I suppose if you believe what currently passes for conventional wisdom in the tech media, Apple was moving along perfectly in recent years until the Mapgate debacle. The iPhone, the iPad, the iPod and the Mac were all running just peachy, OS X and the iOS were free of errors, all until Apple failed to deliver a credible mapping system to replace Google Maps.
As I said in my previous column, the mapping errors are easy to demonstrate. A few screenshots comparing the Apple to Google version, and the point is crystal clear. In passing, it is reported that an ad from Google’s Motorola division erroneously claims that Apple’s Maps was wrong about a destination in New York City, except that the address actually points to a public park. Or maybe the address applies to the public restrooms.
Regardless, few dispute the contention that the maps problem is real, but it’s also clear that Apple will be working overtime to fix the worst problems. If only it had a beta label, but that didn’t stop people from complaining about Siri’s voice recognition accuracy, and it remains a beta.
But if you go back through Apple’s history, you’ll find a host of defective problems of one sort or another. Some appeared before Steve Jobs returned to the company, others appeared after.
Certainly Macs have been subject to extended repair programs from time to time. I recall the iMac G5, some of which were prone to power supply failures. More recently, Apple instituted a plan to replace 1TB Seagate hard drives on some iMacs shipped between May 2011 and July 2011, which are subject to early failures. Some 1st generation iPod nanos, sold between September 2005 and December 2006, are being replaced because a defective battery on some units may “overheat and pose a safety hazard.”
You can’t dispute Apple’s dedication to quality, but at the same time you cannot expect that all products will be perfect. That’s what product warranties are for, but these special programs deal with special conditions.
I also wonder if Apple should look at the repair record of the 2008 Black MacBook. My son had nearly every internal component, and part of the case, replaced at least once over the years. Now perhaps his situation is unique, but having hardware problems with any Apple product is not that unusual, even though most customers have great user experiences.
And don’t get me started about Antennagate.
When it comes to Apple software, you know there are bugs and missteps. Apple overhauled iMovie several years ago, but the previous or “HD” version was kept available. Customers complained that the new version was too different, and lacked key features that they had come to depend on. This situation repeated itself with the release of Final Cut Pro X. But since FCP is in wide use by professional video editors in the movie and TV industries, you can bet there were plenty of vocal complaints about the loss of key features and the huge changes in the way the program was meant to be used.
In releasing FCP X, Apple made the mistake of not preparing loyal users of the previous version that it was just the beginning. Missing features would, in large part, be restored, and, customers would, Apple hoped, learn to embrace it with the same passion as the previous version. The jury is still out whether Apple will regain lost customers, and convince fence sitters that FCP X is the superior app. Maybe it’s very much about changing things too much, a problem Microsoft could well encounter when Windows 8 comes out later this month.
With online services, Apple has continued to flounder. In the 1990s, they had eWorld, a consumer-level online service that was based on AOL technology. Later, .Mac, and MobileMe went through rocky existences. Today’s replacement, iCloud, shows plenty of promise, but there remain lots of rough edges. And when you encounter occasional email outages, as I did several weeks ago, you wonder if the service is anything you really want to depend on.
Over the years, releases of OS X and the iOS have been flawed. iOS 5, for example, seriously reduced battery life for people who owned the iPhone 4 or 4S. I know I encountered the problem, and it took a couple of updates to restore battery life to its former level. With iOS 6, some customers are complaining all over again about similar problems.
Although generally a pretty solid release, battery life problems afflicted at least some Mac note-book users when Mountain Lion arrived. Apple never officially admitted the problem, although they reportedly did reach out to affected customers for system logs to figure out what was going on. Benchmarks of the OS 10.8.1 update showed some improvement. With 10.8.2, battery life was supposedly restored to previous levels and then some. Yet there was nothing about battery life in the release notes, so maybe there will be more changes in 10.8.3.
I’ve only scratched the service. But it goes to show that Apple, despite the well-deserved reputation for product excellence, has had its share of missteps. Mapgate is but the latest example, and there will be others. But maybe some people are just expecting too much, which is why the defects seem more shocking.