What's up with Apple's software quality control?


Apple is rolling in buckets of money, so you’d think it could spend a little more on making things “just work”. Instead, users are getting apps that are growing worse, or devices that seem hell-bent on killing themselves.

Apple: Money Don’t Matter 2 Night

There was a recent brouhaha in the financial pages relating to the fact that Alphabet — that’s the company formally known as Google, sort of, and it’s taking every bit of self-restraint for me not to open up the dusty old tome of Prince jokes at this juncture — briefly became the most valuable company on the planet, ousting Apple from that particular throne.
Then, with a dip in share prices, it wasn’t. Maybe it is again, and maybe it isn’t, and frankly, while I kind of get the idea that these valuations do mean money to some people, to most of us it may as well be Monopoly money.
What is interesting, however, is that Apple’s still sitting on a hoard of cold, hard cash, and still attracting all sorts of bright and interesting minds to work for them. The same is true of arch-rival Google — basically both companies (and, yes, Microsoft, and Facebook and other Silicon Valley type luminaries, but bear with me here) like hiring smart folks to work on cool stuff.
Not a difficult concept to wrap your head around, really. Apple has lots of money, and it hires lots of big brains to go with it.
What is making me pause for thought recently, however, was the single thought that seems to be becoming a recurring theme on the Apple side of things, and that is that the software appears to be getting worse. Not just a bit worse, but a lot, and often in ways that don’t just lead to poor user experiences, but downright woeful ones. Which means that for all that money, and all those brains, Apple’s making devices and experiences that seem to be going backwards in terms of actually being good.

Apple: What is iTunes Meant To Be?

Take iTunes, for example. Please, take iTunes, and go out the back of the woolshed with the shotgun and the mop, because whatever iTunes used to be, it isn’t that any more.
It’s not even particularly good at selling me on Apple Music, which seems to be what Apple wants it to be right now. Instead, I find it a struggle to use, partly because it seems to love bringing up El Capitan’s version of the spinning beachball, although it could now be a spinning parasol for all I know, and partly because it’s very bloody obtuse when it comes to easy user discovery.
This is, by the way, pretty much the opposite of the way Apple likes to make its UIs work, where you get a controlled but simple experience, that, to use an old Apple marketing slogan, “just works”.

Apple: Error 53: Security conscious, or a blatant cash grab?

Except when it doesn’t. We discuss the recent “Error 53” fiasco in the latest Vertical Hold, which you can listen to from this link, but to recap, if you get your TouchID sensor replaced by a third party repairer, which plenty of folks do because it’s usually way cheaper than Apple’s own inhouse pricing, and combine that with iOS 9, at some point you may be locked out of your iOS device with the not-terribly-helpful “Error 53” message coming up. Error 53 is fatal to your device, and the data on it. Gone, lost, eradicated, and so on and not so forth. Not forth at all.
Apple’s position on this is that it relates to biometric security and the way that TouchID protects your fingerprint. I kind of get where they’re coming from here, because if third parties did work out ways to bypass TouchID via a shonky sensor, or even if they let the gates down enough to allow, say, third party parts to work but TouchID not to work, they’re letting in a lot of hackers after direct financial information. That’s the way a lot of IT security goes these days.
At the same time, bricking a phone because you didn’t play with Apple’s repair tools seems a little harsh. I do wonder if Apple hasn’t stuck itself between a rock and a hard place here, because it could well be that the underlying security code can’t be simple altered to allow unverified parts to drop TouchID and allow at least basic access without destroying the core security in the first place. Again, that comes down to the quality of the underlying code.

Apple: Remember the 70s? There were a lot of drugs, and a lot of… bugs?

The latest code mess to hit the web is this issue of setting the date on your iOS device back to the 1st of January 1970.


Look, I haven’t tested this, but I’ve read enough reports (here, here, here, here and I could go on…) from reliable sources to suggest that this isn’t some kind of early April Fool’s day prank that doesn’t exist.

Do not try this on your, or ANYBODY ELSE'S device. Really. Don't.
Do not try this on your, or ANYBODY ELSE’S device.
Really. Don’t.

Setting the date back to the earliest possible timing, which involves a lot of scrolling, apparently upsets the internal clock so badly that the phone will stop responding. It may be fixable, and it may not — reports do vary on this — but one way or another, you’re in for a headache if you even try. Don’t think it’ll be “funny” to do this to somebody else’s phone either. Remember, when it doubt, apply Wheaton’s Law.
But again, reports suggest that this is some kind of wacky division by zero error underlying the whole issue, because 1970 is just too early for the current versions of iOS. Methinks that’ll be patched out as soon as it’s feasible, because it seems like an easier thing to check for than upsetting the TouchID parts of the software, but still, it raises that software quality question again.

Apple: Where is the quality control?

Look, I get that software is written by people, and people are fallible. I also get that there can be as many bugs across Windows, or Android, or Linux, or anything else you might use (and the reality is that I run across pretty much all of them on a near-daily basis, lest I be accused once more of being in the pocket of any particular tech company).

It’s not easy being green, as your spokesfrog used to say. But making apps and devices that just work shouldn’t be this hard either.
But when you’re Apple, and you so solidly sell yourself on the underlying premium quality of your devices and their experiences, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the software that runs it, the software that you write very specifically to work only within the set parameters of the hardware devices that you build to actually work, and work at least reasonably well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.