Buggy software could tarnish Apple’s sterling reputation

By

iPhone buggy software
iOS 11 is painfully buggy.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple built its trillion-dollar reputation delivering beautiful hardware that turned tedious tasks into magical experiences.

But a recent string of ridiculous bugs — and a seriously shocking security flaw — put Cupertino in a precarious position: If Apple doesn’t stop the screw-ups, it could permanently sully its good name.

Design has always been one of Apple’s strong suits. However, most of us buy Apple products not because they look good, but because they “just work.” For years, the company’s software has been exemplary. Now it is becoming a laughingstock.

Apple’s software is in dire need of attention

It seems that with every software update, Apple fans face new problems. Some prove minor, but others break fundamental features we rely on every day. A recent doozy of a security flaw left Macs wide open to attacks.

Most of Apple’s biggest fans brush off these bugs like they’re nothing. They tweet about temporary workarounds and tell you when fixes finally become available, but they won’t acknowledge that Apple faces a big problem. Others are beginning to turn.

Apple’s software development process is in dire need of attention. If the company doesn’t do something about it soon, it risks leaving a permanent sour taste in the mouths of consumers.

iOS 11 has been plagued by bugs

Glitches both big and small plagued iOS 11 ever since its public debut in September. Users faced random freezes, performance hiccups and unexplained battery drain. And seemingly every new update Apple rolls out brings new bugs to worry about.

One prevented users from typing the letter “i.” Apple somehow made it so that this commonly used letter “autocorrected” to the letter “a” alongside some strange symbol (a question mark inside a box).

Apple fixed that in iOS 11.1.1, but also introduced a new autocorrect glitch. When users attempted to type “it,” iOS 11 changed the word to “I.T.” It’s staggering that no one at Apple picked up on this before iOS 11.1.1 made its way to the public, or even rolled out in beta.

Another iOS 11 bug made the built-in Calculator app useless if you used it too quickly. Slow animations prevented it from keeping up with touch input, so it failed to calculate anything correctly unless you left a lengthy pause in between touches.

iOS 11.1.2 was unusable after December 2

Then there’s the bug that made millions of iPhones almost unusable. It turns out that iOS 11.1.2 wasn’t keen on the date of December 2. So, at 12:15 a.m. that day, some iOS devices began crashing repeatedly whenever a third-party app served up a local notification.

The only workarounds for this were to disable all notifications or to roll back the date on your iPhone. Neither of these fixes were ideal for any iPhone owner.

This problem forced Apple to roll out iOS 11.2 early — on a Saturday of all days. The company rolled out its sixth beta for the update a day earlier, which suggests this release wasn’t actually ready to make its public debut. But Apple had no choice.

“I was once told it would have to be a real damn emergency to release an iOS version on a weekend, so, here we are…,” tweeted respected developer Steve Troughton-Smith.

“I just want to point out that this issue being fixed in iOS 11.2 beta makes me think that someone in the company KNEW this problem exists, fixed it, but failed to make this fix available ASAP for production to prevent this,” tweeted Mac developer Evgeny Cherpak.

It’s not the first time Apple broke millions of devices, either. Soon after the immensely popular iPhone 6 debuted in 2014, the company pushed out an iOS update that prevented users from making calls. Suddenly, brand new handsets couldn’t perform a basic cellphone function.

macOS isn’t immune to bugs, either

Apple has been making similar mistakes with macOS updates.

One of its most recent High Sierra releases contained a critical flaw that allowed anyone to log in to your Mac. Getting in proved as simple as entering “root” as the username and leaving the password field empty. The bug put millions of users at risk.

“Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS,” Apple admitted. “We greatly regret this error and we apologize to all Mac users, both for releasing with this vulnerability and for the concern it has caused. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes to help prevent this from happening again.”

Apple fixed the problem with an update that introduced yet another bug. The patch broke file sharing for a lot of Mac users, forcing Apple to publish a support document with instructions on how to fix the problem manually.

It’s baffling that severe issues like these weren’t picked up sooner. Apple should have identified them during internal testing and fixed them long before the updates rolled out of Cupertino.

‘Month 13 is out of bounds’

Another High Sierra bug surfaced on December 1, when it became evident that macOS was attempting to do something with a “month 13.” It seems macOS didn’t know that there are only 12 months in a year. The error wreaked havoc for some users.

“If you’re unlucky enough to be a Mac user in the month of December, 2017, then you’ll probably be seeing a lot of ‘Month 13 is out of bounds‘ messages in your Console,” wrote tech journalist Rob Griffiths. “And by ‘a lot,’ I mean an exceedingly excessive never-ending stream of spewage.”

Most users would probably never notice this. But those who use the Console for anything will be completely bombarded by “Month 13 is out of bounds errors.”

“I can’t tell if this is impacting any user-facing apps,” Griffiths told Cult of Mac. “But it does make Console really tough to use for any sort of purpose, as it’s constantly filling with the error message.”

This seems like an amateur error. How did it make its way into an operating system that millions of people rely on?

“Snow Leopard had 2 full years of bug fixes. Since Lion, Apple has released major Mac updates every year, mostly on a 12 month schedule. Introducing bugs faster than they can fix,” tweeted Jeff Johnson, creator of the Underpass app for Mac and iOS.

Apple bugs happen all too frequently

You might argue that Apple’s software has never been completely free from bugs, and that no operating system ever is. That’s certainly true — but Apple’s mistakes are becoming all too frequent.

“I’ve seen more problems with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra than with any other Apple releases in recent memory,” tweeted iOS developer Steve Uffelman.

In case you needed a reminder, see this Twitter Moment dedicated to strange iOS 11 errors. It highlights not only the major problems faced by the vast majority, but also the small glitches that hit smaller subsets of users for no apparent reason.

For a company with more cash on hand than any other, these instabilities seem unconscionable — and unacceptable. Apple possesses the resources to fix these bugs before they reach users, yet the bad code continues to slip through the net at an alarming rate.

This must stop.

Apple loves to talk about its billions of users around the world. These people suffer when software problems arise. These types of avoidable errors don’t deliver the top-shelf experience that consumers anticipate when they invest in the Apple ecosystem.

In fact, many of us are willing to spend more on Apple devices because we expect them to be stable, secure and free from frustrating bugs.

Apple’s famous attention to detail turned it into a trusted brand known for rock-solid software. What happened to that?

It’s about time Apple focused more of its massive resources on greater quality control. The company beta tests all its software updates, but it needs to do more to identify and eliminate problems before rolling out new releases.

“It’s hard to say whether Apple has been particularly sloppy recently with its software updates, or whether this is a growing trend in software in general,” writes Tom Warren for The Verge. “Either way, this latest week of problems does highlight Apple’s challenge to meet the needs of its customers on a wide scale.”

Apple should focus on fixing bugs

We all love new features and fancy visual overhauls. But I suspect the vast majority of us would sacrifice these things so that Apple’s next major macOS and iOS updates could be concentrated on fixing all these problems and building more stable foundations.

“If Apple can’t fix bugs faster than it creates them, the only possible outcome is operating systems and apps that get buggier and buggier,” writes macOS developer Michael Tsai. “This is a vicious cycle that is demoralizing for customers, and especially for the people who send in bug reports for free. If Apple can’t pay off this technical debt in a time of record earnings, stock price, and expansion, when can it?”

Even these high-profile bugs might not hurt Apple too significantly just yet. Most fans continue to buy Mac and iOS devices and hope the software will get fixed eventually. Only a few appear to be jumping ship. That won’t necessarily always be the case.

“Maybe I’m being too harsh lately with all my harping on bugs,” tweeted Nick Heer. “But it’s about trust and value. I trust that I can use this software and hardware to do my job, and I paid decent money for it, so it would be nice if it were less broken.”

If these bugs and glitches persist at such an alarming rate, and well-known users with influence continue to speak out about them, they will damage Apple’s reputation in the end.

John Gruber, who has a massive following online, is one Apple fan who isn’t just brushing off these issues anymore.

“This is a serious bug,” Gruber wrote on Daring Fireball after the High Sierra security flaw surfaced. “Allowing root access without a password is just inexplicably bad. I rarely describe any bug as inexcusable, but this is inexcusable.”

Apple will face criticism like this until it fixes whatever is wrong with its software development process. It would prove much easier for the company to do that now than to rehabilitate a reputation for subpar software.

But that’s exactly the kind of reputation Apple will develop if nothing changes.

Just take a look at Samsung: It made one handset that had a tendency to overheat. Because the company couldn’t fix that problem without recalling every single Galaxy Note 7, Samsung is widely mocked as a maker of exploding smartphones.

It doesn’t matter that it one just one of a whole bunch of Samsung devices that had this issue. It doesn’t matter that Samsung acted quickly to rectify the problem as best it could. The reputation stuck, and it’s enough to put some smartphone buyers off for a long time.

Apple still has a chance to put things right. It’s not too late. And it has all the talent and resources it requires to make a change. If it really cares about its users, and the experience its products bring them, it will do just that before we’re all avoiding Apple software.

  • Ky

    You know what? At least it addresses them and makes sure ALL their uses get the updates on time. UNLIKE ANDROID, which waits till the next month for the Pixel line, but most users don’t get it till weeks, maybe months, later—if ever! ?

    • MagicMiguel

      Very true! Making users wait almost two months for a fix to an issue where you couldn’t receive SMS (a CRITICAL feature of a phone) was the final straw for me. Switched to iOS after 7 years on Android and so far I haven’t looked back.

      • DrMuggg

        You’re welcome – and we have cookies too… :-)

  • Jay

    Their rep has to go down before it can go back up.

    • digitaldumdum

      That’s a specious notion, and just a damn silly comment.

      • Jay

        specious and silly? what goes up must come down, afterwards it goes back up… sometimes…

  • digitaldumdum

    “Buggy software could tarnish Apple’s sterling reputation”

    But it won’t, nor should it. New software •always• has bugs, and you know that. Good companies squash the bugs as soon as possible. Since Apple is not just a good company, but a great one, I’m quite certain Apple’s reputation is undiminished.

  • holzkopf

    As a very long time user of Apple products, I too have noticed what appears to me to be a change or lack of focus since Tim Cook took over the helm. For instance, why is there such a priority to expend such development on adding more and more emojies instead of building and testing their software and hardware products? There are plenty of other instances I could cite as well.

    • ducktails

      Yeah…I mean under Steve Jobs all software was perfect! Ha! There were never any major bugs! lol

      Too many times we only remember the rosy part of Apple and never the other side.

      • Mike

        The difference is that under Jobs the bugs were far more likely to be worked out BEFORE the products were released to the public – not AFTER.

    • Mike

      Exactly. Cook and the (crap) emoji-ists need to be replaced. As I said in a separate comment earlier, my guess is that the current crop of so-called “developers” doodled their way through their programming classes which is why they can’t do anything but emojis now.

  • Al

    Another inflammatory article that does not understand software. There will be a time when a bug goes unnoticed, it doesn’t matter how much test is done. Apple is very fast to produce fixes and is very good about it.

  • DCJ001

    “But a recent string of ridiculous bugs… put Cupertino in a precarious position”

    The city of Cupertino is in a precarious position?

  • Alecio P

    “Apple built its trillion-dollar reputation delivering beautiful hardware that turned tedious tasks into magical experiences.”
    I think Apple made its reputation out of people starving for the future… The thing is the future now looks really boring it feels boring.

  • JDS

    At least it isn’t MS Windows that has more bugs than a bait shop.

    • AlicanteMacMan

      Apple and Microsoft, no difference now

      • bIg hIlL

        Untrue.

    • Cheese

      And yet, me and millions of others have 0 issues with Windows. Go figure.

      • JDS

        Are you running Windows NT or Windows 2000?

      • Cheese

        Windows 10.

  • AlicanteMacMan

    10.13 is a dog, BETA, disgusting it was ever released. 10.13 “Server” hahahahaahah, removed iOS/WebDAVS support while their iOS 11 Files app has a section for Mac OS Server and it works perfectly with 10.12/10.11 Server. iOS 11, bug fixes bug fixes. While at the same time non stop RUBBISH about TV shows, crap add-ons for watches and phones. Computers is got them where they are, and its exactly what they are forgetting. Removing functionality and charging an arm and a leg for adaptors to give you it back lol. Steve Jobs said this would happen and it is. Bankers, as per usual destroying everything!

  • roborat

    Apple survived Apple Maps. This is nothing.

  • Mike

    It’s time to fire Tim Cook – he’s taken Apple into the toilet. Every shareholder should use the next proxy vote as their opportunity to help get him off the board. The next thing that needs to be done is to recognize that too many Apple “developers” apparently spent all of their programming classes doodling (crap) emojis, because that’s all every release seems to offer now – more emojis. Time to fire every one of those emoji doodlers and replace them with bona fide programmers and developers with the know-how to restore Apple software development to the pinnacle it once represented.

  • jdh02138

    Bravo! This kind of attention to fundamentals has long been overdue. Sexy will never be enough if the infrastructure isn’t solid.

  • Andrea Hackney

    What about the issue of syncing photos across devices using iTunes. That has been ongoing since iOS 11 was released and still not addressed by Apple.

  • Fur Purse

    I’m glad it’s not just me, I thought I was going crazy, I have a disability and recently received an iPad Mini 4 with cellular as a visual/audio aid, I am fairly new to Apple software quite surprised at how buggy it seemed, it overheats, hay siri will only work if its charging,, it frezzes several times a day in some cases for minuts at a time and when im voice typing a message, posts, comments etc. it autocorrect’s the message into gibberish when I hit send. Overall I been very frustrated and wish that the applications that I need to use where on Android, unfortunately for me they are not.. I have contacted Apple support about hey Siri not working their response was that my device is permanently locked into what they call power saving mode, obviously this is the reason why hey Siri won’t work, I can only guess that it is to prevent the batteries from overheating and shortening the battery life however it is ineffective as I have problems with both

  • Jan Wilson

    The “temporary solution” of rolling the clock back before December 2 not only didn’t help, but it caused my email to stop working and I would get the same error message every five freaking seconds and all of homes creen buttons/apps were DEAD. And turning off the notifications and installing 11.2 update ‘solution’ did not solve the problem either. Phone is still restarting endlessly. Five hours of chatting online and in person in Apple store, restoring phone and reinstalled OS and they still have no idea how to fix it. LAME.

  • Re: “If it really cares about its users, and the experience its products bring them, it will do just that before we’re all avoiding Apple software.”

    I’m not a constitutional lawyer, so I don’t know whether corporations are legally “persons.” But I do know that they sure as hades aren’t *people*. The extent that Apple the corporation figuratively *acts* (performs?) as if it cares about users and their experiences is the extent to which their board and officers are convinced that such “acting” will have a positive influence on their bottom line.

    The relationship is this: We need them to produce solid, dependable, and even elegant hardware/software. They need us to buy it. To ponder whether they love us–or we love them–is pointless. If they fail to hold up their end the of the contract, then we should keep our fingerprint ID signatures to ourselves and shop elsewhere. And we should speak up to make sure they know why we’re looking elsewhere.

    BTW, my first personal computer was an Apple II, 48K of memory, audio cassette tape for storage. No mouse or GUI, command line all the way. I’m a vey loyal user, not a snarky troll.

  • Jay

    The difference is that under Jobs the bugs were far more likely to be worked out BEFORE the products were released to the public – not AFTER.