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Does Apple Plan to Do Less for iOS 12?

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.