The iOS 8.1 Follies

October 29th, 2014

Apple’s critics want to tell you that iOS 8 and the iOS 8.1 updates are seriously flawed, that maybe it was a rush job. Besides, aren’t people avoiding that update in droves? So how can the company continue to proclaim it a success? After all, the infamous Steve Jobs “reality distortion field” is gone, kaput.

The reality is rather more complicated, and I won’t gloss over legitimate issues. So there’s the adoption curve, which lagged seriously behind iOS 7 and to a lesser degree compared to iOS 6. Of course iOS 6 had its own problems, most particularly the seriously flawed release of Maps. In apologizing for that buggy release, Tim Cook even recommended that you try someone else’s Maps app, even Google’s. Oh the indignity of it all!

Of course, the worst problems with Maps have once since been fixed. The most important limitation appears to be the lack of direct support to public transit systems. Now you are directed to a third-party app, but I doubt that’s forever.

With iOS 8, some suggest there really aren’t too many changes, at least until you actually look at the list. But since visual changes are slight, all the improvements aren’t readily noticed. Typical of a new iOS release, there were reports of problems that included Bluetooth, particularly pairing with some cars, and Wi-Fi connectivity with some routers.

I paired two different iPhones with a Kia’s UVO (by Microsoft) handsfree system without a hiccup. Wi-Fi performance proved less certain. It went fine with a current model AirPort Extreme. Connection speeds dropped seriously on a Linksys WRT1900AC router, a hefty unit with four large antennas.

The fast release of an 8.0.1 updater was too fast when it came to quality control. Apple suffered the embarrassment of watching some 40,000 new iPhones being unable to connect to the cellular network and losing Touch ID. The update was pulled within a little over an hour, and Apple released a fixed version the very next day, 8.0.2. Customers whose iPhone 6 handsets were partly disabled could refer to simple online instructions to restore the units and get them working again.

But the “Apple does everything wrong” crowd was just delighted to complain, even though other companies have issued flawed updates that caused some level of havoc. Ask Microsoft.

With the arrival of the 8.1 updater, things settled down. That release also added support for Apple Pay, which has generated a little controversy because some large merchants are pushing for a different payment scheme and won’t support Apple. Clearly mobile payment systems have suddenly become important. They weren’t complaining over Google’s failed Wallet method because its presence was barely noticed.

But the adoption iOS 8 curve has increased of late, based on my regular tracking of the stats at Mixpanel Trends. As I wrote this column, iOS 8 was running between 54-55% (it was 52% at Apple’s developer site), and will likely continue to increase at a steady clip. After a year, iOS 7 hit a 91% rate, but with a number of older devices no longer supported, Apple probably won’t achieve near that level with iOS 8. I’ve been suggesting 75-80%, which is nothing to cry over. Compare those numbers to anyone else.

It’s still early in the game, though, and iOS 8.1 isn’t quite problem free. So the new “Hey Siri” feature, which allows you to activate the personal assistant with a voice command, remains flaky. Sometimes it just turns on. And, no, it’s not because someone is saying “Hey Siri” on the radio. It just happens, ghostlike. There’s no explanation.

The typically buggy Mail has a glitch or two from time to time. Sometimes it won’t swivel when I turn the iPhone around. Force quitting the app will often help, but clearly something funky is going on, since this happens on two iPhones that I’ve tested, including a friend’s iPhone 6. The app also quits on occasion, as do some others at random. But not often enough to present a serious impediment to getting things done.

Now hardly a day passes where one app or another receives an update. Some have had several since iOS 8 first arrived. These include the basic adjustments to support the larger iPhone displays, but others contain new features and the usual spate of bug fixes.

Overall, iOS 8 for me was pretty decent, and 8.1 is certainly somewhat better. Maybe it’s good enough for some who avoided the update before to take a chance. But I also see long-term iOS irritants that Apple hasn’t considered. You can, for example, sort all your apps on your Home screen under General > Reset > Reset Home Screen Layout. When I ran that function on an iPhone 5s, all of the apps on the other screens were alphabetized, but the ones on the Home Screen were curiously organized in a sequence that was nowhere close to alphabetical. Compass, Contacts, Tips and Voice Memos were placed in an Extras folder. Perhaps it was based on Apple’s concept of the order of importance.

When I tried the same maneuver on a third generation iPad, a slightly different lineup was deposited in the Extras folder, but the rest of the apps were put in a sequence comparable to the iPhone. Why not also offer some custom organizational options that are less clumsy than dragging and dropping an app icon into a new position?

But that’s a long-term iOS irritant. Besides, there are rumors that Apple is already at work on iOS 8.2 and 8.3, but that’s not a problem I expect to see them fix.

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