The Apple-Taking-On-Too-Much Report

October 3rd, 2014

It is certain that Apple seems to be beset with lots of problems these days. While everything appeared to be coming up roses when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were launched on September 9th at a media event, things sort of went downhill from there. Even the live stream of that event had a shaky start, with fits and drops and, for a time, a Mandarin Chinese translation almost overwhelming the English language feed.

All right flooded servers no doubt revealed more interest in the goings on than Apple might have anticipated. That was a good thing.

No so good was the lurid tale that some celebrities had their iCloud accounts compromised, thus resulting in the leak of explicit photos. Now it turns it this wasn’t an iCloud problem, but a problem involving famous people not securing their online accounts with strong passwords, and I won’t get into the wisdom of storing revealing photos in the cloud.

The next story was all about a rock and roll album from U2 that Apple distributed free. It doesn’t matter that Apple paid an estimated $100 million for a marketing campaign that included a healthy paycheck for the Bono and his colleagues. That the download suddenly appeared in 500 million iTunes accounts was allegedly a huge imposition on one’s privacy. I suppose it was an issue if the accounts were compromised, but they weren’t. I suppose you have to be concerned about folks who set their iTunes accounts to automatically download new material, thus resulting in filling their Macs, iPhones and iPads with unwanted musical tracks.

In fact, Apple had to release a tool to allow you to remove the album, “Songs of Innocence,” from your account. But it was just as easy to ignore it, or delete the download if you didn’t want it. No harm done. So Apple continues to run the TV campaign.

Segue to the release if iOS 8, which flooded Apple’s servers. It took me hours to upgrade two iPhones and an iPad on a 50 megabit Internet hookup. Not pleasant, but not a critical problem. Unfortunately, even when download speeds returned to normal, the upgrade was difficult for those who had gear without a lot of free space. The download was roughly 1.1GB, but if you did an in-device upgrade, it needed several more gigabytes with which to process the installer file. Things would return to normal after the installation and housecleaning, but if you didn’t have enough space, you had to do the update with iTunes on your Mac or PC.

As I write this article, about half the iOS user base has upgraded to iOS 8, and the actual figures depend on which analytical tool you use. But it will probably never hit the estimated 91% level of iOS 7, because support for the iPhone 4 was dropped. If you have an iPhone 4s, you may find that the performance tradeoffs aren’t worth the bother, but nothing forces you to upgrade.

However, the 8.0.1 update caught Apple flatfooted. It worked well enough, except on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, where caused a heap of trouble. Suddenly the carrier connection was lost and Touch ID was deactivated. Apple took the hint and withdrew the update a little over an hour after release, although an estimated 40,000 iPhones were impacted. Apple apologized and posted instructions on how to revert to iOS 8. The next day, iOS 8.0.2 was released, and it appears most problems have been resolved, though there are still various and sundry iOS 8 bugs left to be addressed. Did I mention the occasional crashes in Apple Mail?

Until the 8.0.2 update appeared, HealthKit didn’t work, and now health-related apps have begun to appear. The highly-touted Continuity feature, which integrates iOS and OS X devices, is only partly functional. We have to await the release of OS X Yosemite, which is expected later this month. Still, Handoff, which lets you start or pick up, say, an email and move to another device to continue, won’t support all Macs. You need a 2011 or later model that includes hardware for Bluetooth LE.

Sure, developers and regular beta testers are already downloading a GM Candidate of OS X Yosemite, with the hint more fixes are necessary before the final release is out. Some suggest it’ll go live the third week of October, but we’ll see.

Just for the record, I think the BendGate issue, that an iPhone 6 Plus was extremely vulnerable to bending when placed in your pocket, was bogus. So while it may have made a certain YouTube channel richer by attracting millions of downloads, it was otherwise a non-issue. An iPhone 6 Plus is acceptably durable based on all the bend and drop tests I’ve seen.

Still columnist Kirk McElhearn is now suggesting, in his Kirksville blog, that maybe Apple is trying to do too much too fast. Annual OS upgrades for Macs and iOS gear, not to mention new hardware and new services, is just overwhelming the company.

There’s a lot of merit to what Kirk says, and we’ll be talking more about it on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. My feeling is that Apple is, in part, responding to the endless media and analyst complaints that there isn’t much real innovation since Steve Jobs died. The stock price has been pressured, and the attacks are endless and sometimes furious. So maybe Tim Cook wanted to show ’em all and thus overcompensated. There are always defects in new Apple software and hardware that require quick fixes. But maybe Apple needs to enhance quality control, or just slow down.

The critics will just have to wait!

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7 Responses to “The Apple-Taking-On-Too-Much Report”

  1. Peter says:

    The big issue I have with the U2 incident is that Apple should not be deciding what is or is not in my music collection.

    If Apple said, “Hey, hop onto iTunes and download whatever tracks you want from the new U2 album free of charge,” I’d be singing their praises to high heaven. But to force it into my collection and say, “Well, if you don’t like it, run this special app to clean it up.” is just plain wrong.

    Now, I have nothing against U2. But if this were to somehow work out, what happens when it’s some artist or genre of music that I don’t like? Do I have to keep an eye on my music collection and make sure that Apple hasn’t decided that I really want something from 50 cent or Katy Perry?

    By the way, as I understand it, the way the download worked was that there’s a setting which will download purchased music so if I buy a song on my Mac, for example, it will be available on my iPhone without me having to sync. That’s a useful feature. So what you’re saying is that I should have somehow known that Apple was going to use this feature to spam my music collection and turned it off. Is that really your attitude?

    As for crashes and such, frankly, it’s about trust. Take HomeKit. I’m going to spend money and get new locks installed in my house so that I can open my doors with my iPhone. Then Apple sends out a system update which bricks my phone. “Oops! Sorry!” says Apple. “You’ll need to plug your phone into your computer and revert and resync everything.” The problem is my computer is locked up in my house which I can’t get into because Apple bricked my phone! “Oh yeah. Did we mention how sorry we were?”

    If Apple can’t get updates right, how am I to trust that they’ll get home security and digital wallets right? And while having my phone get bricked is a nuisance in regards to staying in touch with people, not being able to get into my house or pay for a locksmith because my phone got bricked is a bit more of a big deal. I need to be able to trust Apple–no excuses, no empathic cries of how sorry they are. It just has to work. I have to trust that updating my phone isn’t going to screw up my real life for the next few days until Apple sorts it all out. And, so far, I’m not seeing it.

    • @Peter, Nobody forces you to download the U2 album. And it’s not the first time a tech company has had to withdraw a flawed update. It happened in a little over an hour, and Apple posted instructions on how to fix a small number of affected iPhones.

      Anyone who is concerned about any Internet of things device, all of which may have a bug or have a software update that needs to be fixed, just shouldn’t use them.


  2. Peter says:

    Nobody forces you to download the U2 album.

    There’s a U2 Album on my iPhone. Apple didn’t force me to download it. Apple forced a piece of merchandise that I own to download it. Apple should not be doing that.

    Apple used to give away free singles (maybe they still do). I would go to the “Free Song of the Week” page in iTunes and download the song if I liked it. It didn’t just appear on my computer. That’s what Apple should have done with the U2 album.

    To use an analogy, I have an old car which I will be more than happy to drop on your lawn. After all, if you don’t like the car, you can always get rid of it. What’s the big deal, right?

    • @Peter, It is only on your iPhone if you choose to download it. Otherwise it’s just something on your Purchased list. If downloaded, nobody stops you from deleting it. It will not reappear. It is definitely NOT the same as depositing a physical object on your front lawn. If you think it is, we are in different realities.


  3. S. Mulji says:

    I agree, that Apple should slow down, even if that means the blogosphere whining about Apple’s innovation “slowing.” The quality of the user experience on devices these days is heavily dependent on the quality, in terms of stability and reliability, of the software. That doesn’t mean software will be bug free, but it should be of excellent quality. Apple’s proven in the past it is capable of doing just that.

    I remember during the earlier days of OSX, major releases would happen approximately every 2 years. I think that’s a healthy cadence for Apple to be on. Release a major version of iOS & OSX every 2 years, along with major updates to iPhones, iPads, etc.., with updates, be it bug / stability fixes and / or addition of features, dispersed in between (every 3 to 4 months).

    The vast majority of users are upgrading their devices every 2 to 4 years, on average, as it is, so it isn’t urgent for Apple to increase the pace of software releases. The last thing Apple needs is to have too many future fiascos (with exception of “Bendghazi”) like they did this month, which could negative long-term impact on their brand and business. I rather they practice what they preach – release only when ready, not when marketing says it’s ready or time to ship.

  4. DaveD says:

    My recollection of the early years of Mac OS X that due to performance issues and many missing standard features, there was a rush to push a major version annually. It was with Jaguar that we all felt that OS X had finally arrived to be the one and the pace of releases began to stretch. Tiger took a long time. But, it was the time of Mac processor transition and the birth of iPhone OS. The Finder in Tiger had finally behaved the same way as the classic Finder only to regress in Leopard.

    Things happened so rapidly in computer technology that Apple feels the need to keep pushing. Have we forgotten the bugs in some Mac OS X version “.0” release that were followed by a quick update? Perfection is hard but maybe a little more quality control checks would be better to prevent major gaffes.

    • @DaveD, And don’t forget that 10.1 came just months after 10.0.

      But with a public beta program, one hopes Apple is getting lots and lots of feedback to make the first official Yosemite release more solid.


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