Self-Inflicted Wounds

Russell Ivanovic, hitting the nail on the head:

Tim Cook keeps telling us that ‘Only Apple’ could do the amazing things it does. I just wish that Apple would slow down their breakneck pace and spend the time required to build stable software that their hardware so desperately needs. The yearly release cycles of OS X, iOS, iPhone & iPad are resulting in too many things seeing the light of day that aren’t finished yet.

One thing that’s striking is how many of Apple’s troubles are self-inflicted. Gone are the days when Apple planned product announcements around conferences like Macworld Expo. That the company controls its whole ecosystem, from hardware to software to services, is supposed to be a strength. Controlling everything should mean that you can get all your ducks in a row before pulling back the curtain. The only thing that Apple is truly constrained by are its own self-imposed deadlines. The problem is, Apple keeps shooting itself in the foot. Rather than waiting until a new version of iOS is fully finished, for example, they rush an update out the door to coincide with the release of new iPhones.

Of course, new hardware usually requires some updates to support it. To deal with this, Apple could decouple major iOS releases from hardware releases. For example, release an iOS 7.2 update to handle the larger screens of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, without all the other stuff in iOS 8 like extensions, HealthKit, etc. A more fully-baked iOS 8 could be released later. The change would undoubtedly be difficult for developers, but Apple usually (rightly) chooses what’s best for users first and whats best for developers second. (This might even have a side benefit for developers, by potentially uncoupling Xcode releases from SDK versions as well.) It’s also worth remembering that Apple has done this before, when the iPad was released in 2010. It wasn’t ideal from a developer perspective, but it was workable.

Another option is to slow down the OS release cycle. It’s not hard to imagine Apple setting up a rotation where iOS and the Mac OS get a major update every other year. Those cycles could be offset by a year: iOS 9 in 2015, Mac OS X 10.11 in 2016, iOS 10 in 2017, etc. On “off years” between major updates, the company could do point releases to introduce minor features and support new hardware, especially on iOS. Both operating systems are sufficiently mature at this point that they don’t need yearly updates. Sure, it might be nice, but not at the expense of overall quality. I’d rather have a polished, stable product that I can rely on than a buggy bunch of features that I can’t.

It’s time for Apple to stop setting itself up for failure. At the same time, it can do right by users and make sure that people still get the “it just works” experience they deserve.