Apple’s elephant in the room

Alexandra Mintsopoulos, writing for Medium:

I’ve been watching the story about Apple’s “declining software quality” unfold over the past year with amusement but never felt the need to write anything contesting this narrative until John Siracusa (on episode 155 of Accidental Tech Podcast) came to the conclusion that the problem must be real because the story keeps coming back up. To John’s credit, he allowed for the possibility that this is a perception problem but ultimately concluded otherwise because “no one else seems to be disagreeing”. I disagree.


Apple’s installed base of users has grown massively over the past few years. Even if you dismiss this as a lagging indicator what you cannot dismiss is that customer satisfaction remains at an all-time high. More importantly, actual usage of Apple’s products and services continues unabated, something you would not expect if Apple’s software quality were truly declining.

Apple’s software has certainly gotten much larger and more complex. That said, I don’t think it’s fair to equate Apple’s scorching hot product sales with any measure of software quality.

Look at Windows. No matter the reputation for poor interface design or bugginess, Windows long reigned as the defacto standard, a hallmark of software sales.

Apple products sell because they are beautifully designed, true, but they also sell because that is what we are used to using. Switching lanes is hard and becoming harder.

I’ve been using Apple software since the beginning. In my experience, bugs in the OS were few and far between. Now, I can’t go a day without encountering some sort of gremlin. But I don’t blame quality, I blame complexity.

Apple’s operating systems and products have far more edge cases than they used to. There are orders of magnitude more things to test for. It’s almost impossible to build a set of tests that mirror all possible configurations. What works when you are a niche player does not work when you are one of the biggest companies in the world. In short, Apple is the victim of its own success.

Jessie Char tweeted:

Early adopters have lost the wide-eyed excitement of trying something new and understanding a product’s potential.

I completely agree. I love my Apple Watch. It performs spectacularly well for rev 1 hardware. My Mac does an incredible array of things and, for the most part, it does them in workhorse fashion, performing again and again with only occasional hiccups.

Are there problems? Yes, no doubt. Some bugs become widely known and persist for years. But complexity means long lists of fixes for no-doubt weary and overworked software teams at Apple. But ask yourself this: Would you rather be using Windows? Or an Android phone? To me, it’s not even close.

  • Meaux

    “Apple’s operating systems and products have far more edge cases than they used to. There are orders of magnitude more things to test for. It’s almost impossible to build a set of tests that mirror all possible configurations. What works when you are a niche player does not work when you are one of the biggest companies in the world. In short, Apple is the victim of its own success.”

    This could have been written about Windows (with an addition of legacy support, which Apple concerns itself with far less) and would have been mocked by Apple users.

    • except that we don’t see that level of failure and frustration. people hate windows, cartoons and movies have been made about that level of PC frustration. not so with Apple — consumer satisfaction is at an all time high.

      try again.

      • Customer satisfaction is not what we are talking about at all. When people are asked about their satisfaction with an Apple product, they tend to report their satisfaction with the hardware and the brand only. Many people don’t even understand that Apple makes the software. Many people are happy with their Apple product solely because it is an Apple product. They have pride in it like they just bought their first Rolls Royce.

        And when people encounter a software failure, they tend to to one of two things:

        1) if they know anything about software, they shrug and go “that’s software, it is inherently unreliable so I don’t blame Apple”

        2) if they don’t know anything about software, they blame themselves — they think “I must be using this wrong, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

        So customer satisfaction is not a measure of software quality.

        What you are doing is likely the same kind of denial that Apple is doing, which is likely why these problems continue to exist. You don’t tell if you are speeding by looking at a thermometer. You are saying. “I can’t be speeding, the temperature is only 25 degrees!”

      • Meaux

        You apparently don’t watch late night television, where Apple bugs and software frustrations are a regular target. Especially Siri and Maps.

    • CapnVan

      There’s a fair amount of truth to that.

      I agree with Dave — yes, there’s a whole lot more complexity to deal with than there was in the System 6/7 days.

      But pulling in billions in profits every quarter? That’s a lot of room for expanding QA. And a complete overhaul of iTunes. And cutting down on app approval time. Etc.

      I’m not convinced that Apple has been investing enough in building its human capital.

  • your take is nonsense:

    1) it’s never been easier to switch lanes, due to cloud based data and apps, which is why Apple users are growing.

    2) Windows sales reigned because enterprise and enterprise compatibility. on the flip side, Apple sales increase because people willingly chose it for themselves as individual owners because they like it (see satisfaction ratings, at all time high). this is made possible because of #1, but it only happens because Apple software is a great choice that people are happy with.

    a few Marco groupies and bloggers do not the world make. you’re in the techie echo chamber…

    • freediverx

      Agreed. All of these complaints, which are perfectly valid in my opinion, stem from the fear that Apple is losing it’s reputation for delight and near perfection, and that fear is exacerbated by the fact that we have no alternatives.

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    • anecdotes are worthless

      OK, let me stipulate to that for a moment. Anecdotes are worthless.

      I experience no bugs daily, weekly, or monthly.

      That is an anecdote.

      And it is one that is really hard to believe.

      It is great if you love your Apple product. It is great if you are having a great experience. But there are a lot of people who are really frustrated.

      see satisfaction ratings, at all time high

      Customer satisfaction is not a measure of software quality. You are swapping in a totally different metric, like looking at a thermometer to tell how fast your car is going.

      I have many friends who have struggled with their iOS devices every since iOS 7 shipped, and yet they dutifully reported to Apple how much they loved their iPhone 6. It did not even occur to them to include the software in their customer satisfaction thinking. They just got their iPhone 6 and they loved the big screen and the smooth back and were aglow with pride that they had the new iPhone. High customer satisfaction marks, and yet every time I see them they have 3 questions for me about how to get their iPhone to stop doing A or to start doing B again, or they need my help to find an app because in some cases both the icon and the name has changed.

      Just last night my father-in-law asked me to help him put his music library onto his phone, but it was already on there. The Music app on iPhone is just so hard to navigate now, he literally couldn’t find most of his music. But I know for a fact that he gave Apple a 100% satisfaction on that phone just a few months ago when it was new.

  • JimCracky

    I could care less as to whether Photos has a bug, or iWork has missing features. Those are casual consumer apps.

    I’m talking about the degradation of Pro software; Final cut, Logic etc have all been stripped of features profuse every day without bothering to ask pro users what they wanted in an app. Crying out loud, they cancelled Aperture and said Photos would replace it. Ha Ha HA.

    • richardmac

      I agree with that Final Cut may have been made worse, but Logic has never been better. It’s one example where Apple has been adding really great features that make the product far better (like the drummer feature.) I don’t much like Photos, so far, though.

      • Logic Pro X is better in features, but Logic Pro X is by far the least-reliable version of Logic ever, and I have been running it since way before Apple bought it.

        Even with Logic Pro X 10.2, I have had to stop a session and restart Logic multiple times. A couple of times I had to restart the whole box. And it is the first version of Logic where I ever lost any data. And I’m using Apogee hardware — very mainstream setup.

    • David Stewart

      Apple seems to have largely conceded the professional software category to companies who specialize in it (like Adobe, The Foundry, etc.). There is really no reason for Apple to be in those spaces at this point. It is a better use of Apple’s resources to work with those companies to build in the support they need to the hardware, OS and APIs than to try to compete with them.

      • I don’t think that is true at all. If everybody who buys a Mac has to then go to Adobe and sign up for Creative Cloud, then there is no reason for the Mac to even exist. Might as well just buy a Windows box. The Adobe software has 1:1 the same features on Mac and Windows.

        The whole idea with Apple is that somebody who wants to — for example — make music, can buy an iPad or Mac and it is already a music studio. It comes out of the box as a functioning music studio with CoreAudio, CoreMIDI, and GarageBand. That means there is zero technical hurdle for musicians. And because it is already a functioning music studio, a 3rd party developer only has the task “make a replacement for GarageBand and sell it to users” and the user only has to swap out GarageBand for, say, Ableton Live and continue on their way. Ableton Live uses the same CoreAudio and CoreMIDI that GarageBand was using. The studio continues to be functional.

        On a Windows system, it comes out of the box like some empty office space that you rented. To make it into a functional music studio is a very complicated process involving multiple layers of 3rd party software that may or may not work together.

        • David Stewart

          I wouldn’t classify Garageband as professional software. It is, in my mind, in the same category as iPhoto, a consumer/prosumer application. I think there are sufficient reasons to buy a Mac beyond the Apple software (like the limited number of configurations making it easier to support and the ecosystem).

    • Exactly what feature was stripped from Logic? I’ve used Logic every day for the last decade and can echo @richardmac’s sentiment that it has never been better.

      I changed careers from editing before the FCPX debacle started, but I recognised the need for a more modern base to build upon. From what I see, that has now mostly come to fruition.

  • Caleb Hightower

    I agree with this perspective on principal, but my frustration lies within the larger downward trend of Apple’s software ‘decline’.

    I gave Apple a pass when they overhauled iOS 6 to iOS 7, since there was a major shakeup within the executive team just prior, but that was back in Sep 2013. Two versions later we still have some of the same glaring issues as in iOS 7, along with a new breed of issues.

    As a result of this trend, my anxiety is further encouraged by the recent releases of iTunes 12 and Apple TV 4.

    • richardmac

      I think the bugs are annoying – I have the season pass for the Flash and sometimes the episodes show up on my Mac but not my AppleTV until the next day – but what I find worse than bugs is bad design decisions. iTunes is awful, awful, awful. I don’t have an issue with Photos – I don’t like it, but I see why people do. Apple is good at finding out the most popular features people want and making them easy, which Photos kind of does… but iTunes doesn’t make anything easy. It’s a big mess. Novice users are totally confused by it. iTunes needs a total rethink. And it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that’s already in the works. If it isn’t, then Apple is not listening to Mac users.

      • rick gregory

        AS the linked post says, though, overhauling iTunes isn’t a trivial thing to do considering how central it is to not only how we use music, etc but also sales of apps. That centrality also is an argument for overhauling it (I’d like to see more split away from it) but it’s non-trivial.

        Also in the linked post, how much of the frustration is because of iTunes vs general software issues?

        • I don’t use iTunes anymore. It is not central to anything. I haven’t synced an iOS device with my Mac since iOS 5 or so. But what is central is the operating systems and their services, which are unreliable. And Safari is unreliable. All the problems that made me quit using iTunes have spread across all the other software. You have to spend 10% of your intellectual energy trying to decode the interface, even when it works reliably. Then you have to stop and spend 100% of your energy working around a bug on a regular basis. All of that distracts from your actual work. Not just distracts, but interrupts.

          Apple could have split iTunes on the Mac into multiple apps: Music, Videos, etc. just like on iOS. There is no excuse for it sucking so bad.

          • rick gregory

            ” But what is central is the operating systems and their services, which are unreliable. And Safari is unreliable.”

            Uh huh. No details, just a general broadside. This is par for the course with people like you. I use Safari daily and don’t fine it unreliable at all. Ditto for OS X and iOS. I don’t spend 10% of my time or intellect on ‘decoding the interface’ at all.

            Are these products PERFECT? No. Are they very good? In my experience, yes. Are some of the issues possibly due to a mismatch between user expectation and settings? Sure. For example, I have iOS set to only upload photos when wifi is connected but often, in places were wifi is slow or unavailable, I turn wifi off. I’ll then wonder WTF is up with Photos on OS X not having my pictures… but it’s a setting I’ve altered. Whoops.

            Don’t get me wrong – there’s always room for improvement. But these general whines don’t move the discussion forward.

    • I agree. I skipped iOS 7 altogether because I expected that many changes to result in lots of bugs, and because I am bug-averse. When iOS 8.1 shipped (not even 8.0, but 8.1) I bought a brand-new iOS device for it (not even upgrading an old device, but a brand-new device) and that brand-new device with iOS 8.1 on it crashed constantly for the first 6 months or so. Finally the operating system settled down, but the browser continued to crash, text substitutions continued to crash, and since iOS 9, AirPlay doesn’t work reliably. It’s the first Apple device that I have tolerated instead of loved. It feels like what I expect a Microsoft device to feel like, until I use a Microsoft device briefly and discover it is even worse.

  • fune

    I don’t quite understand what the last arguments are for. As this article mentioned, changing ecosystem for its own sake is not easy. Even if Windows and Android are perfect, it won’t cross my mind to use them. And also, Windows and Android doing a bad job doesn’t mean that Apple should give up its long reputation of delivering the best user experience. So why should Apple users make Windows and Android an excuse to forgive Apple for its declined software quality?

    But I do agree with the main point of this article. People who are recently arguing about this issue are basically people who believe that Apple should always live up to its reputation. They refuse to understand that when the complexity scales it’s almost impossible to accomplish that goal. Maybe the only way for them to make peace with themselves is to hear Apple making a statement that it won’t make the best software any more.

    • I was with you right until the end there. There is no excuse of complexity.

      In 2002, Mac OS X was outrageously complex for the day. It was not only much more operating system than the PC market was used to, it also had a major component called Classic that had a whole other operating system running in it. And Apple still got the transition done basically within 2 years.

      In 2006, you could buy an Intel Mac that was running PowerPC software through a component called Rosetta. Outrageously complex. And they had to do that because IBM showed up one day and said “there isn’t going to be a notebook version of G5, and there won’t be a G6 at all.” Another 2 year transition.

      In 2007, you could run a stripped-down OS X with Safari and Mail and iPod and other apps running on a phone with multitouch interface. And it worked! Only 6 years after OS X shipped! Outrageously complex. Within 3 years it has Retina and PC class performance.

      And Apple not only did all that well, they not only made it look easy, they did it all on a budget.

      Now they are incredibly rich, they have all the advantages, and the reason you think things are complex today is because Apple is not managing that complexity. It is Apple’s responsibility to manage that complexity so that they don’t end up being just another PC vendor where the user has to navigate a sea of options.

      As just one example of reducing complexity, their lineup should be all touch by now. It has been 9 years. If you can jump operating systems in 2 years by 2003 and CPU architectures in 2 years by 2008, then surely between 2007 and 2016 you can transition the Mac from mouse to touch? That way a Mac app like Coda could have been updated to touch in-place on the Mac for its existing user base, and the ported over to the same touch API’s on iPad. Instead, about 20% of Coda has made it over to iOS after 4 years, and they are stalled from lack of funding. And that is Panic, who are an Apple developer exemplar.

      What Apple has now is as if they kept Mac OS 9 going until 2010 along with Mac OS X. Or if they kept PowerPC going until today along with Intel. If they had done that, we also would have been complaining about software issues and somebody would also be making the excuse about how complex things are.

  • djr12

    It’s true that there are always problems with software. It’s never been bug free. And I don’t know whether Apple has more bugs now than it has in the past. But I think we are all (including Apple) missing the main problem here. JimCracky gets close to it in the complaint about the pro apps. Yes, they’ve been overly simplified — and that doesn’t make a lot of sense for a pro app. Pros can handle complexity.

    But the rest of us can handle a little more complexity too, and that’s where Apple has gone wrong. They have swung the pendulum way too far in the direction of “simplicity” at the expense of transparency for the user.

    One example: there used to be an app called iSync (or something like that) that gave the user the ability to initiate a sync between cloud and device, and even choose which data should overwrite the other data in case of a conflict. Now, the user has no such ability. I’m not talking about a dedicated app. But how about a button (or clickable text string, we live in the iOS 9 world) that allows the user to initiate a sync? It’s incredibly frustrating when, say, you add a Contact on your phone and don’t see it on a Mac even a day later. I’ve seen the same thing happen in Photos.

    In Apple’s ideal world, it all “just works” and is seamless and the user doesn’t have to think about that stuff. That’s great in theory. But in practice, it doesn’t always just work, and there’s no built-in UI to do even the simplest troubleshooting. How about a “sync” button in the Photos app?

    The same issue is there in other aspects of Photos. People think that you can’t filter by location or date anymore. You can — you just have to search, via text box or Siri. But it’s much less discoverable than dedicated UI. Again, they’ve chosen simplicity at the expense of user control.

    There are tons of other examples. Why can’t I do anything about that out-of-control “Other” storage on my iPhone, other than wiping it clean and restoring? That is an incredibly painful first step in troubleshooting what should be a simple issue to resolve.

    If Apple wanted to change the perception that its software is becoming increasingly frustrating to use, it could do worse than to put more power in the hands of the user. As a user, when things go wrong I often have no recourse and no viable path other than the nuclear option of restoring the device. And that, it seems to me, is simply bad practice.

    • No, pro users can’t handle complexity. Managing a music session in Logic is already complicated. You are already multitasking. If you also have to deal with iCloud popping up boxes asking you to login again because one of their servers is down, or you launch a secondary app like Loop Editor and Mac App Store asks you to authorize, or you have to deal with Logic Remote becoming disconnected again, or if you have to restart Logic because it is doing something flaky, then that is really problematic. Further, you shouldn’t even be running Logic Remote because the Mac should have touch by now.

      • djr12

        I think we may be talking about two different things. All I’m saying is that Apple seems increasingly to remove the potential for any user intervention in troubleshooting issues, other than “wipe the thing and start over again.” That is certainly a simple approach in terms of understanding the big picture of what you are doing. But it’s way more painstaking and time-consuming, for no reason. They can hide the complexity behind preferences or menus or anything they want. But they should give the user more power to deal with issues.

        I’m not asking for iCloud pop-ups. I’m asking for the opposite: let me decide when I want to interact with iCloud and how. Do it automatically, sure. But let me intervene when I need to.

  • rogifan

    I think the general premise of this article is correct. Listen to an ATP podcast and you’d wonder why anyone owns an Apple device. I think the majority of Apple customers have far fewer issues than we think based on the tech bubble reporting.

    • No, it is the opposite. The people outside the tech bubble don’t complain about the software issues, they just think they are using the devices incorrectly. It is the responsibility of the part of the Apple community who has tech skills — who know what software is and what storage is — to watch out for the vast majority who don’t by identifying these issues and demanding that they get fixed.

      The tech bubble people are used to running betas. Some of them are doing technical work all day so that when their devices demand they do some I-T work it is not that big a deal. But for most people, they are struggling regularly.

      I was at a dinner the other night, and at some point, a bunch of iPhones and iPads came out, and everybody started helping each other with issues that they had. A few years ago, the same people were showing photos to each other or taking turns playing music through some speakers — the devices were doing something. Now, they were asking how to make their iPhone stop doing something that it had started doing by itself, and somebody else would help them navigate through the Settings app to turn that off. Another person needed help deleting files so that their 16GB device would have enough free storage to update the operating system. It was all techie stuff that to a techie isn’t necessarily a big deal. But to me it was really a drag that a social event was superseded by tech time.

  • I think you’re as guilty of wearing the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia as anyone else, Dave. You’ve been around a while. Do you remember when a version of Mac OS Classic or OS X came out and you were afraid to install it for weeks or a month because it might corrupt the data on your hard drive? I certainly remember those days.

    Apple’s software has gotten BETTER. Yes, there are more edge cases. And yes, there are occasionally failures in those edge cases. But I have no problem saying there are fewer failures in absolute terms over the software, not just relative to complexity. And there are much fewer and much less drastic failures in basic use.

  • rick gregory

    “I don’t think it’s fair to equate Apple’s scorching hot product sales with any measure of software quality.”

    Which isn’t what the post does. Nice straw man. The post notes that even as sales have skyrocketed with about a billion devices in use and increasing marketshare for the Mac and OS X, customer satisfaction remains as high as ever. So why might we be hearing dissatisfaction? First, and what that post notes, there’s a relatively small community of top end Apple tech bloggers – you guys, Marco, Siracusa, Gruber and perhaps 3-4 others – and if a narrative takes hold among you it gets a lot of press in the Apple news cycle. Second, the law of large numbers. If you have so many people using your product virtually ANY defect will lead to the perception that there’s a lot of people with that problem. After all, if I have Obscure Problem #34 and search for it and see 2000 people with that issue it feels like a lot but in reality it’s not.

    Finally, Apple’s good. Not perfect. The error 53 issue, the discoveryd problem and others can color perception as the latter did for Marco. We should always push Apple to be perfect, but actually expecting that is silly and we shouldn’t overreact to minor issues.

    • The thing is, if tech bloggers are finding the devices to be flaky, you have to recognize, the typical user doesn’t even know what “storage” is. They don’t know. They cannot even decode the complicated error messages that iOS regularly gives you these days. They don’t think “oh, that is a bug” like a tech blogger does, they just tap away trying to get around it and blame themselves for not being “better at computers.” That is why they don’t report bad customer satisfaction. They love their shiny iPhone and any problems with the software they blame on themselves. But still, they should not have to struggle like that. They shouldn’t be made to feel like they should have gotten a CS degree if they wanted to use an iPhone.

      So the argument that tech bloggers are being to finicky is so wrong, in my opinion. I think it is the other way around. When things are bad enough that tech bloggers are complaining, then things are really, really bad for the typical user.

      • rick gregory

        So you’re just magically pulling the truth out of the air and ignoring that people continually rate Apple products highly (and higher than other products) on the assumption that people are too stupid to know what’s up? Yeah, that’s convincing.

  • marv08

    IMO numbers are more relevant than opinions based on made-up facts. We do detailed statistics on support cases, downtimes, training requirements etc. since 2003 (we currently have around 840 OS X and iOS devices in use). And I can say, without hesitation, that there have never been less incidents than with Apple’s current products in general. And I mean: by a wide margin. E.g. OS X 10.2 had 15 times more support incidents than 10.10 (relative, as in: corrected for the number of devices in use), and even the much-hailed 10.6 clocks in at factor x2.8.

    Now, I wrote “in general” for a reason. There are products that clearly break that pattern, and fortunately they are pretty irrelevant in the corporate and professional fields. iTunes and the Music app, as well as the whole Photos product and service are just plain disasters. Apple is the biggest and richest IT company in the world, and there is zero excuse for either of them. Complexity is not the issue here. Other platform-independent services, being a lot more complex by design, since they have to support all possible hardware, OSs and versions, do better than Apple. The Music (iPod) app on my iPhones worked flawlessly for years until they completely ruined it. It now is harder to read, and borderline-impossible to operate on a 5.5″ screen (while the old one was fully functional and operational on a 3.5″ one). And I do not need to repeat the myriad of valid issues concerning iTunes library management that Jim has written about. (But I need to mention that even after several months, Apple has not fixed a single one of them,)

    But as long as Apple can rely on figures like Gruber to deliver the broadcasting equivalent of a blowjob and call it an interview… the two main culprits (Federighi and Cue) can safely continue this crap.

    • The thing is, I have my own support line. And it goes like this:

      • 2000–2006 my friends and relatives called me all the time to ask for my help with their Windows, but since I don’t know anything about Windows, I told them to buy Apple products

      • 2007–2012 my friends and relative send me photos, cards, songs, and movies that they made with their Apple products, and once in a while there would be an issue and I would refer them to Apple Store and they would walk in and get help immediately

      • 2013–2016 my friends and relatives call me all the time to ask for my help with their Apple products, and I have to help them with those products, because they don’t know there is a support line because they are not techie nerds, and in some cases they have already been to Apple Store but they were sent away with an appointment for next week because it is so busy in there, so I end up helping them anyway.

      So I think your numbers are great at showing that the percentage of techie nerds in the user base has been steadily dropping.

      If there is snow on the ground, I don’t need to look at a thermometer to know it is freezing. I don’t need a weather forecast to know it is raining out when I walk outside and rain is hitting me on the head. I don’t need numbers to know that the current software team at Apple is failing miserably as compared to the previous software team.

  • Herding_sheep

    Where did he equate sales to software quality? He pointed out Apples massively increased install base maintaining sky high customer satisfaction numbers. Things tend to go the other way when you increase install base at the rate that Apple has. Therefore, he concluded that Apples software must be doing something right in order to achieve those kinds of satisfaction numbers, with a 1 billion install base.

    Windows NEVER had that kind of customer satisfaction numbers, at an even smaller install base.

    Also, I think the point is that Apples software has ALWAYS had edge cases and weird bugs. Come on. Apples software was never perfect, no matter how much nostalgia wants us to believe so. I remember quite vividly how horrendous and aggravating iPhone OS 2.0 was. My phone required DFU restores on a regular basis, at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes triggered by updating all App Store apps (which was brand new at the time, and buggy). Speaking of App Store updates, remember when updating all your apps in 2.0 used to completely reorder your home screens? Yea, I’m guessing most people forgot that stupid decision.

    Now my phone works 10x more reliably, and doesn’t leave me stranded without a cell phone when I’m not at home. I’d say Apple has made some pretty substantial improvements to the core foundation of their software.

    Now I do have qualms with some interface choices, as well as certain animations ever since Craig Federighi took over as head of OSX and then iOS. But thats an entirely different story from the one being portrayed in the media. I think Apple has lost some talented DESIGNERS, but gained some talented engineers.

    • He definitely implies that high customer satisfaction correlates to software quality. I don’t think that it does, because most Apple users do not know what software is and they don’t have expected software behaviors therefore they don’t notice unexpected software behaviors. When they struggle with their iOS devices, they simply blame themselves.

      Since iOS 7, my father-in-law often can’t find the music in the Music app on his iPhone. His entire library is Wi-Fi synced from his Mac, but he just can’t find most of it at any given time. For example, the app will be in the Playlist view and he can only get to maybe 5% of his songs. At absolutely no time did he ever think “a music player should make it easy for anyone to navigate the entire song library, therefore this software is poorly designed and Apple has let me down.”

      • Herding_sheep

        People were even less technically savvy when Windows was the king on the block. Yet, most people still despised Windows. Ironically, Windows 95-XP made people think that ALL computers and technology were this frustrating to operate.

        So I don’t think that’s a very good anecdote. If your father doesn’t hate his iPhone, despite one misunderstanding, then that must mean the rest of his experience on iOS is satisfactory enough for him to continue with it. It’s never been easier to switch, with so many high profile alternatives to the iPhone now existing in people’s minds. I know several people who’ve switched to Samsungs out of sheer curiosity, being bitten by the media hype Samsung managed to generate with their campaign against the iPhone. They never even thought twice about it, or felt tied down to iPhone. So I think that’s also a poor excuse for Apples sky high customer satisfaction numbers

  • You can sum up the linked article as: “iTunes software quality sucks, but it has always sucked, therefore Apple software quality is awesome.”


    Complexity is also a lack of software quality. It is Apple’s responsibility to keep things simple, not load software down with bullet-point features that their designers or engineers think is cool or their marketers think will sell or that tech bloggers are asking for.

    My mother-in-law got a new Mac and she struggled for weeks with Force Touch because tap-to-click comes disabled out-of-the-box and that was what she was used to on the previous Mac. So we have the simplicity of the “one-button mouse” yet we have 3 kinds of trackpad click: mechanical, tap-to-click, and Force Touch. And you had better read a tech blog regularly so you can discover how to configure your Mac’s trackpad. When I enabled tap-to-click on her Mac she was like “oh thank God!”

    Why is it even disabled out-of-the-box when all the other gestures are enabled and those are the ones that you see people triggering accidentally and getting lost? Why are there even 3 ways to click? Apple should pick the best one and that is that.

    What it even worse is we shouldn’t even be buying new Macs in 2016 with trackpads. It is 9 years since iPhone shipped. Apple is working on a lost decade to match Microsoft’s 2000–2010. It is like Apple is waiting for Microsoft to catch up.

    [BTW, my text substitutions have stopped working again, right here as I type this message. The fact that they stop working regularly on all of my devices is actually worse than having no text substitutions, because you learn to type shortcuts and then they fail and you have to type the full text and now you have 2 ways of typing.]

    Look at Windows. No matter the reputation for poor interface design or bugginess, Windows long reigned as the defacto standard, a hallmark of software sales.

    This is so true. Sales do not stand-in for software quality. As bad as Apple software quality has become, it is only bad compared to the previous Apple. Compared to Microsoft, Apple software quality today is still good. You are not going to improve things by switching to Windows, even if it was easy. But that is a big part of the problem. Apple only has to be a little better than Windows. And most Apple users today are refugees from Windows and through no fault of their own have very low software quality expectations.

    The funny thing is, the articles that are defending Apple software quality today all remind me of the articles defending Windows Vista’s software quality years ago. Not only do they have the same pleading denialism, you can see a writer defending iOS 7 software quality, then he moves on to iOS 8 and talks about how great 8 is and how awful 7 was, and then he moves on to 9 and talks about how great 9 is and how awful 8 was, as though we can’t still see his previous articles via the Internet. The same way that people moved from Windows to Windows to Windows and finally could talk each time about how awful the previous one was.

    It doesn’t give me any joy to point out that Apple is failing to make great products anymore. But the most important thing you can do in life is express your values. I value technology that just works. The reason is that I do creative work, and when the tools fail me, I have to stop my creative work and mode-switch to I-T troubleshooter. Even if that happens just once a day that is really destructive to my work. But it is happening many times a day now. Logic Pro X — which is really awesome in many, many ways — is the first version of Logic that I have ever had to restart during a music session, and I have to do it multiple times per week. And I have been running Logic since well before Apple bought it in 2003 or so. And this is 10.2 I am talking about, not 10.0. The X version is well over a year old.

    One significant problem is I think there are a lot of software issues that users have a problem with, but software engineers would not even call them bugs. For example, in 2006 my Mac was a quiet, peaceful, creative place where my work could happen almost totally uninterrupted. But today, even just iCloud alone interrupts me multiple times per week, and sometimes per day. It is fairly common to launch an app and have to sign in to App Store to get the app to run. There is no way to totally disable notifications, even if a Mac is a creative workstation that, for example, runs Logic Pro X all day. I have my iPhone sitting right there next to the Mac. Why do I need my Mac to ring when it rings?

    And I gotta say: the one and only change I noticed in iOS 9 as compared to iOS 8 was AirPlay stopped working reliably. That is it. I can’t reliably AirPlay something from my iOS devices to my Apple TV anymore. It works so intermittently that I just stopped using AirPlay.

    So there are engineering failures, design failures, quality control failures, but also editorial failures. The result is a terrible user experience.

    And for people who are in denial, just compare Safari to Chrome. I used Safari for 13 straight years but I had to switch to Chrome because I just couldn’t look at the message “there was a problem with this web page so it was reloaded” 5–10 times per day anymore. I ran all the same websites in Chrome and I got the failed-tab message once in the first 3 months.

  • Mo

    Sorry, Dave, but “still better than Windows” hasn’t ever been a very high bar to leap over. Apple product quality could conceivably degrade quite a bit and still be able to make that claim.

    “There is a massive disconnect between enthusiasts and Apple’s broader customer base on the perception of Apple’s software quality. “

    Most of Apple’s broader, newer customer base has no basis of comparison with anything other than the newest version of whatever competing OS they’ve just escaped from. Any improvement over, say, Android, is regarded as significant. And as Simon White so eloquently explains on this page, average users are still conditioned to feel as though they themselves are to blame when software doesn’t work well for them. That conditioning used to be the sole province of Windows, but now post-Forstall Apple has taken up a small piece of that mantle, too.

    And who other than enthusiasts have the ability to look back farther than a few months, and thus have the ability to point out the real decline in usability and discoverability which have taken place in Mac and iOS UI/UX?

    I’m picturing Mintsopoulos in Kevin Bacon’s role at the end of “Animal House,” trying to control a panicking crowd.

    “…complexity means long lists of fixes for no-doubt weary and overworked software teams at Apple.”

    No, sir. At some point, complexity means the thinking that went into a product — software or otherwise — was muddy and ill-conceived to begin with. Long lists of fixes are a symptom of that.