Does Apple Plan to Do Less for iOS 12?

January 31st, 2018

In recent years, Apple has been criticized for trying to do too much, releasing OS updates with missing and/or delayed features. Or, worse, lots of bugs to drive users crazy. Despite assurances by Apple that its monitoring fewer problems nowadays, facts are nasty things that often get in the way.

Consider two embarrassing problems for macOS High Sierra, which was touted a mainly a performance update with few compelling new features. So imagine the bug where you could gain root access on your Mac without a password, or a related problem involving App Store preferences. There was silly stuff for iOS 11 too, a perfectly stupid autocorrect bug involving the letter “i.”

In other words, clearly obvious problems that you’d think a first-year programming student would discover in routine testing. How did Apple allow them to clear quality control without a WTF?

During the WWDC, Apple gave a compelling presentation about a new file system, APFS, which had already shown up in an iOS update and would finally premiere on the Mac. It would offer improved performance and security and I was anxious to see it in action.

Unfortunately the first release version was basically limited to SSDs. If your Mac had a Fusion drive, the combo of a large HDD and a small SSD, APFS didn’t survive the beta process. Apple said it would come in a future release, but four months later, with macOS 10.13.4 reportedly under beta test, it’s nowhere in sight.

Does that mean it won’t show up until macOS 10.14? Maybe never?

Unfortunately, the news media, when given the opportunity to talk to an Apple executive, seems to forget to ask questions about such matters. Evidently a new file system that will improve the reality of storage devices isn’t considered terribly important. To be fair, the debut of APFS on iOS and related gear occurred with little fanfare and almost free of glitches. But the storage device situation for Macs are far more complex and confusing, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect too much.

In any case, Apple has suffered from bad publicity for its lapses. I can agree with the suggestion that the OS developers are taking on too much and not being given enough time to get the job done.

Maybe Apple is getting the hint. There are published reports that some features expected for iOS 12 will be pushed off to iOS 13 to give the company additional time to deliver a more solid release. Such features reportedly include a new home screen, augmented reality enhancements, improved photo sorting, a long-awaited upgrade for Mail and other enhancements.

As a practical matter, I’d welcome improvements to Mail, which has changed only in modest ways over the years. It’s one of my two most used apps; the other being Safari.

But I have to say that, if true, Apple is taking the correct approach. Features should not be promised unless there’s a reasonable assurance they will be ready and working by the day of release, though I realize sometimes unexpected problems arise.

But it does remind me of a common problem that has afflicted Microsoft over the years, boasting of new Windows features that never seem to see the light of day.

Of course, Microsoft is rarely attacked for such lapses, or for OS updates that cause boot loops or the failure to get past a startup screen. I suppose that’s considered par for the course — for them. But as I’ve said many times, Apple is judged by a different set of rules. Rightly or wrongly, it is perceived as a builder of premium-priced gear, which means it has to meet higher standards.

So obvious carelessness in quality control, and being able to login without a password is about as bad as it gets, shouldn’t occur. Maybe the lack of APFS support for Fusion drives isn’t a serious issue for most people, but Apple needs to keep Mac users up to date on what’s going on.

Even if iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS become more reliable, Apple needs to be more proactive in describing changes. The lack of an explanation of how Apple prevented sudden shutdowns on iPhones with the iOS 10.2.1 update has caused no end of trouble. It’s not that throttling performance on devices with deteriorating batteries was a bad move, but a couple of sentences of explanation would have done a world of good.

True Apple has apologized, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Even though the forthcoming iOS 11.3 release will allow you to check on battery health, and even switch off the controls that reduce performance, that hasn’t halted the class action lawsuits.

It has also been reported that the the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission may conduct an investigation to determine if Apple violated securities laws in failing to give adequate information in the release notes for the original 10.2.1 update.

I don’t pretend to know securities laws, but that seems a bit much. Apple might have to settle the lawsuits in some fashion, maybe with coupons for free battery replacements and such, but one hopes it’ll be an object lesson about not properly informing customers. That, and not trying to do too much with future OS releases, ought to really help as Apple takes on new projects going forward.

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4 Responses to “Does Apple Plan to Do Less for iOS 12?”

  1. dfs says:

    This projected OS 12 reminds me of Snow Leopard, which consisted almost entirely of under-the-hood improvements over Leopard, with few outward-facing improvements. With one glaring exception — it could and should have been engineered to provide access to iCloud for the benefit of owners of the G-4 Macs which couldn’t advance beyond Snow Leopard — one looks back and considers Snow Leopard one of Apple’s best OS releases ever.

    But I’ve said this before and no doubt I’ll say it again: Apple’s corporate policy of releasing new products according to a preannounced deadline or annual schedule is a sure-fire formula for prematurely putting half-baked, inadequately tested, and potentially embarrassing stuff out the door. The need for OS12 ought to make Apple stand back and take a good hard look at the wisdom of doing business this way. If you have no preannounced deadline and only release stuff when it’s good and ready nobody dreams of blaming you. But if you fail to meet self-imposed deadlines and schedules you are giving your image an entirely unncessary black eye.

  2. DaveD says:

    I always thought that annual releases of an OS upgrade were too often. OS X Mavericks was so good that it is being used on an older Mac. This was followed by OS X Yosemite that put my newer Mac through spontaneous reboots from the first upgrade to the last update. For twelve months I hoped the next update would end this nightmare. It never did. However, it came with the first Safari and Security update. I stayed with Yosemite for the next eight months applying the latest Safari/Security updates enjoying the bliss of stability.

    It was my “ah-ha!” moment. An OS should provide stability, security, and usability. Why should I become a macOS beta tester for one year? Unless there are new features that I want to why the need to upgrade immediately? With Yosemite I wanted to use AirDrop to send files between the Mac and iPad. AirDrop between Macs wasn’t bad, it was trying to be patience to get communication established between the iPad and Mac after going through the hoops of turning AirDrop on each device. I ended using a third-party app on my iPad and the Mac. It was better than AirDrop. Just launch the app on both devices, make the transfer and I’m done. I can leave the app opened for the next time. Simple to use.

    I do agree that Apple needs to communicate often and with clarity. A new feature should never be “on” by default. Apple should explain what it is and what it will do. Where to turn it on and offer to turn it on. Let me decide. I really believe that it is way overdue for Apple software engineers and designers to leave their “ivory towers” and mingle with the user base. It is past time for Apple to listen to us.

  3. Shameer M. says:

    Agree that the annual release dates are too often. It might be prudent for Apple to go back to releasing major updates every 2 years, at least for macOS / iOS.

  4. dfs says:

    “Why should I become a macOS beta tester for one year? ” A particularly shrewd observation. In addition to the corps of volunteer beta testers (all of whom should have a good idea of the risks they are running and have a way of getting back to the last stable OS version if things go sour, and can’t say they weren’t warned), anybody who installs the current OS is being press-ganged into serving as a kind of involuntary and often even unaware beta tester (who receives no similar warning), as fresh iterations of that OS continue to be rolled out during the course of the year.

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