Jobs is not replaceable.

  3. Apple Software has become the land of the eternal Beta.

    I have been using Apple products since well before the Macintosh, having learned to program in BASIC on Apple IIs equipped with cassette drives way back in the day.

    My current Apple gear is all vintage 2015- desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch. The software has more bugs than a tropical flophouse. I constantly get nags to login to iCloud on numerous devices which sometimes stay in sync and sometimes do not. I have seen occasional unauthorized to play this song on streaming iTunes Match songs- purchased music, people. I have a 4 disc ProBox that sometimes sees all the disks properly and sometimes does not- all on Apple’s current software.

    I have a backup computer- a 2010 Mac Mini Server running Snow Leopard. It is stable, never has problems, sees the attached ProBox perfectly, etc.

    What is it about Apple today that makes them incapable of killing the bugs? Stop iterating so damn much and fix the features you already have. Patch the security holes. Stop dumbing down the OS X interface and forcing users to command line to do what used to be available through the GUI.

    Maybe Apple should lure Bertrand Serlet or Avie Tevanian back to kick some ass in OS development.

    1. Agree that the interface should not be dumbed down for power users. But for those that are not terribly computer savvy the interface should be simple. We need to be able to easily toggle visibility between a basic interface and an advanced, rich and deep interface feature set, which goes all the way to terminal mode.

      1. It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. One of my biggest frustrations is that the design elements from iOS that are primarily simplified due to tiny screen size have gotten ported over to the Mac, which has ample screen space for complete toolbars and readable elements and crisp large icons. Translucency and hiding stuff under buried menus absolutely sucks. Three clicks and swipes in iOS used to take one or two clicks in Mac OS and OS X — so why are we degrading the desktop, Apple ???????

    2. “Stop dumbing down the OS X interface and forcing users to command line to do what used to be available through the GUI.’
      Add totaly inconsistant contextual menus… Etc..
      Ahhh there is so much truth to this at so many levels….
      It irritates the sh– out of me…

      Apple listening ?

  4. It’s great to hear people comment on something they know little about. This is evident in the fact they cannot see what Apple is currently in the midst of doing, especially as it pertains to software and building for the future. Blaming Tim Cook for all of Apple’s software problems also goes to show how very little most people understand they way businesses operate and how software is developed.

    The biggest oversight is Swift and the associated foundational tools being revamped. Software is not going to get better if the tools used to create it and the environment in which they run aren’t also improved. This is happening now and we won’t see any significant overall improvements for a couple of years while they first stabilize the language and compilers and then start rewriting and compiling core operating system components.

    Cocoa’s dynamic object run-time has become an unmanageable mess that Swift was designed to untangle. If you can remove many of the errors at compile time, those are less issues discovered at run-time. As programs grow in complexity it becomes more and more difficult to find those run-time errors as not every situation that might arise can be tested in the lab, they are instead discovered in the real world.

    These issue they are faced with today are a part of Steve Jobs’ NeXT legacy and they would’ve surfaced regardless of who is running the company. At least we are assured that Apple is aware of it and working to correct it.

    1. What people do know is that their software is not as good as it used to be. In my case I noticed that the Numbers and Pages File>Open Recent menus are un-populated. I fully understand that isn’t the way it is supposed to work. All the excuses for inevitable disfunctionality doesn’t mask that fact.

      Blaming Tim Cook is kind of vacant. He’s a hardware guy. The Apple supply chain is just brilliant. But weak software will eventually kill Apple, as will excessive worship at the Altar of Thin. The recent design mix of Mac laptops is a mess, with each iteration shuffling and removing hardware interfaces, to the point that you can’t keep up with the cables and adapters required. Apple needs to slow down and think about their goals.

      1. “But weak software will eventually kill Apple”

        As I stated, Apple knows this and they’re working to correct that.

        “What people do know is that their software is not as good as it used to be”

        That’s only perceptually true, but has no merit of fact. People tend to forget about this type of stuff as it gets fixed and stabilizes. Apple spends an entire year fixing issues with the OS and then releases another. When you move from something that’s relatively stable (because it’s been worked on for a year) to something that’s new and has NEW issues, then it ALWAYS seems like things are worse.

        I have an original iPad and I can tell you without a doubt that my iPhone 6 is MUCH, MUCH more stable with a lot less issues.

            1. I’m with hoff on this one. Neither my iPhone 6 nor my iPod nano has ever synced properly with my Mac. They hang up EVERY TIME. Geniuses at the store can’t explain it — their advice is to wipe out everything on the iPhone and start all over.

              Sounds just like Microsoft to me.

            2. Sorry, if your library is large enough, iTunes WILL NOT sync with your iPhone. It just doesn’t work. If all you have is a couple of Jonas Brothers albums, then sure it will work.

          1. Perhaps your comprehension skills are lacking?

            I never said it was a FACT that the software does not have issues. iTunes has MANY issues. I’ll be first to agree with that. This has nothing to do with denial. I am not denying that Apple’s software has bugs and issues, of course it does. It always has and always will. It’s the nature of complex systems.

            What I am being is pragmatic and realistic about is how people perceive current issues, which they’re faced with constantly, and those that have been fixed and they’ve forgotten about. As I said, it’s easier to feel like the issues you face today are more urgent and critical of those faced a year ago, because they’re gone and forgotten.

            iTunes has been a buggy mess for a long time – probably ever since they decided to go cross-platform. Again, I’m amazed that people seem to think this is something new.

            1. good points, Michael.

              But it does seem that formerly loyal Mac users are losing their patience with Cook. The company doesn’t listen. It is unacceptable to just shrug your shoulders and say, “it’s always been this way”. Apple has not always been shoddy with its product development. In past years, each generation clearly fixed issues that users identified.

              iTunes issues since version 10 have garnered tidal waves of feedback to Apple, and its response was to add more bloat in order to push subscription services. It’s like iCloud is Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Windows. Everything must be tied to it 24/7, whether it works or not.

              Nobody asked for iWork to be dumbed down and turned into a front end for iCloud, but that’s exactly what Apple did. Nobody asked Apple to drop great products like iServe, the 17″ MacBook Pro, Aperture, and so forth. But Apple just axed them without warning.

              The trend is clear: Apple is now run by accountants. Apple has more than enough money to delight customers with a few nice product surprises and updates once in a while. Under Cook, every product has been slow and buggy. EVERY ONE.

              Global economy may have affected European and Chinese sales, but US sales are flat because customers have no reason to buy new operpriced Apple products that are buggier and less user-friendly than the old hardware. That is why Apple growth is stalling.

            2. I don’t think you’re listening. People are much more satisfied, on the whole, with SNOW LEOPARD or MOUNTAIN LION than anything afterwards. It’s easy to dismiss their claims as luddites or something. However, the other option is that you’re just not hearing them when they complain about the bugginess of everything after Mtn Lion.

            3. I agree with other posters that say “you don’t get it” or “aren’t listening” or as I put it “in denial”

              When iTunes used to sync and it no longer sync’s: that is broken, not a bug.

              When functions are removed for the sake of “lean and clean” that is BROKE, not a bug.

              The FACT is: Apple is BROKE as they continue on this trajectory.

              For those other “luddites” that don’t think I am competent, I have been a Mac User longer than most of you have been alive, or at least that is my perception by most of your naive and childish comments.

              FYI, my music library has not gotten bigger in years, but iTunes has become more dysfunctional and I still know how to press a SYNC button.

    2. I’d also like to point out this no winner situation a lot of people are putting Apple in. They complain the company isn’t moving fast enough. Then they complain they’re moving too fast. Then they complain they’re only iterating. Then they complain they’re making too many changes. Then they complain they trying to do too much. Then they complain they need to do more.

      Maybe Apple does need to go back to the way Steve ran the company and just not give a shit about what “they” think?

      The Internet is full of open mouths, but very few open hands.

    3. I’ve been a software developer for Apple’s platform for 19 years. I am VERY excited for Swift. But let me just tell you:

      Swift isn’t going to fix this. Swift is a HORRIBLE language to write an OS in. That isn’t what it is for. C will always be better for low-level stuff.

      Sure, user-facing apps will be better with Swift. But let’s be clear here. Apple’s recent software issues are simply a lack of FOUS. And they had better reign it in and turn their focus back to making magical software that “just works” and makes their beautiful, shiny hardware valuable and a joy to use.

      No matter how gorgeous the casing on my MacBook or iPhone looks, I’m not experiencing ANY joy using either one when constantly being plagued with software glitches.

      Swift will be a good piece of the puzzle, but it will NOT solve everything.

      Apple needs to STOP trying to release 3-5 new product categories every year or two. STOP forcing themselves to release huge new point releases on iOS AND OS X every single year. And instead focus on making what they’ve already got better. Software is the current weak spot. And that is a depressing statement to make, given how Steve would revel in demonstrating the magic of Apple’s software on stage, eyes glistening with childlike wonder. He truly believed that the software was magic. And it was.

      Apple needs to get back to that.

  5. Virtually every Apple produced app has issues that would not be tolerated elsewhere. Mail, Safari, the “iWork” group. I use Mail and Safari out of habit, but……….. The saving grace is the excellent 3rd party apps built by those developers who still do things the way Apple’s software and UI developers did until the last 7-8 years. I make my living from 3rd party apps, nothing Apple that I use to produce my work. But the 3rd party app developers are being whipsawed by Apples “change for the sake of change” mentality. It costs the developers time( which equals money) every time someone at Apple gets a randomly produced whim.
    The operating system is ok, but because of all the “features”, things are more complicated and inconsistent with every “update” so my cost of production goes up.

    Am I likely to change? Well no, not yet, but the developers of my most commonly used 3rd party app, a motion graphics production app after having said for years that they were not considering developing for Windows is now considering it because of some new capabilities of Windows 10. I don’t know the details not that. Prior to this it would not have been technically possible to do all that they do, but now it apparently is.

    Mac user since 1988.

  6. I think Apple shouldn’t make a rush instead get every major features right before releasing an update. I was running El Capitan 10.11.3 and it broke Instant Hotspot from my iPhone 6S and iPad Pro with both runing iOS 9.2.1. I ever tried to up my Mac to Beta 10.11.4 to see if problem solve, but no luck. Tried every possible workarounds and no one reliable fix. Apple is focusing more on mobile nowadays, but they didn’t even get the simplest feature (Hotspot) to work reliably. Apple Music is also unstable Syncing songs to Apple Watch, Apple Music songs sync perfect but not purchased songs. Search Field on Apple Music not working showing no result after entering key words such as artist name. iOS build in dictionary seems on and off with Simplify Chinese-English definition. Lots of problem. We really appreciate features, but if the price to pay for new features is to broke old valuable features, then I rather say no to new one.

  7. At this point I think Apple is simply too big to run as a tight ship. Over 115,000 employees working on a myriad of projects, thousands upon thousands of managers overseeing the work of thousands of underlings.

    There are probably dozens of different people Cook could go to and say “fix the fucking wifi connectivity problem” only to create confusion and chaos with different groups working at cross purposes that make fixes that create other issues.

    I don’t expect my devices to perform miracles, just to consistently execute the tasks that Apple advertises.

  8. Instead of bitching, help Apple fix their issue.
    flood their forums
    send screenshots of errors, with details
    send in ideas (’cause you ain’t going to finance them)
    buy AAPL
    otherwise go the FK away!

    1. I send feedback to Apple more than ever. It goes into a black hole — problems aren’t fixed and I never get any response.

      Is this supposed to be how a world class company operates?

    2. Have been doing that since 1988, although it was a very rare need until about 3-5 years ago. Not even an acknowledgment of receipt.

      It reminds me of the 4 years I spent working for one of the 3 German car manufacturers in the Regional office in LA. We had many complaints about air conditioner adequacy. In Germany 78 degrees is a heat wave. The factory said to us: Our air conditioners are “perfectly designed” therefore the evidence you send to us is incorrect. (true by their definition, but not actually true)

      Finally they agreed to send 5 factory engineers to LA to check out the situation. After spending two days checking out Disneyland and every available Mexican restaurant (bland German food, who can blame them) they each took one pool car and headed for Houston. They were supposed to drive them back to LA, but apparently the one way trip made the point. We had to arrange to get the cars returned but thats another story.

      To their credit, we had vastly upgraded air conditioners in the cars in the next model year, which in the real world is like slowing the rotation of the earth in terms of a project.

      Like Apple, I think, they are so in love with themselves and the good aspects of the product, they find it very difficult to believe there could possibly be a problem. Therefore, there isn’t.
      They can fix it, but it will require some soul searching and hard work.

      1. I think you have nailed it. Apple’s insularity (perhaps brought on by success) has introduced a serious disconnect between themselves and their customers. Customers feel taken for granted, while the company sees no problem. This situation rarely ends well – it usually ends with the company suffering a catastrophic fall from grace.

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