The Software and Services Apple Needs to Fix

Marco Arment's excellent post on Apple's current state of development has this pithy sentence:

…the software quality has fallen so much in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future.

Apple has huge cash reserves, is massively profitable, and none of that seems likely to falter, nor is that by any means what Marco meant. None of us think Apple will go out of business. Rather, that we will lose the reasons we have selected using Apple's products over those of other companies. We don't pick only or primarily Apple gear because we loooooooove Apple. It's because we find its hardware and software makes it easier to do our jobs more efficiently and enjoyably; or, for personal use, that we like the experience and that they fit into our lives.

Marco has since written that he regrets having created this post because it was blown up and distorted far beyond his intent. The rest of the world views Marco, John Gruber, and a number of other prominent people who write about Apple and code software for its platforms as super fanboys, people who uncritically accept everything Cupertino says. This is patently false, as any brief examination of their writing and podcasts reveals endless critique alongside the praise. (I am occasionally labeled this way, too.)

Marco's critique was intended for those of us within the community of veteran Mac and iOS users who nod knowingly; it wasn't anything new, but rather a summarization of his frustration as a user and iOS developer. Peter Cohen wrote a similar plaint for iMore in November.

Many of us have been grumbling quite publicly since iOS 7 and Mavericks shipped that the fit and finish we expect either on release or shortly afterwards for Mac OS X and iOS has slipped. That we spent a lot of time dealing with bugs or, if we write about Apple, teaching people how to avoid them or work around them. That software and OS problems, once they occur, are rarely fixed in part or full; features we need are removed rather than matured; and new features are added that aren't fully baked.

To my recollection, Mac OS X 10.6.3 through 10.8 provided stability and new features, and they just mostly worked, as did most of the software released by Apple during that period for OS X. iOS is a different beast, in which people spend a lot of time in third-party apps. But even so, iOS 5 and 6 are, to my memory, more stable and reliable versions than iOS 7 and 8.

Even while it leaps forward with features in its operating systems, Apple has a huge installed base it drags with it. And even if, for instance, iTunes has been a terrible mishmash for a decade, the fact that it continues to be one with a major new release in 2015 is beyond the pale: Apple should be learning, not starting over and re-inventing when it comes to stability and experience. They can evolve to add Continuity and fix iPhoto, for instance; or ensure that months after release, its flagship Handoff feature works reliably.

Part of what makes these sorts of statements reasonable, though, is to enumerate the problems, whether they're long-running or unique to Yosemite or iOS 8 (or to the last two releases of each system). Here's a list of regularly recurring issues or fundamental problems I've seen supplemented by those provided by others. Post your quirks in the comments.

Mac OS X

  • General reliability. The point of owning a Mac is to not have to reboot it regularly. There have been times in the past between OS X updates where I've gone weeks to months without a restart. With Yosemite, I typically have to reboot my laptop at least once a day, and my desktop every few days of use. Rene Ritchie of iMore notes that no two machines he owns have the same issues, even. Apps will spontaneously quit for no reason, sometimes in cascades, requiring a restart.
  • Massive accumulation of paging files. Mavericks rejuvenated my mid-2011 MacBook Air, which is limited to 4 GB of RAM, by adding memory compression. However, Yosemite set me back on this machine and a late-2011 Mac mini with 16 GB of RAM. (Physical memory is also often shown as fully consumed when the processes' memory use doesn't add up to that, and quitting high-memory-using processes doesn't release memory.) Over time, virtual memory or other related "paging" files (swapping in bits of memory to and from disk) accumulate to the tune of 20 to 30 GB. With a 250 GB internal drive on both computers, this starts to push me towards a full drive. Rebooting clears these files. Mavericks may have had a similar problem, but it's certainly more pronounced.
  • User interface slowdowns until reboot. Marco reported this problem, a common one among Yosemite users, and somewhat unprecedented in Mac OS X. It may be related to swapping.
  • Network shares and printers disappear.
  • The attack of the 50-foot save sheet. Jason Snell named this phenomenon, in which Yosemite's save sheet (or save dialog) grows by 22 pixels every time you invoke it until you lose your mind.
  • Incremental Bonjour network names. The name of your computer as it appears in the Sharing preferences pane is broadcast using Bonjour over the local network. However, with File Sharing or other features enabled, Yosemite regularly decides that the name is in conflict with itself, and increments the number. So you see "Glenn's MacBook Air (2)", "3", and so on.
  • Screen Sharing either slows down, isn't available, or becomes unreliable. Recently, Yosemite stopped showing me local network and Back to My Mac availability of screen sharing on computers I've used for years in this way. Some report incredibly slow performance between Yosemite and older systems. The automatic pan for a remote screen larger than the local screen's window sometimes works then fails after the screen has been up for a while. Sometimes it fails to work at all.
  • Messages has many different problems. The failure to sync across platforms and devices remains terrible. It is impossible to predict when and where an alert will appear, or whether it will appear on all devices, or whether it will be accessible in the history of all devices. Badging is erratic (showing a number when there are no unread messages). The number of times Messages dies on me and tells me an internal error occurs is very large. Some users report having their Messages and FaceTime accounts lock up, and have to call Apple (call them on the phone, yes!) to tell them a code, which unlocks access.
  • Spaces, the feature that lets you have multiple desktops, works horribly across both my regular systems. One has two screens always connected; the other is a laptop that is sometimes supplemented with an external monitor. On one system, it's broken entirely, possibly because it was upgraded from Mavericks, and a wonky bit of preference editing might help (but might break things further). The other shows all appropriate options and fails to remember and place windows. Sometimes the screen scrolls as if moving to another Space, but it shows the same space.
  • Mail probably produces more anger than any other piece of Apple's software because it's so critical. One colleague notes "SMTP refusals with no clear resolution"; I've had the app suddenly tell me all connections are broken and refuse to fix them. Quitting and launching sometimes helps; other times, a system reboot is required.
  • Wi-Fi remains inconsistent and unreliable for many Yosemite users, and is the number one complaint that I hear from others. In my house, roaming no longer works as it did in Mavericks, and I often have to turn Wi-Fi off and back on, or force disconnect from a base station (Option > click Wi-Fi menu, choose Disconnect in the menu) and then reconnect to regain a connection.
  • iPhoto has been underpowered and wonky from the start, including how it organizes photos for storage, and while it initially improved in features and functionality, it's years now that it's been of unacceptably low quality and stability. Apple promises a new Photos app will replace it, but it's not out yet. iOS 8 no longer reliably syncs with iPhoto, according to some reports.
  • Aperture was never brought to its full potential, and is now abandoned, even though Apple continues to sell it. One colleague wrote, "long time non-pro Aperture user. Stopping Aperture development before having the new Photos for Mac ready was absolutely cuckoo."
  • iTunes has been a dog's lunch of unrelated features crammed into the same sack for years; iTunes 12 is the worst release yet, rearranging where we find things without actually improving the experience. My wife was nearly red with anger recently trying to perform a task in iTunes she's done for years.
  • iWork ’12 was a giant step back from iWork ’09, although a refresh was needed. Too many features were removed and the interface is poor. The ability import files older than ’09 was removed. Even after many updates, full functionality and utility hasn't been restored.
  • iBooks reliability issues abound, including a failure to sync annotations.
  • Spontaneous logout of all users. I haven't seen this, but one colleague has this new problem under Yosemite (on a system on which people regularly switch among users), and no solution on Apple's discussion forums.
  • Failure to support 4K at 60 Hz reliably. This will be an increasing issue as 4K displays enter the market and Macs are available that support them.

iOS software

  • Bad performance on older devices: Apple is between a rock and a hard place. If it drops support for older iOS hardware, it angers users and deters future purchases, as people lose patience with obsolescence. If it offers full, optimized support, it fails to let its newest hardware shine to its best advantage. However, even relatively well-powered devices not at the far end of backward compatibility for iOS 8 suffer under the new releases.
  • AirDrop, even in iOS 8, remains scattershot and unreliable even when all system requirements are met. (I did just discover that AirDrop between iOS 8 and Yosemite imposes the same requirements as Handoff to work, even if a Mac is well within the AirDrop system requirements.)
  • Podcast app stalls on downloads and requires a system restart to begin downloads again.
  • App search routinely fails in Spotlight after a restart. It appears later, sometimes much later, for no apparent reason.
  • Bluetooth pairing is unreliable, whether that's an OS X or iOS feature problem, I'm not sure. It recently took several tries with no variation in what I was doing, testing with different Macs and iOS devices, to get a pairing that wasn't then removed for being incompatible.
  • Third-party keyboards crash in Apple apps. I rarely have them crash in other apps, but Messages, Mail, and Safari consistently "crash" the keyboards, which requires switching to another app, choosing another keyboard, returning to the Apple app, then switching away and back again to finally get them working again. (This may be a third-party development problem, but given that it happens almost exclusively with those three Apple apps, it's hard to know who to blame.)


  • Apple IDs can't be merged. Long-time Apple users often have two or more Apple IDs because this was either of necessity or it didn't matter. Now that Apple has centralized the Apple ID as the hub of identity, you would expect it would be possible to merge purchases and other data into a single master account. It is not. May I remind you this is 2015. (Some may be related to contractual issues for media licensing, but I doubt that's anything like the whole story.)
  • Family Sharing isn't ready for prime time. Apple has never been good with letting more than one person in a grouping share stuff, and Family Sharing is an attempt to fix that. However, its arbitrary limits and its wonkiness have led some, like David Sparks, to walk away from it. Jason Snell and Myke Hurley on a recent Upgrade podcast episode suggested that Family Sharing feels designed by people without families, given how poor some options and behaviors are.
  • Apple can choose to unlock Apple ID accounts locked for security purposes and generally chooses not to. (There's some confusion in the comments: this is when Apple locks an account, preventing the use of the currently valid password; it has nothing to do with Apple knowing the unencrypted password, which it doesn't have access to. Update: an anonymous commenter says this kind of lock is irreversible; certain kinds of iTunes account lockouts are.) When Owen Williams was recently locked out for security reasons from his two-factor protected Apple ID—someone may have been attempting to gain access to his account—Apple customer support repeatedly refused to unlock his account no matter what information he could provide. Ultimately, he found his Recovery Key and was able to reset his account. Had he not, his account purchases and associated data would have been permanently lost. I understand the security side of this, but given that he had trusted devices and other identity components, this is baffling.