Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Brilliant Hardware in the Valley of the Software Slump

Craig Mod:

Hardware has literal and metaphorical edges — it must be fully complete and largely bug free to ship. Software? It’s far more amorphous, like mist. Patches can be endlessly pushed. It never ends. Faulty hardware can destroy a company. Faulty software can be patched. The butterfly keyboard debacle may never be lived down. Even as I type on this improved Magic Keyboard, I can’t help but wonder: Did they really test this thing? I had three butterfly keyboards die on me, twice in the field. Not fun. Hardware failures live long in the mind.

Meanwhile, software problems are quickly forgotten once patched, but grate daily until that happens. It’s not hard to imagine that the easy distribution of bug fixes has encouraged less stringent quality control.

Mod references Mail’s data loss problems and Finder’s bizarre instability and file system misreporting as he writes:

The three primary pieces of software on macOS are probably Finder, Safari, and Mail. To have two of these show signs of instability is like ordering a salad and having half the lettuce appear as ceramic roofing tiles. It’s just weird. It shouldn’t happen, especially when these are new, critical bugs in decades-old programs. It makes you wonder what else might be broken, and what’s broken with the development cycle to allow for these bugs to ship.

It’s not just two apps — it’s all three. Under Catalina, Safari’s address bar has become languid and unresponsive, and it will sometimes activate the existing URL instead of the one you typed. That is a problem with what seems like very basic functionality for a web browser. (Update: Matt Sephton first filed this bug in 2012, so it’s clearly not just a Catalina thing. How is this an eight year old bug?)

There have and will always be software bugs. But I wish for more attention paid to fit and finish bugs, and more investment in the feel of everything. One final example: if I take a picture using the Camera app on my iPhone and then switch to Messages to send it to someone, it takes a beat too long to show the photo thumbnails in the message thread. However, the process of switching between those apps is fluid and joyful on my iPhone X; I just wish I could say the same about the rest of the software stack.