Apple has lost the functional high ground

Marco Arment:

Apple has completely lost the functional high ground. “It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.

I hate agreeing with Arment but sometimes, he’s bang on. I believe in this case he is. From embarrassing software updates to apps that simply don’t work properly or well – Apple’s poor quality and functionality of the Mail.app being just one of many examples – the assessment that “We don’t need major OS releases every year” is something many of us hope Apple listens and pays attention to.



  • matt_russell

    He needs some evidence to support his thesis. He didn’t provide any at all in that piece. He simply asserted that the OS is riddled with bugs and regressions, and then goes on to explain that marketing is the cause of the problems. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not, but you can’t just assert something and then act like it’s been proven.

    • Sigivald

      I mean, I can think of a fair number (especially if we include iWork).

      But it would be nice if Mr. Ament told us what he was talking about.

      (And I agree with Mr. King – Mr. Ament is obviously a smart guy, and sincere – and his blog’s in my daily computer-related reading list – but … he’s often, maybe usually, wrong.)

  • And yet the only time I’ve had any major problems lately, it’s turned out to be a hardware problem like a dead drive. The OS has never been more stable in my day-to-day use.

  • pxlated

    I don’t know, Marco seems to whine a lot and I agree with matt_russell that he doesn’t present any evidence. I think it’s just a Marco thing (and maybe for some other real geeks/programmers) but I certainly don’t think it’s hurting Apple’s rep with the other 99.9% of the users. Certainly isn’t with my none geek friends/family – Come to think of it, it’s not with my geek friends either.

  • Running Yosemite on a three year old MacBook Air quickly changed my perception of Macs as computers that simply don’t crash.

    • It’s worth digging into that. We’ve got maybe 10 MacBook Airs here from 3,2 to 6,2 with no problems on Yosemite.

      You have to remember that later OSes give the hardware a better workout. It should not be hard enough for anything to break, but it can make hardware flaws count that previously didn’t.

    • Herding_sheep

      My 6 year old low-end Macbook Pro with horribly outdated specs runs Yosemite just fine, mostly the same as Mavericks. I actually think Yosemite is an example of STABLE releases from Apple recently.

  • Why do you hate to agree with Marco? What’s your beef with him?

  • rb763

    I started to realize there was a problem years ago when the Superdrive in my iMac failed and I bought an external Apple replacement. It would not work without a terminal tweak which I had to do every OS update so I ended up buying a Samsung external DVD recorder which was flawless plug and play.

  • Moeskido

    I haven’t run across as many difficulties as folks who keep up with every OS, possibly because I’ve been deliberately avoiding them.

    I have indeed noticed how little development attention a few of the Mac’s supposedly best consumer apps—Mail included—are receiving.

  • Robert

    To me, the issue is not so much bugs (though these certainly do exist), but that the “it just works” adage holds less and less truth.

    In recent weeks, I had to – sometimes repeatedly – google for solutions and apply numerous workarounds to the following problems, for me, my wife and relatives: – iTunes Match not syncing all songs/playlists (it’s bullshit supreme that Match will often not sync a whole playlist just because one illegible item is in there) – iTunes not syncing all selected photos to iDevice (and randomly selecting which ones) – iMessage randomly stops sending/receiving pictures, or just stops overall – iOS airdrop between iPhones sometimes working, sometimes not – iPhoto suddenly “remembers” already (long ago) deleted photos – synched photo events now in random order in iOS (just googling here, there is no real solution) – Mail.app in Yosemite stops receiving messages from an account, while all other (i)devices are happy to work with that account – iMac WiFi just stops doing anything, while acting as if it was working fine.

    The list goes on. Now, for me, who (I think) somewhat understands computers and the power of Google, this is mostly an annoyance. And still sometimes quite difficult, because Apple software and services tend to be exceedingly opaque about the exact reason of things going wrong.

    But image a (more) layperson, who switched to Apple because everybody told them “it just works”. They will give up on this, possibly after having made a mess out of their song, photo and mail libraries.

    So I agree, that Apple needs to get much better. I can’t imagine their own employees like de-bugging their software all the time, they shouldn’t assume we do.

    • I’ve seen many of these, but except for the ones that are actually new features the bugs aren’t new.

      Exception: iPhoto. It’s been a horrible pile of shit since 10.8 or so, and it gets worse every OS release. But I’m giving them a pass on that one since it hasn’t actually lost any data and they’ve already announced its replacement.

    • – iOS airdrop between iPhones sometimes working, sometimes not

      this is the one that bugs me — half the time our iphones (5, 5s, 6) cant see one another, despite have wifi & BT on and AirDrop set to Everyone. what gives…

  • Theodolite Sane

    Lost the functional high ground? To whom?

  • satcomer

    Apple has several problems. To me it is Apple is coding to the masses. One problem is iCloud not working to marketing hype, it almost as bad as .Mac.

    The other is the main Apple software engineers are dividing their time coding for OS X and iOS, this is leading problem.

    • 1) whats wrong w/ icloud? my documents are on my devices, i can edit them, and movies/tv are on my apple tv. what am i missing?

      2) how do you know the time management used by apple’s coders? specific people are splitting between the two code bases? how do you know?

      • satcomer

        1) iCloud goes down at least once a month. Plus one can’t change their iCloud registration email!

        2) Apple only has so many internal coders do they have to do double duty on OS X and iOS.

  • rogifan

    Marco whines too much for my liking. If you follow his tweets and blog lately you’d think Apple was mere moments away from a developer mass exodus to Android. Too much ‘the sky is falling’ in his whining.

  • Nick West

    I miss AMB.

  • BGC

    Well, no access to iCloud Drive as a drive on iOS… Why…?

    • Sigivald

      iOS has no “drives”, period?

    • you can access your icloud files via apps’ file-picker prompts.

  • I’ve had to do more Mac tech support for friends in the last few months than any time I can remember. In just the last 24 hours, for example, one friend suddenly couldn’t log in, despite typically doing so a few times per day. I was sure it was something simple like a caps lock key (that’s his level of knowledge), but as I was suggesting that on the phone, on his own he restarted the computer and the problem went away. Then by coincidence another somewhat more knowledgable friend decided to finally upgrade from 10.6.8 to Yosemite. When everything finished it was unbootable. I suggested a few things but in the end he had to revert using Time Machine. Now he’s going to do a clean install (which is what I would have suggested had he asked me before trying to jump four generations.)

    Yes, these are just anecdotes, but I too have been recently caught in situations where if I didn’t know how to recover I’d have been one of those saying “this does not ‘just work.’)

    I don’t know the answer, but something like a Snow Leopard release would be a good idea for next year. Short on new features but long on tightening everything up.

    • That login failure happened to me all the time with 10.5. I believe it was a sign of imminent hard drive failure; my hard drive died about two weeks after it started.

  • Sam Doohickey

    Perhaps, Apple is stretched too thin in their quest to maintain their insane CAGR. I miss the old days when the experience was less painful. Neglect appears to be widespread across most products and services. I’d rather see Apple elevate Apple TV than introduce a new watch product line. No chance in hell on that, though. Cook appears far more interested in personal training than on media consumption, despite his recent purchase of Beats. Growing pains are tough while we wait for Cook to mature.

    • who says a revamped ATV is a sign of maturity? you do. that dont make it so.

  • richardmac

    I agree with Shawn King more than I agree with either Jim (sometimes too lenient on Apple) and Marco (sometimes too harsh.) And I agree here. For examples of bad software decisions: iCloud Family (multiple issues,) iTunes (sometimes the sync doesn’t work correctly, sometimes it doesn’t see my iPhone, and the user interface is beyond horrible,) iWork (you can’t open up some previous files – no excuse for that,) Mail (problems with authentication to my mail server,) Safari (no specific issues but the new user interface that is supposed to make it easier to use made it harder to use,) and there are more. I’ve had to force quit the Finder far more frequently than before because it got hung up on something. I think Apple needs to stop worrying about the watch and dedicate more resources to their software. One bright shining star for me is Logic Pro X – It is by far the best version of Logic ever, and I’m constantly discovering new cool things about it.

    • I agree with almost your entire list, though I’m really enjoying the new Safari UI. 🙂

    • Sigivald

      That reminds me of my biggest iTunes sync annoyance.

      Set a device up for WiFi sync, and then plug it in, and it will try to do both at once (as far as I can tell) and fail.

      How hard is it to notice you’re plugged into the host computer and not use WiFi then?

  • richardmac

    Right now, as I type this, Mail is still open after I quit it. And the “Quit Mail” command in the Mail menu is grayed out. And the Activity window shows empty. Guess another force quit is in order.

    • I think I first saw that in 10.2, and last saw it in 10.8. Guess I’ve been lucky.

    • Most problems I found with something like that, in any database driven mail program, is a corrupted attachment on some obscure email somewhere or just a corrupted email itself. Sometimes a rebuild will clear up the issue. Other time, going through and finally doing a cleanup of old mail can help, especially if you remember when the problem first startd and you can check the emails fromthat period of time. You’re bound to find one that gives an error when trying to view it, and if you’re lucky you can delete that. Another thing I do to keep away from the issue is to save attachments elsewhere as well as make sure I get rid of those wonderful messages my family sends me with 500 funny pictures attached.

      • Moeskido

        Especially if they’re all still using Windows XP.

  • Macayabella

    I’ll chime in in support of Apple, although I hope and pray they do not (ever) become complacent. If you consider how far and how fast they are driving new developments today it is no wonder there are blips along the way. Conversely, problems have always existed – but the difference is that the Apple expectation level is now running at 101% of perfection.

  • Robert.Walter

    For me problems started with installing the then recently-released Mountain Lion on my 6-month old MBA, which caused extremely hot temps and the crazy full speed fan issue; this was only solved after a few months and a few s/w updates (it was enough to toast my battery and kill it.)

    Then there were the release issues in iOS 7 and 8, which until the dot release fixes came made the phone buggy in the former and nearly unusable (safari instabilities) in the latter case. Problems with key functions like Find My iPhone, or iCloud keychain mysteriously shutting themselves off or not syncing.

    iTunes Match seemingly always having to resent the music library, and not able to match some CD’s that are in the iTunes catalogue.

    OS X mail client not syncing mail as cleanly as iOS mail client (creating duplicate sent, junk, trash, etc. folders … iOS doesn’t have this glaring flaw.)

    OSX 10.9 and .10 causing my 1000$ Thunderbolt display to not communicate with my 2012 Mac Mini (or vice-versa) … seems to be finally fixed with the firmware update after suffering with these problems for about half a year.

    Recent inability to verify my credit card address (it’s now an overseas one) in iTunes … Damn “can’t verify information with your card issuer” …

    Long waits now to call in for Apple Care support … was on line with my sister for an hour trying to get her out of the box defective iPhone 6 replaced after all instructions from Apple failed to work … were passed through 4 people, the last 3 of which were supposed to be able to execute the request for a new (non-refurb model) … each one failed to be able to execute, and the last “senior level” advisor still had to send a manual request somewhere for approval (which is still pending 3 days later.)

    Team Viewer now working better than BTMM!? Often unable to connect via BTMM, also BTMM is causing device renaming problems where the name changes from MyMac to MyMac(1), MyMac(2), …

    Apple’s polymer materials are really poor … iPhone 4 bumpers, 80$ premium earbuds, and docking cables seem to deteriorate due to body oils … first swelling, then embrittling, then crumbling away … hardly the performance of premium materials… (I’m really on the fence about buying an Watch as I am afraid, that over about 2 years, the seals in it will fail due to this issue.)

    Surprising lapses in security mentality … that seem to demonstrate that nobody at Apple is trying to learn from other’s failures here and waiting until a security breach (Dev Site Hack, Fappening, etc.) before fixing … where is the proactive mentality? (I’m wondering if we will have to wait for the reports of numerous security breaches via USB and Thunderbolt before we see strong security protocols introduced…)

    Why is it still not possible for folks who only use iOS devices to save their data directly to a time-capsule and to back this up to a USB-attached external HDD? Why not able to access this saved data via WAN BTMM (or BTMTC) style?

    As a fanboi and shareholder, I am finding it harder and harder to recommend Apple devices to friends because the reliability (mostly of software and service, not hardware), and service support gap seems to be narrowing … if not compared to the competition, then compared to the image that Apple has so meticulously crafted via marketing and general past performance.

    • Tom_P

      “Team Viewer now working better than BTMM!? Often unable to connect via BTMM, also BTMM is causing device renaming problems where the name changes from MyMac to MyMac(1), MyMac(2), …”

      Back To My Mac on my 2011 Macbook Air works great so it shouldn’t be Yosemite problem.

  • RudyGr

    Geez, Marco and all you guys got up on the wrong side of the bed today. As someone who has been using Macs since mid 80s, I laugh when I read comments such as Marco’s. The quality of the software is vastly improved today! It is easy to cherry-pick a list of issues and make a baseless comment such as what Marco did this morning, but I seriously doubt there is any real evidence to justify his conclusions. The reality of the situation is that with social media and all, every little thing wrong with Apple software/hardware is hyper-scrutinized and inflated by the Media. I’m not saying Apple can’t improve, but let’s put things in perspective. BTW, I agree that we probably don’t need major upgrades to OS X every year. I’m quite content if they just cleaned it up a bit and fixed the bugs.

    • I don’t think we’re seeing major releases yearly. I think we’re seeing them roll the major version every year with the features that are ready. I have no problem with that; frequent releases are great, as long as they don’t try to bite off too much at once.

      iOS 8, for instance, wasn’t really that big. It had: Support for the newest hardware, extended support for the previous generation that required infrastructure support (Apple Pay), HandOff/Continuity, integration APIs, some lock screen changes and a few big (but mostly not that big) app changes. Going a bit smaller would have been better, but I don’t see them pushing off the major things I listed and the app changes are probably developed by a more focused team.

      Yosemite is mostly a new appearance (long overdue, some of which are probably new but many of the changes were probably a multi-year project), Continuity, notification centre changes and app changes. That’s hardly a large update, and there’s not a lot they can drop from that.

      I hope this will be the norm: Each OS update will have as many features as they can develop. Some of them won’t be perfect, but they’ll work almost all the time and be fixed when they don’t.

      Note: Mail, in particular, is seeing more blame than it deserves. Mail servers can change weekly, not just yearly. Yet it’s always Apple’s fault, even though something worked in OS beta. And now mysteriously doesn’t work in the OS beta that some people haven’t updated from yet.

  • Herding_sheep

    Idk if he’s right, or if we are simply selective with our memory of software stability. While on one hand, I do agree mostly in regards to iOS. But on the other hand, I remember encountering horrifying bugs in iOS 2, with much greater frequency. Like phone-bricking bugs.

    I’ve really only seen a NOTICEABLE difference in stability from iOS 8. Actually to the point where my non-techy friends, who never complain about bugs, started telling me “this new iOS seems more buggy than before.” Just lots of little things that maybe aren’t widespread or triggered all the time. But I thought iOS 7 was surprisingly stable, despite a full redesign. I never encountered much sloppiness, just the occasional but totally reasonable bug. iOS 8 just seems more sloppy.

    So I’m not going to jump around and say the tides have changed just because 1 out of 8 releases is noticeably more sloppy. But I do think its a concern, and I do agree the yearly schedule is the major factor. They don’t need a major new release with each iPad, why do they need one with each iPhone? Why not just give a .X release like they do for iPad, and let the major releases cook a little longer and release them when they’re ready? OSX releases on the other hand I think are going great.

  • Tom_P

    He’s now using Android phone and Surface 3 as a tablet. I hope he’ll sell a lot of his apps on these platforms, which I doubt. Otherwise he’ll crawling back to the iOS.

  • Gerry

    That article was for attention. Every piece of software out there, no matter who it is connected to, has issues from time to time. The title of his article made you say “what is going on now” so you read it. No disrespect against the man, but really? I have a iPad and iPhone I use everyday and things seem to work just fine. I don’t use my MacBook Pro as much anymore since the iPad, but in my opinion, it was an attention grabber.

    • Moeskido

      He does seem to need the attention.

      I know how he feels.

  • Sigivald

    I note that Arment has – like a mensch – apologized for his word choices and linkbaity headline.

    Without the hyperbole he’s edited out, his thesis is much more respectable.

    • Moeskido

      Hyperbole is like kudzu. It’ll grow almost anywhere.