As Apple has grown rapidly over the past five years, there have been an increasing number of complaints regarding their quality control, especially when it comes to their software. Some of the issues are understandable, as keeping such a massive catalogue of software products up to date is certainly a big challenge. However, when you are as profitable and successful as Apple, no one is shedding any tears for your internal struggles. With their money and resources, they should be able to get the job done, and that needs to happen 2018.
After 2017, especially the end of 2017, there is reason to question how Apple is currently handling software and operating system updates. There is absolutely no legitimate excuse for the high-profile bugs in macOS, iOS, and watchOS that were allowed to make it out the door. Here is a brief rundown of some of the lowlights of the past year:
Apple Watch Series 3 Hampered by LTE Connection Issue Out of the Box
This “bug” was due to poor WiFi management in watchOS, and its lack of any kind of on-device, user-facing WiFi connection management. Because of this, Watches were getting hung up on WiFi networks that were known on the user’s iPhone and required user intervention on a login or acceptance screen. A good example is Starbucks’ public WiFi, which requires a single keystroke on a web page to accept the connection. You obviously can’t do this on an Apple Watch.
The worst thing about this issue was that it had actually been discovered previous to the release of the new Watch, but wasn’t fixed ahead of time. It became big news thanks to the pre-release reviews, which tarnished what could have been a flawless launch of a great product. They patched it fairly quickly, and the Series 3 has gone on to great success and reviews since, but this was a big miss on Apple’s part.
iOS 11.1 Included a Machine Learning Bug that Replaced “I” with an “A” and a Symbol
This was more of an annoyance, but it again just underlined some sloppy work on Apple’s part. For those affected, there was a temporary workaround and iOS 11.1.1 came out soon after with this flaw patched. However, it was widespread enough to hit the mainstream via social media. Many users on Twitter just left the symbols uncorrected, and others who weren’t affected joined in just to poke a little fun at Apple. This one may have been just a minor annoyance, but it was very, very public.
A Calculator Bug is Discovered in iOS 11
Back in late October, a problem was discovered with the iOS Calculator app. The app’s on-screen animations caused it to not register presses that came in quick succession, which could result in all kinds of problems in calculations. If you took your time pressing the buttons the problem would disappear, but that’s not a solution. While I understand that this isn’t a critical bug, this an original iOS app, so users understandably trust it to work reliably. It also took Apple until iOS 11.2, which was released in early December, to put this bug to bed. That is far too long.
macOS High Sierra Allowed Admin Access Without a Password
User Name: root, Password “blank”. Ouch. This was an unforgivable mistake by Apple. It’s one thing to cause LTE connection issues or to have a weird symbol replace the letter “i,” but to give anyone with physical access to a Mac full access to the user’s system and files is beyond the pale. Apple patched this vulnerability within 24 hours, but managed to introduce a less severe bug that prevented users from connecting to file shares in the patch. Then it was discovered that some patched systems ended up with the root access issue again after a macOS system update. Yikes.
Apple had the following to say about this mess:
“Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS,” admitted an Apple spokesperson. “We greatly regret this error and we apologize to all Mac users, both for releasing with this vulnerability and for the concern it has caused. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes to help prevent this from happening again.”
Apple needs to make good on their words here. It’s absolutely imperative.
iOS 11 Date Bug Causes Boot Loop Crashes
Less than a week after the macOS debacle, Apple got hit again. Some iPhone users on iOS 11 started having boot looping crash issues on December 2. Evidently this was a combination of issues with date handling and recurring reminders. Apple acted fast to release the developer beta version of iOS 11.2 to fix this issue, and thankfully for them, the issue was only tied to a single day. However, this is just the last in a long line of poor software testing and quality assurance problems since the Summer.
Time to Turn the Page in 2018
Last year seemed like a low point for Siri. On June 7, the Wall Street Journal released a scathing article detailing the issues and leadership failures that have held Apple’s digital assistant back. It simply put specifics to the story that we all knew. However, while the WSJ article showed Apple’s past failures, Engadget published an article the same day that detailed all of the steps that Apple has taken in the last year to boost its standing in AI, machine learning, and Siri.
While we are still waiting for these initiatives to bear tangible fruit, at least as far a Siri is concerned, here we have details of a situation where Apple had a major shortcomings and their executives took decisive action to get things back on the right track. Apple needs the same kind of intervention for its operating systems right now. Based on the quote above that came after the big macOS bug, maybe that process has already started.
It is Craig Federighi’s OS Group that now has control of Siri and seems to be making the right decisions to at least get it moving the right direction. It is this same group that has ironically been caught sleeping at the switch when it comes to software testing lately. Now they have to figure out how to right the ship.
There is no way for us to be able to tell from the outside how all of these bugs made it into full public releases. It’s actually somewhat surprising to me since Apple now runs both public and developer betas of its OSs. While I’m sure the more extensive and inclusive beta process is helping in a lot of ways, there are still problems left to fix. There could be breakdowns in how products are being tested, not enough personnel, not enough of the right personnel, breakdowns in organization, or a myriad of other things that are allowing high profile bugs to get through into customer hands. .
While we may have no way of knowing what is happening inside of Apple, there are definitely people within the company who see what is going on. We didn’t know all of the things that Apple was doing behind the scenes to change the fortunes of Siri until Engadget’s article last year, but it is clear that a lot was going on for a year leading up to that. The problems were identified and real steps were taken to try and fix them. The same has to happen here.
While there’s no way to know for sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if organizational issues are playing a role here. Apple has grown rapidly over the last decade as their products and software have greatly expanded. That kind of growth means constant change in teams, managers, and responsibilities across all of the products. It is easy for things to drop through the cracks when roles aren’t clear and there is potential for overlapping responsibilities and authority. I’ve heard this suggested as a reason for the Calculator bug in iOS 11, but again, we don’t know.
Whether this is a problem or not, we definitely know that most of the bugs are affecting iOS. We also know that Apple has ramped up the addition of features since iOS 7 and has split off variants for the Apple Watch and Apple TV and is currently working on another for the HomePod. The more complex a system gets, the easier it is to introduce problems and the more difficult it is to troubleshoot.
However, this reality isn’t absolution. Apple built part of its reputation on the quality of its software, and the early releases of the iPhone fit that image to a tee. It is the company’s responsibility to adjust as things change and do whatever it takes to maintain that reputation. Unfortunately, it has already taken a beating at this point, so now it falls to them to repair as much of the damage as possible.
Other than Apple’s root access bug on the Mac, the items on this list above are minor annoyances that could be worked around. Apple also had patches or updates available quickly in most cases. However, each of these issues made the devices affected a little harder to use in different ways, which gradually erodes customer trust and confidence. Each one of them is another dent in the old “It just works” mantra of Steve Jobs that people came to believe over time. As we all know, it takes a lot less time and effort to destroy a reputation than to build one, so Apple needs to be careful that this list of high-profile bugs doesn’t grow over the coming year.
Whatever the reasons for the problems are, Apple can’t let this continue. Apple’s most important resolution for 2018 HAS to be to get their software testing cleaned up. As for my prediction, I think we will see improvement from Apple in the form of fewer problems of this magnitude in public software releases in 2018.
What do you think about the issues that Apple has had with its operating systems over the last six months? Have you been affected by any of them? Have they changed your impression of Apple at all? What do you think they should do in response? Let me know in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.