Has Apple Lost It? (Part 1)

5/18/2013 6:19:26 PM

Some people think Apple may be losing its shine. Ian M looks to see how true this theory is

Forgive the cliché, but Apple really is the Marmite of computer companies. You either love it or you hate it. There is no middle ground! Oh alright, there probably is some middle ground, but there really is no other company that inspires such devotion on one side and such hatred on the other.

Before I start, I need to confess that I’m writing this article on an iMac. Not because I’m a particular Apple lover, but because it’s a nice machine to use. It sits on my desk next to a Windows 8 desktop and an Ubuntu-running laptop. In true geek style, I just like to know how to use different computers, and curiosity about how OS X worked got the better of me. I say all this so that I can’t be accused of being an Apple hater when I list what I see as potential problems and danger signs for the company.

Apple has been the success story of the computer world these last ten years

Apple has been the success story of the computer world these last ten years

Apple has been the success story of the computer world these last ten years, rising like a phoenix from the ashes to become the biggest firm in the world. You cannot go anywhere without seeing somebody using an Apple product, be it an iPhone, an iPad or someone pretending to do important work in Starbucks by tapping away on their MacBook. Contrast this to the 90s, where its products were rare to see anywhere; nowadays, Apple is living the high life. Is the company’s hot streak about to end, though? As odd as it may seem to even ask this question, recent events mean it might not be as far-fetched as it seems.

Multiple hardware updates

A few years ago you could predict Apple’s hardware update cycle with complete accuracy. It would pretty much refresh its range every 18 months. You could buy your iPad 2 safe in the knowledge that you’d be at the cutting edge of cool for at least a year and a half. That’s quite a lot of smugness and, for many, it’s well worth Apple’s prices. Then it all went wrong, and Apple’s release schedule went wonky.

If you bought an iPad 3 on release, then you’d have been apoplectic six months when the iPad 4 came out

If you bought an iPad 3 on release, then you’d have been apoplectic six months when the iPad 4 came out

If you bought an iPad 3 on release, then you’d have been apoplectic six months when the iPad 4 came out. True, the only difference was a different connector which is a pain anyway and a faster processor, but if you’d been expecting another year of being super up to date, then you’d have been upset.

New hardware sounds like a good thin, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want the best hardware the manufacturers can make? Well, lots of people actually. People want to feel reassured that the objects they spend their money on will not be out of date too quickly. By making two iPads in the space of 12 months, Apple has put seeds of doubt in people’s minds. All those who would perhaps have upgraded to a fourth generation iPad may now wait and see, as there could be another one in a month or two.

Rumors are rife or updates soon to the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini, and while these may or not be true, this uncertainty has surely been caused by premature updates on other products. If Apple had stuck to its scheduled release program, we’d know when the iPhone 5S would be out, but now we’re not sure.

Strange software updates

Both iOS and OS X are constantly updating themselves, and while this can be a good thing, bringing improvements and stability to existing problems, there’s a point where there are too many updates.

Some of the seemingly never-ending updates that OS X requires

Some of the seemingly never-ending updates that OS X requires

iOS recently updated itself to 6.0.1 and then promptly caused (allegedly) a whole load of users to experience Wi-Fi problems and battery concerns. This was then quickly followed by a bug fix to resolve these issues. It all smacks of not enough testing before release into the wild for these updates.

OS X is not immune either; Mountain Lion has only been out for a few months and we’re already up to 10.8.2, along with many minor updates. All this leads to a lack of confidence in OS X and iOS, and it suggests Apple is not testing its software enough before release.

In all fairness, Apple is not alone in this. Microsoft Windows updates itself constantly, and many Linux distros also constantly require updating. Even games consoles are not immune; you cannot turn on the PlayStation 3 on, it seems, without it asking to download an update and restart.

I think the problem is not that Apple is doing anything different to any other company, but rather it sells its operating systems as something different and special, but it’s becoming more and more like its rivals.

Bad software

We all saw the debacle of the Apple Maps software on iPhone recently. Apple fell out with Google, got rid of a perfectly good piece of mapping software from its products and wrote its own… and then it was rubbish. Any iPhone user with any sense will have recently installed the newly released Google Maps app to their phone to redress the balance. However, Apple maps are not the only software that Apple has released that isn’t fit for purpose.

iTunes isn’t the best piece of software Apple has ever written

iTunes isn’t the best piece of software Apple has ever written

Look at Final Cut Pro X, which Apple released in 2011, and you can see a real example of how the company was completely out of touch with its market. Final Cut Pro is a video editing suite that’s used widely by film and TV professionals. It as much loved and very powerful… up until Final Cut Pro X, that is.

Final Cut Pro X was released with much fanfare, and then pretty much despised by the very professionals it was aimed at. It has been accused of being dumbed down and lacking features that were in previous versions. Many people just uninstalled it and went back to their old version. By trying to make their software accessible to all, Apple alienated the people that actually bought it in the first place. Final Cut Pro was never really for the home or amateur user (there’s iMovie for that), but Apple didn’t seem to understand this.

Another piece of hated Apple software is iTunes. I know it has recently been updated to version 11, which some people like, but it’s still a hugely bloated and difficult-to-manage piece of software.

iTunes has grown into a monster, and it’s really surprising to think it’s written by a company that prides itself on letting anyone use their computers and software. If you put a person on Garage Band or Pages or iPhoto who had never used those programs before, then they’d work them out pretty quickly; they’re well-written pieces of software. Put them on iTunes and they would be lost, because it’s hideously complicated and in many cases counter intuitive.

It is, however, maybe not a sign that Apple has recently lost it… iTunes has been rubbish for years.

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