Is Apple Quality Control on the Skids?

December 23rd, 2014

So without quoting the source, I read yet another article Monday suggesting that Apple is doing too much too quickly and thus releasing products with a few too many defects. The most notorious example is iOS 8.0.1, withdrawn a little over an hour after being released. It seems that it caused havoc on an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, notably the loss of your cellular connection and Touch ID.

Understandably, you had to wonder just how Apple managed to deliver an update that was so flawed. Didn’t anyone test the thing on the most important iPhones of the year, maybe the most important iPhones ever? How could that possibly be?

Well, Apple VP Greg Joswiak explained the cause, sort of, in an interview with Re/code a few weeks back. So “Joz” blamed the flawed update on the way it was “wrapped” before being sent over Apple’s servers. After rewrapping or doing whatever was necessary to fix the problem, an 8.0.2 update appeared the very next day. This time, the fixes worked. In the meantime, some 40,000 new iPhones were virtually bricked by the original update, but doing a Restore via iTunes would apparently set things right.

I would not presume to understand the full details of Apple’s distribution mechanism, and I expect much of the process may be proprietary. But did Apple do a pilot run first, to make sure the update worked? Just asking.

As you might expect, Apple got lots of nasty publicity as the result of 8.0.1, and some of it was typically exaggerated. At the same time, Microsoft has released more than its share of faulty updates, causing such symptoms is reboot loops or the inability to boot. It seems to be taken in stride because that’s Microsoft, and this is Apple. Apple is supposed to be perfect.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been ongoing glitches with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. There always seem to be Wi-Fi issues, and sometimes Bluetooth in the early part of a release cycle. Performance on older gear may not be up to snuff. But if you look at the history of iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, you’ll also find a number of early-release bugs. Don’t forget that Apple Mail’s handling of Gmail was seriously broken, and that required a separate Mail Updates for Mavericks to deal with some of the core issues.

How soon they forget!

But any defect that involves networking of one sort or another can be frustrating. While I’ve usually connected my desktop Macs via a wired connection, lately I’ve been experimenting with the 802.11ac hookup on the test iMac 5K. Since the current Wi-Fi standard is in the range of gigabit Ethernet in performance, I expected not to notice much of a difference going without the cable. I didn’t. And, by the way, I never did encounter that notorious Yosemite Wi-Fi bug, but I realize that it exists and has frustrated at least some of you.

In passing, Apple is reportedly working on a 10.10.2 update — available to developers and public beta testers — that targets Wi-Fi issues that remained after 10.10.1 arrived a few weeks back.

While I respect some of the people who complain about Apple’s recent quality control lapses, I can still point to serious problems with earlier OS releases, even before Apple committed to annual OS X revisions. I am not going to repeat the specifics here, but you can easily search this site or consult your favorite search engine for the specifics.

Once again, Apple has never been perfect.

Except that this year Apple chose to put a lot more new stuff into iOS and OS X, and something had to give. I hoped that the Yosemite public beta program would have resulted in a more solid release. I cannot imagine how persistent Wi-Fi connection problems wouldn’t be noticed, though I suppose it’s possible Apple knew some of you were affected, but needed more time to arrive at a fix. Assuming only a fraction of Mac users were impacted — and that it may not have been a consistent problem in all cases — perhaps Apple decided to take the calculated risk.

It happens all the time in this business.

The corollary argument is that maybe the bugs in iOS 8 have dulled the adoption rate. As I write this, Apple reports a 63% iOS adoption curve, with 33% still using iOS 7. Mixpanel Trends displays frequent updates and the figures I saw when I wrote this article reflected a 65.6% iOS 8 adoption rate, with 31.33% staying with iOS 7.

In the scheme of things, either figure is quite high, but the numbers for iOS 7 were roughly 10% higher at this point last year, depending on the source. That may seem significant, but remember Apple eliminated tens of millions of older iOS gear with iOS 8. So if you have an original iPad or anything up to an iPhone 4, forget about it. The minimum supported devices are the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4s, but expect degraded performance. The iOS 8.1.1 update supposedly made things a tad swifter, but the benchmarks show it’s hit or miss. Remember that even when an app launches only a fraction of a second slower, that may mean the difference between snappy and lagging.

All those old iPhones and iPads are still in service even though they are no longer eligible for the latest and greatest OS. That reduces the potential number of upgrades, so that 10% figure may not be so bad if you take a realistic view.

Now I predicted the adoption rate would approach 70% by the end of the year. It’s getting closer, but it appears as if I’ll be off the mark by a few points. However, the numbers are still quite high, so don’t let the fear mongers discourage you. It’s best to decide whether to upgrade to iOS 8 — or OS X Yosemite for that matter — on the basis of your needs and expectations.

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2 Responses to “Is Apple Quality Control on the Skids?”

  1. dfs says:

    For its last few iterations of OSX and Safari Apple has initiated a program of public betas, and everybody who signs up gets a special piece of software for reporting bugs. At least at one point, I seem to recall, Apple was limiting access to these betas to the first million people to request them. Maybe even this restriction has been lifted. Given this, they must have harvested a huge amount of feedback. So it’s very difficult for me to understand how any conspicuous bug could survive this kind of scrutiny, unless Apple was being far less than diligent in listening to what it must have been told. What exactly is the point of such beta programs if their results are ignored?

    • @dfs, The betas before OS X Yosemite weren’t exactly public. They were limited to a small number of people. It only expanded when Yosemite was under development. I would like to hear from people who did test the public beta and reported Wi-Fi problems, since that appears to have been the most serious issue.


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