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Another Apple Update Failure

A while back, an Apple executive, in response to a question about declining software quality, asserted that quality had actually improved in recent years. But since there were more people using Apple gear, each problem received more coverage.

I suppose that’s quite possible, except that there’s no way for anyone outside of Apple to know whether that response is accurate or just corporate spin. Certainly the common perception is that software quality has declined. Even after four maintenance updates, OS X El Capitan rates no better than three-and-a-half stars. All right, that’s up from three stars, so it’s progress. And maybe it is true that people with problems are more apt to write reviews than those for whom the OS works just fine.

But it’s still true Apple has had its problems, and being on the front lines of worldwide publicity doesn’t help. So don’t forget the iOS 8.0.1 update, which bricked iPhone 6-family devices. It was withdrawn within an hour or so, and a Restore via iTunes could fix the affected handsets, which amounted to a fairly small number. Indeed, Apple released a fixed version, iOS 8.0.2, the very next day.

Apple never heard the end of it. The mainstream media painted it as a major catastrophe, even though the damage wasn’t permanent. However, perceptions, even if they are a little off from the truth, are difficult to correct once they become embedded in the media’s reality. More to the point, why did it even happen?

One Apple executive attributed it to a bad “wrapper,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Maybe the installer, but I would have expected Apple to test the update a little more carefully before it was released. This sort of thing is inexcusable.

All right, Microsoft has had more than its share of flawed releases, but still.

That takes is to iOS 9.3. Next to the reference release, 9.0, this got extra promotion by Apple for adding a few important new features, such as Night Shift, which changes the color temperature to a warmer setting at night to relax your eyes. Maybe it’ll make it easier for you to go to sleep, I gather, and I suppose it’s a far better option, if it helps, than sleeping pills. I, for one, tend to be jittery at night after a long day dealing with all sorts of stuff, and I find it difficult to fall asleep. Maybe it’s better, slightly, or at least that’s my perception since I configured Night Shift.

iOS 9.3 also has enhancements for education that will put the iPad in a better place against Chromebooks, at least if school systems are willing to pay more for the privilege.

All right, you get the picture.

iOS 9.3 received extensive testing by developers and regular people, since it was posted for public beta testers. You’d think that after weeks of seeds, the most serious problems would have been massaged out of the release, that there were no serious bugs.

Or at least that’s a theory, but theories don’t always pan out in the real world.

So we have a problem with iOS 9.3 that impacted older iPhones and iPads, and another problem that might affect lots of users. The first problem resulted in activation glitches for older gear.

Here’s the first problem, as explained in an Apple support document:

“Updating some iOS devices (iPhone 5s and earlier and iPad Air and earlier) to iOS 9.3 can require entering the Apple ID and password used to set up the device in order to complete the software update.”

For some users, however, this process doesn’t work, so there’s yet another support document that attempts to sort it all out:

After you update to iOS 9.3, you might see this message on your iPad 2 (GSM model): ‘Your iPad could not be activated because the activation service is temporarily unavailable.’

It goes on to explain how to Restore the device via iTunes on a Mac or a PC. Evidently other vintage iPhones and iPads are susceptible to this bug.

Apple has since released a fixed version of iOS 9.3 that should cure this problem. That’s fine as far as it goes. But there appears to be yet another bug, one that results in a crash or freeze when you try to open a hyperlink in such apps as Safari, Mail, Messages and third-party browsers, such as Google Chrome, all of which use the same rendering engine in their iOS versions. That’s an issue Apple is investigating, apparently.

All right, in a matter of weeks, these problems should be sad memories. But that’s not the point. Apple fed iOS 9.3 builds to tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of customers and developers. Surely at least a few of them encountered these bugs and took the time to report them. If Apple didn’t listen, the beta test process is seriously flawed. If they knew about it, they should have held off the release to fix it, even if that meant that iOS 9.3 wouldn’t ship with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPhone SE.

Well maybe that was it: Marketing set a deadline, and the heck with bugs. Or maybe the bugs were somehow overlooked or not given the proper level of significance. But when Apple asserts that there are fewer software bugs nowadays, forgive me if I don’t believe them.