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  • About Apple Software Issues

    November 20th, 2015

    As many of you know, a week or two before Apple releases a new gadget, selected members of the press are seeded with samples so they can release reviews a day or two before it goes on sale. This early buzz, if favorable, can really boost sales from the starting gate. That’s particularly helpful with the iPhone, where Apple has records to break on the launch weekend.

    Most of the recent reviews have been favorable. But the Apple Watch was got somewhat mixed ratings, as reviewers were concerned over whether what was basically a fashion accessory for the iPhone was an indispensable gadget. There were also troubling reports of software glitches, such as the inconsistent sensitivity to activating the watch when you flicked your wrist, or slow app performance. The latter was largely due to the fact that the apps were actually running on the iPhone and pushed to the Apple Watch via Bluetooth.

    If you were skeptical about buying an Apple Watch, you’d come away with the distinct impression that this was surely a version 1.0 product, particularly the software. Forgetting the hardware limitations — and the advertised battery life of 18 hours may be a limitation — some might have decided to just wait.

    watchOS2 fixed some glitches, and allowed apps to run native. But it also arrived five months after the product first hit the store shelves. While unofficial estimates of sales indicate an early success, that Apple is outselling all other smartwatches combined, having reviewers discover software bugs is not a good thing.

    Before writing this article, I read a review of the iPad Pro from Time magazine. That’s a prestigious publication, and Apple should be pleased to have its new device labeled as the best computer Apple ever made. But the writer cited software glitches that involved such key elements as the touch keyboard and scrolling.

    A serious problem reported by some users, and confirmed by Apple, involves the iPad Pro becoming unresponsive after charging, which requires a hard restart to set things right. But that’s just a quick workaround. Apple is investigating the situation to see what has to be fixed. This would likely involve an iOS update of some sort.

    What is troubling is that the iPad is a product with sales in decline. The pressure was therefore higher on Apple to get it right the first time with its latest and greatest, and not ship something with assorted glitches. The charging misbehavior is significant, even if there’s a workaround. Remember that not a whole lot of these tablets are in the wild yet, so it’s possible there are other bugs that will show up before long.

    I’ve already discussed the ongoing problems with new versions of iOS and OS X. With Yosemite, it took several releases to resolve a nagging Wi-Fi problem that was evidently caused by switching to a different network resource. Perhaps Apple had perfectly logical reasons to make the change. Perhaps it was hoped it would improve Wi-Fi reliability and performance, but they had to revert to the older way of doing things after taking months to fix the problem. It certainly didn’t make Mac users warm and fuzzy about having to restart or dump a preference file or two every so often to restore Wi-Fi functionality.

    El Capitan was supposed to be the release that would focus on reliability, fixing the ills of previous OS X versions and adding improvements to performance and reliability. Now from personal experience, I can tell you that I tend to view online customer reviews with some skepticism. While there are legitimate compliments and criticisms, some people just want to be negative and might exaggerate a problem, or, frankly, just make things up.

    On the other hand, El Capitan is still not quite getting the love at the App Store. With a 2.5 star rating, it’s not pleasing upgraders as much as Yosemite, which was no great shakes. There are reports of installation glitches, the need to constantly restart to keep printers from falling off the network, and general performance issues. To be fair, Apple has already released one updater, 10.11.1, and is working on a 10.11.2 with more promised fixes. It took updates from Apple and Microsoft to address issues with Microsoft Office 2016, but the updated versions appear to work well. So it’s quite possible many of the remaining complaints, if they are consistent and hitting lots of users, will be mostly resolved soon.

    A key change, designed to improve reliability, has made some apps incompatible. It’s called “rootless” or “System Integrity Protection,” which blocks access to certain system processes and resources. Apps that depend on that access have had to be redeveloped. Developer Jon Gotow of St. Clair Software had to totally rebuild his handy Default Folder Open/Save dialog enhancer as a result. To be fair, his public beta is coming along nicely, and will probably be finished in a few weeks. Other programmers are also working on updates for El Capitan.

    iOS 9 seems to be in somewhat better shape, though I’ve read about problems with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Touch ID and battery life. You know, the usual things that impact an iOS update. But I haven’t noticed anything in particular since the original release, where some apps crashed upon launch.

    Still, I have to hope Apple will actually take the experience of public betas as a means to improve system reliability. That doesn’t seem to have happened yet.



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