Steve Jobs very famously said Apple is a software company more than once, and he meant it. He described the iPod, iMac, and iPhone as "a beautiful box," and said the big secret is "Apple views itself as a software company."
Well, these days, Apple's software is taking a bigger beating than its hardware. The latest is a harsh column in the LA Times – not exactly the first name in tech coverage, but when they do get involved it's usually pretty good.
Columnist Michael Hiltzik takes Apple to task, and rightfully so, noting that in the last few weeks there has been "an explosion of discontent with the quality of the core apps of Apple's iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers – not only its OS X and iOS operating systems, but programs and services such as iTunes, Music, iCloud, and Photos. Not only do the programs work poorly for many users, but they don't link Apple devices together as reliably as they should."
He leads off with iTunes, an application that should be the utter embarrassment of the company and has been for years. I refuse to use it for playback.I'd rather use WinAMP, even if it has been abandoned. To me, it's just for managing my iPhone and iPad.
And I'm not alone in disliking iTunes. Walt Mossberg, the one journalist Steve Jobs would talk to while he was alive, recently said of iTunes, "I dread opening the thing." He feels it's bloated, complex, and sluggish, making three things we can agree on. But he also said "most of the time, in most scenarios, I find the core Apple apps work well enough, sometimes delightfully well."
Other people aren't so forgiving. The columnist notes Apple-watchers John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple and the site Engadget comprise a growing chorus of discontent with Apple's stock software and switching to third-party apps.
So what's happening? Hiltzik speculates on two potential issues: the first is Apple is more interested in meeting an annual release schedule than waiting until the product is done. As software grows more complex, development time should get longer, that's only natural.
The other is that Apple's products are built on an "outdated core," and it needs to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch. I'm not sure I agree with that one, especially when he uses Windows 10 as an example. Microsoft didn't change the core of Windows 10 from prior versions. It's still running the same kernel and same device driver model that dates back to Vista.
I think Apple needs to end this insane culture of secrecy that is a holdover from the Jobs era. Microsoft developed Windows 10 in plain view and look how well it worked. Linux operates the same way. You need eyes to spot the bugs, and that won't happen when you blindfold your developers.
One thing is certain: this does not reflect well on Craig Federighi, the senior vice president in charge of the software group. I remember one Apple event where he dominated the stage over Tim Cook and people were saying on Twitter he was the next Apple CEO because of his tremendous persona and presence.
Well, first thing’s first. He needs to get the software house in order, stop releasing bug-riddled versions of iOS and MacOS, and make iTunes, iCloud, and other apps a pleasure to use, or he'll be spending his days hanging out at a Cupertino Starbucks with Scott Forstall.