Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Apple Delays Features to Focus on Reliability, Performance

Ina Fried (Hacker News, MacRumors, 9to5Mac):

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.

Mark Gurman (MacRumors):

While core features like the combined apps platform are still on schedule to be introduced this year, some flashier changes like the redesigned home screen will likely be held back until the 2019 software update, a person familiar with the matter said. The company will also probably delay a revamped photo management application that used new algorithms to better automatically sort pictures, though some smaller upgrades to the Photos app will still appear this year.


The company told its software engineering groups about the change this month, one of the people said. The shift will also affect this year’s update to Mac computer software, but to a lesser degree, the person said, adding that planned upgrades to Apple Watch and Apple TV software won’t be affected.

I imagine that it’s normal for some features to get cut, so it’s not clear how much of a change this is. And we were told last year that High Sierra was to be a refinement release, but it didn’t end up the way we expected. We already know that macOS 10.14 will contain major changes for 32-bit apps and possibly Marzipan-related framework changes.

There are benefits to a predictable schedule, but the problem is that even cutting features doesn’t guarantee quality. If finding or fixing bugs takes longer than expected, you either have to ship the bugs or slip the schedule. In the old days, Apple was more flexible with the schedule, and there was almost always more than a year between major releases. It’s debatable whether the old 10.x.0 releases were more solid than recent ones. I think they were, though they always seemed to be a bit buggy.

I think the real difference is that, with more time between major releases, there was less churn, and there was time for things to settle down before the next major release upended everything again. The last few versions of each cycle got to be really good, and you could stick with them until the next version settled down. Some people stayed with 10.6.8 for multiple whole cycles. (There was also less pressure to update then.) Last fall, if Sierra was buggy for you, the choice was between sticking with a release you weren’t happy with or rolling the dice on High Sierra, which included significant fixes but also introduced new problems of its own.

All of this is to say that this sounds good on the surface, but I would have preferred to hear about schedule changes rather than feature cuts. I would be more excited about a 10.13.11 than a less ambitious 10.14.0. And lengthening the schedule would be more of a long-term fix. In any case, the proof will be in the pudding.

Update (2018-01-30): Marco Arment:

You can’t produce high-quality software with a large number of short-staffed platforms following an aggressive annual release schedule.


Rejiggering what fundamental components ship means that much of the work prior to the rejigger was a waste of time. Which also leads to lower software quality.

No easy choices, no easy fix.

Update (2018-01-31): Michael Steeber:

Over the past two years, the legend of Snow Leopard has steadily grown, its mythology spreading with every new discussion about Apple software.

Update (2018-02-01): Benjamin Mayo:

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?

11 Comments RSS · Twitter

[…] Counterpoint to Rumours of the Nature of a Snow Leopard-Esque iOS Release […]

I wonder what WWDC is going to look like this year.

"And we were told last year that High Sierra was to be a refinement release, but it didn’t end up the way we expected."

Another problem is that the top managers in charge of addressing these issue are the ones who created them in the first place.

Adrian Bengtson

"I wonder what WWDC is going to look like this year."

I think the new WWDC tradition is to preview hardware that won't be shipping for a long time. ;)

I definitely miss the days when MacOS was released on a 18 month cycle.

I miss the days when Apple did listen to feedback at WWDC and actually implemented them, like my two suggestions: (a) use different (upside-down) Ethernet jacks that have the release clip at the top, because the bottom-releasing ones were hard to reach on the original PowerMacs and (b), after an app crashed on Mac OS 8, to suggest to the user that he should reboot (because memory might be corrupted, leading to more errors) - and while this made sense to us developers, this one was supposedly one of the things Steve J hated the most about the Classic Mac OS - my bad ;)

[…] This is a fascinating look at the history of Apple and software reliability. It pairs well with the Axios story Apple delays iOS features to focus on reliability, performance and Michael Tsai’s response. […]

[…] Previously: Apple Delays Features to Focus on Reliability, Performance. […]

[…] this but development was way behind schedule and, for no discernible reason, it decided to rush ahead rather than take the time to get it right for macOS […]

[…] Heer of Pixel Envy also I had a great point in regards to this “Snow Leopard for iOS” […]

[…] Heer of Pixel Envy also I had a great point in regards to this “Snow Leopard for iOS” […]

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