Video: Apple knows iOS has deteriorated, but it plans to fix that
I like my iOS products, I really do. Do I like them better than my Android products? Hard to say.
It used to be a fairly clear-cut kind of thing. I used to be able to say, definitively, that I enjoyed the iOS experience more than the Android experience. Android, as my ZDNet colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has so famously said, is a "toxic hellstew."
iOS, due to its proprietary code and completely closed development model, is supposed to be resistant to the types of issues that Android, due to its open source and licensable nature, is commonplace among its various OEM implementations.
This is not to say that Android is a bad operating system. Android is an excellent operating system, and it has far more potential in vertical markets than iOS does because it can be altered.
As a business mobile platform, I think Android is absolutely top notch.
And Android phones, dollar for dollar, are increasingly better values than their iOS counterparts. Highly competitive Chinese companies like Huawei, ZTE, and OnePlus which have strong vertical integration are continuously demonstrating that.
It's just that there are so many versions in the wild with so many differences in the way OEMs load their devices up with launchers and OS modifications that it is now really hard to quantify Android as a single addressable ecosystem anymore and your mileage may vary in terms of reliability as a consumer of these products.
But many of the perceived advantages of having iOS closed and under the watchful eye of a select group of developers at Apple seem to have been negated in recent years.
The proprietary code and proprietary hardware are supposed to give us a more polished experience. It doesn't. Not anymore.
Every year, Apple scrambles to keep up with Google's crazy software development cycles in terms of feature sets and rushes out a new version of iOS to align with their hardware refresh cycle.
Those of us who get the new devices every year get to also play beta tester with that brand new OS.
And while Apple is spinning its wheels to keep up, so they can ship that iOS version on the new iPhone and then iPad, and apply retroactive updates to at least three generations behind of older devices, Google doesn't really have to give a crap about aligning with a hardware refresh cycle because they aren't really a hardware company.
Google shoves out OSes, in order to promote their cloud services and ad platform, which their OEMs decide to implement on their devices on their own good time.
Sure, traditionally, they had Nexus and Pixel. But these were not volume industry movers like the OEMs had.
Android One is supposed to fix the toxic hellstew because the OEMs who are part of that program are meant to offer a purist, unmodified experience. I'm still waiting for it to move the needle in actual device market share.
Some OEM devices never get full version updates either, especially the cheaper devices which ship with a specific version, and if the customer is lucky, they will get a bunch of patch releases over the lifetime of that device.
So why is Apple racing to keep up with Google? Shouldn't they be concentrating on polishing what they have? To give us a stable, high performing OS? Not necessarily a bleeding edge OS?
I don't think Apple does rapid development very well. Culturally they are very different from a company like Google who has accelerated development as part of their fundamental DNA, or even a traditionally rigid software development shop like Microsoft which is becoming more like Google as it shifts its development priorities into the cloud and a continuous delivery model with Windows 10.
Let us enumerate how many of the ways iOS went full-on off the rails in the last year.
- Shortly after release, iOS 11 was determined to drain batteries faster than the previous version.
- There was a crazy bug that autocorrected the letter i to the letter a.
- There were many numerous performance issues, freeze-ups and failures that had to be immediately addressed in iOS 11.1 and six minor updates over a period of six weeks.
- There were virtual keys that did not work when the iPhone X got cold.
- More than two dozen security issues had to be addressed in iOS 11.2 and iOS 11.3
- 11.2 was released to address Spectre. Ok, everyone had to release a patch to deal with Spectre.
- Then 11.2.5 (skipping over 11.2.3 and 11.2.4) which introduced new features also introduced a bunch of new bugs, most notably a severity having to do with a character from the Indian Telugu language that would crash the device so bad you'd have to do a reset. How do you say "Karma" in Telugu?
- And in 11.2.6, which fixes the Telugu thing, my iPhone X appears to be channeling the early Pentium with its basic math skills.
Everyone is hoping 11.3 will be the "Good" version of iOS 11. But I've gone through six public beta releases now and it is as crash-prone and stuttery as ever. At this point, you'd think it would be in the home stretch.
It's far from it, and it looks like they will have to release it with the new crop of iPads.
Here is the deal. If Apple does the Wile E. Coyote thing and goes back to the drawing board, and decides to focus on stability, responsiveness rather than Android Feature Of The Month with its major OS releases, many of my industry colleagues and so-called technology experts will accuse the company of Not Innovating Enough.
Okay, let's be clear. We have almost certainly reached peak smartphone OS. If there is any innovation left in smartphones at all, it's going to be in things like materials science, displays, cameras, battery chemistry, charging, stuff like that.
The basic functionality of smartphone operating systems is about as good as it is going to ever get right now. And I would venture to say that there is a law of diminishing marginal returns when it comes to following Google-style software development cycles when you are a hardware company like Apple.
My iPhone X -- which I absolutely love -- is the pinnacle of smartphone hardware tech. But it's bogged down by a horrendously unreliable mobile OS. If Apple has ever had a Vista moment when it comes to its software development cycle, you could make a very good case that it is happening to them right now.
To me, less is more in a smartphone or tablet. I want it to do its basic tasks well. I want to be able to rely on it as my primary communications and compute device. I want it to be fast. I want my apps not to crash when I need them the most.
Innovation and pushing the envelope is great. But at some point we all just want our basic stuff to work without blowing up in our faces. If the company needs a development priority, I would say freezing features and making iOS 11.3.X as solid as possible needs to be absolutely at the top of the list.
Give us the solid "It just works" mobile operating system back, Apple. Please.
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