1 February 2018Axios:
Apple has shaken up its iOS software plans for 2018, delaying some features to next year in an effort to put more focus on addressing performance and quality issues, Axios has learned.
Software head Craig Federighi announced the revised plan to employees at a meeting earlier this month, shortly before he and some top lieutenants headed to a company offsite.
Pushed into 2019 are a number of features including a refresh of the home screen and in-car user interfaces, improvements to core apps like mail and updates to the picture-taking, photo editing and sharing experiences.
On Twitter, I joked that people are probably happy to hear that Apple is focusing on bug fixes and performance enhancements over raw features, until you hear about what has been shelved to make it happen. A new home screen is basically what everyone who says ‘iOS is boring’ wants. I’d like to see it get some attention, not for novelty but because the current rigid grid is of a different era. The fixed row and column layout worked great on 3.5-inch and 4-inch screens but now that device displays are at least 5 inches tall, the screen would benefit from a rethinking. The base behaviour of icons filling from the top left goes against design guidelines to put important interface elements within reach of a user’s fingers.
If you conducted a poll of iPhone customers whether they want a new Springboard or a raft of performance and reliability improvements, no question the result would be in favour of the former. ‘New and shiny’ is addictive and tough to turn down. This is a classic case of the customer not always being right. The current home screen concept is not broken or offensive. For the most part, it still serves its role as a simple, easy to use, switchboard to opening apps.
A perception that iPhones are buggy, slow and unreliable is something that hurts the Apple brand if it persists, affecting all of Apple’s products. This notion, whether it is real or not, has to be addressed. A lot of this falls to marketing to explain and inform the state of play; the iPhone battery throttling saga is an example of where PR messed up.
Some responsibility has to be borne by the engineering group. iOS and macOS have a variety of issues that impact various subsets of the user base. Headlines of Apple software quality being poor are reinforced in a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ manner. Everybody has their own little problems to keep the story kindling on. Is it worse than any other year? Only Apple has the answer to that question but it doesn’t really matter.
An undercurrent of dissatisfaction has built up to a point where it demands proactive attention, amplified by an unfortunate string of software problems seen in the last quarter of 2017. The best way to tackle a perception is to make changes to the products. Fix bugs. Work on small things that have previously been too far down the list to get around to in the face of a release schedule pushing for X new features. Make slow things faster. Make things faster that nobody complained about being slow before.
Collectively, people have short memories. A few months of seeming stability will appease the angry people and quell the negative narratives with changes that are disproportionate to the current outcry. Dedicating time to performance and reliability is a thankless job but it will do the trick.
Long term, I don’t know how Apple prevents this same cycle of happiness, discontent, and anger, from happening again without deeper structural changes in organisation and management. Like, how is software quality affected when iOS 13 reverts back to a release where employees are stretched to deliver new features?