Apple’s Software Quality

I’ve been thinking about this a little more and it strikes me that many of the different reactions to Marco Arment’s “Losing the Functional High Ground” piece can be simultaneously true. I’m not certain that Apple’s software quality is universally getting worse; far from it, I think it is, in many cases, getting better. But I think the impression is much stronger because vastly more people are using it.

Consider the catastrophically stupid iTunes 2 update bug that permanently erased non-primary drives, or the general slowness of early versions of OS X. Then consider the number of Mac users that existed at the time, and the fact that upgrading Mac OS X required you to visit a physical store — bricks not bits — and exchange a hundred and twenty-nine of your hard-earned dollars for a physical disc which you must then take home, pop into your computer, and spend an hour waiting for it to install.

Apple’s been making all kinds of strides in trying to get people using the latest versions of the software they make and distribute. iOS has automatic updates for apps; OS X has automatic and free updates for everything from apps to the entire system, excluding major (x.0) OS updates.

Add that to a vastly larger install base of hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a controversy. It’s not necessarily that the bugs are getting worse or profusely dumber; rather, that more people are experiencing those bugs. Having such a large install base requires an elevated level of diligence.

So many of these reactions are simultaneously true. Yes, there are extremely stupid bugs and regressions littered throughout Apple’s software products. Yes, there’s the impression of a downward slide in quality assurance. And, yes, there have previously been really stupid bugs and regressions. I think Apple is cognizant of the fact that their software quality needs to improve faster than they gain new users; if it’s slower, it feels significantly worse than it really is.