Apple has long been known for its unique ability to create products that are both beautifully designed and provide amazingly useful functionality. Over the years, the synergy of hardware and software developed under the same roof has been one of the company’s greatest strengths, and has helped the iPhone, iPad, and Mac to truly stand out from the competition. But a few recent high profile stumbles on the software side of that equation have led some to question whether or not Apple has lost a bit of its mojo, and prompted developer Marco Arment to write a much-ballyhooed blog post regarding the current state of affairs with Apple’s software development. His thoughtful post has sparked debate within the Apple community, and left many wondering whether or not software has somehow become Apple’s Achilles heel.
In his blog post, Arment contends that Apple’s marketing department is now driving the release schedule of its software, pushing the in-house developers to create a new version of iOS and OS X on an annual basis. This rapid pace has allowed confounding bugs to slip through the quality assurance cracks, and into software that is released to the public, creating all sorts of problems for users. Furthermore, he says that the “it just works” slogan that Apple has touted for years simply isn’t true any longer, and it is now cause for a great deal of concern. Arment goes on to say that “We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.”
In creating yearly OS updates, both for iOS and OS X, Apple has set an impossibly tall order for its software engineers. Not only do they have to find a way to create a compelling product – packed with exciting new features – every year, they must deliver that product in a timely fashion as well. After all, consumers – not to mention Apple investors – have gotten use to a predictable product release cycle, and not shipping a new iPhone, with a new version of iOS, each fall is not really an option.
Modern software is incredibly complex, and offers more functionality than ever before. Along with that added complexity, the chances of more than few bugs creeping into the final code is likely to go up as well, especially when you cut the development cycle down significantly, preventing the quality assurance team from finding and eliminating those bugs. That happens to be the case with OS X, which has seen major releases in each of the past few years, while revious versions of the operating system often took a year and half, or longer, to mature before they were released. While Mavericks and Yosemite have both brought some wonderful new features to our computers, they have also been a bit rough around the edges as well.
I think Arment makes a good point when he says that Apple is doing too much, too quickly, and as a result, it is releasing software that is uncharacteristically buggy. But while he blames the unrealistic release schedule on marketing, I feel that there is another culprit driving this hectic schedule too. The relentless demand for new products and innovation from Wall Street has played a role in this process too, keeping the world’s most valuable company constantly on edge. Analysts scrutinize every move that Apple makes, and they are quick to pounce on even the slightest sign of weakness in Cupertino. As a result, if even a single product were to miss a projected release date, it could likely have disastrous consequences on quarterly results and the price of Apple stock.
All of that said, I personally don’t feel that software development has somehow become an Achilles heel for Apple. It is true that the company is juggling more projects than ever before, but it is also filled with incredibly dedicated and talented people. Their software continues to get more sophisticated with each release, and lets not lose sight of the fact that more people than ever are now using Apple products. That alone is likely to expose more bugs as well, while online culture can make those flaws into a bigger story than they deserve to be. (Anyone remember “bendgate?“)
By controlling both the hardware and the software behind their products, Apple remains in a class all of its own, in terms of overall quality of their devices. Sure, there may be a few chinks in the armor at the moment, but for the most part they are minor, and will soon be forgotten as new successes come along. This isn’t the first time Apple has been accused of making missteps, nor will it be the last. But the company has had far more hits than misses, it’s just that our expectations have no been set impossibly high, and anything short of perfection is seen as major problem. That isn’t fair to Apple, or any other tech company for that matter.
In a follow-up blog post, Arment made a few clarifications to his previous statements, explaining that he had never meant for his criticisms of Apple to get so wide spread. He was dismayed to discover that so many people had taken his comments and used them as fuel for the “Apple is doomed” movement. He says he regrets some of his word choices, which made his original blog post sound a bit more incendiary than he had intended.