Top hardware but glitchy software bugs Apple users

The arrival of the Apple Watch will be the acid test for the company’s developers

Apple Watch:its success will stand or fall on the quality of its software

Apple Watch:its success will stand or fall on the quality of its software

 

I have developed a deep appreciation for a German word, one of those ungainly-looking compounds that nevertheless elegantly captures a feeling we barely know we have. It is tekangstreizbarsyndrom, that sense of minor irritability prompted by a piece of technology not quite working.

My sense of tekangstreizbarsyndrom is more of a technologically-induced itch, just enough to cause occasional irk, but symptomatic of something far more illuminating.

It is caused by Apple’s Messages app, which allegedly offers a synchronised messaging service across OS X on Macs and iOS on mobile devices. You send a message to another Apple user from your iPhone, say, and the conversation should sync across to your iPad and MacBook. To my ears, keeping these messages synchronised doesn’t sound like the most challenging technological problem in the world.

But the reality suggests it is indeed a challenge beyond the vaunted engineers in Cupertino. The sheer unpredictability of what message will arrive on what device and when is enough to bring me out in hives, but what’s worse is the Messages app icon on my iPad insists on telling me there are a dozen or so unread messages contained therein.

Those messages, it need hardly be said, have already been read on another device, long ago.

Software quality

And Messages is just the tip of an ever-growing tekangstreizbarsyndrom iceberg when it comes to Apple and its software ecosystem – from pervasive wifi problems in the latest version of OS X to sluggish iOS performance on older iDevices, the days when the company could proudly boast “It just works” seem a long time ago now.

That was made abundantly clear when the question of Apple’s declining software quality blew up into a significant controversy in the tech blogosphere recently. It began when renowned developer Marco Arment, of Tumblr and Instapaper fame, wrote a scathing essay called “Apple has lost the functional high ground”.

“Apple’s hardware today is amazing – it has never been better. The software quality has taken such a nosedive in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future,” he wrote in a scathing piece that pulled few punches, pointing out the debilitating bugs and inexplicably poor user-interface design decisions that increasingly blight Apple’s software.

The most recent version of OS X, Yosemite, is by common consensus the buggiest and least stable in at least a decade. All these problems mean that, like many people, I’ve decided to hold off upgrading to Yosemite until it stabilises.

Arment subsequently wrote that he regretted posting the piece, but more due to his strident tone and the storm it created in US media circles eager for any hint of crisis in Cupertino. But his piece resonated in tech circles because all of us who are seasoned Apple users recognise the core argument to be true – Apple’s operating systems and key applications are neither as stable nor as well-designed as they once were.

Another prominent developer, Craig Hockenberry, made perhaps the most telling analogy in an open letter to the company: “Software development is still a craft: one that takes time and effort to achieve the fit and finish your customers expect. Apple would never ship a device that was missing a few screws. But that’s exactly what’s happening right now with your software products.”

All of this would merely be an indication of slipping standards inside a single technology company, but Arment suggests a possible reason for the problem: “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.”

Marketing

If Arment’s hunch is correct, that Apple’s internal dedication to releasing products only when they are truly ready has been eroded by commercial pressures, then these issues are of larger relevance, evidence of how corporate culture can undermine technology firms and innovation in the long-run, and Apple will be a fascinating case study to observe in the coming years.

I predict an imminent acid test in the shape of the Apple Watch – its success will stand or fall on the quality of its software.

If it is as frustrating and buggy as recent versions of OS X and iOS, expect a very public humiliation and much schadenfreude in certain sections of the media.

As for that other evocative German word, tekangstreizbarsyndrom, well, I just coined that one myself, needing a word to capture the head-banging frustration every time something “doesn’t just work”.

I sincerely hope I won’t have cause to keep using it into the future.

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