Monday, November 15, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple Software Quality in 2021

Dan Moren (Hacker News):

But one challenge with continually moving the state of the art forward is that sometimes it comes at the expense of making sure the technology that’s already here works as well as it can. After all, if you have to add a dozen new features in a year, that could mean taking away from work enhancing reliability, and squashing bugs in existing features.

We’ve all encountered a slew of problems—some simple (if ridiculous) to fix, others are maddeningly difficult to troubleshoot. As our devices get more and more complex, it’s all too easy for some of those problems to persist for years. And though the best part of the Apple experience has long been “it just works,” the question is…what happens when it doesn’t?

I think Monterey is probably the best update since High Sierra in terms of not introducing too many new problems. On net, I think it fixed more significant bugs than it added. However, in total, Monterey still feels more buggy than Mojave or earlier, and the goal should be to get to much better than Mojave: more like El Capitan or Snow Leopard.

The yearly release cycle continues to be a problem. On the developer side, a quarter of the year is spent dealing with potential breakage (made more real by public betas) and another quarter or more with actual breakage. On the customer side, there aren’t enough months for Apple to polish one release before moving on to the next. Even security updates aren’t getting enough attention now.

Andrew Cunningham (Hacker News):

News is making the rounds today, both via a write-up in Vice and a post from Google’s Threat Analysis Group, of a privilege escalation bug in macOS Catalina that was being used by “a well-resourced” and “likely state-backed” group to target visitors to pro-democracy websites in Hong Kong. According to Google’s Erye Hernandez, the vulnerability (labeled CVE-2021-30869) was reported to Apple in late August of 2021 and patched in macOS Catalina security update 2021-006 on September 23. Both of those posts have more information on the implications of this exploit—it hasn’t been confirmed, but it certainly appears to be yet another front in China’s effort to crack down on civil liberties in Hong Kong—but for our purposes, let’s focus on how Apple keeps its operating systems up to date, because that has even wider implications.

On the surface, this incident is a relatively unremarkable example of security updates working as they ought to. Vulnerability is discovered in the wild, vulnerability is reported to the company that is responsible for the software, and vulnerability is patched, all in the space of about a month. The problem, as noted by Intego chief security analyst Joshua Long, is that the exact same CVE was patched in macOS Big Sur version 11.2, released all the way back on February 1, 2021. That’s a 234-day gap, despite the fact that Apple was and is still actively updating both versions of macOS.

Previously:

Update (2021-11-16): Rui Carmo:

Even though the article could be a lot more detailed, I hope it gets enough exposure to bring this topic back on the agenda. […] As this sprawling thread on Hacker News points out, there is an overall feeling of neglect and change for the sake of change in many aspects of Apple’s software experience, and it isn’t as if they don’t know.

Nick Heer:

I was too generous when I gave Apple’s software quality in 2020 a four out of five. It was certainly better than the preceding year, but I should have graded it a whole point lower, at least. 2021 has been even rockier for me, and not just with Apple’s software and services. I feel increasingly as though big software vendors are taking customers’ business for granted.

Quality used to be one of the factors that differentiated Apple’s products from its competitors — not just in the big picture of things “just working”, but also in the details. That feels much less true than it used to. There are big problems: MacOS Monterey bricked a bunch of T2 Macs, and the version of Shortcuts that debuted across Apple’s operating system lineup this year shipped in an unusable state. But the thousand tiny cuts are perhaps more grating[…]

[…]

So it turns out that a shared Pages document can be edited on a newer version which silently breaks compatibility, and the only way someone will find out is when they decode a cheery update notification. I would not mind except this sort of stuff happens all the time in software and services from Apple and plenty of other vendors.

Previously:

3 Comments

I continue to wonder what new features they had added that were useful or new. For the past 5 years if not 10 years the biggest update were UI. Otherwise my workflow stays pretty much the same.

There are Apps ( Mail ) that needs attention. But in terms of OS, I just wish they they just do a no-new feature for next two years and only focus on bug fix, code cleaning and performance improvement. Although arguably they are doing that every year and are still doing it far better than Microsoft Windows. Apple's software quality is still the best on the market despite all the complains.

I continue to wonder what new features they had added that were useful or new. For the past 5 years if not 10 years the biggest update were UI. Otherwise my workflow stays pretty much the same.

I find the various Continuity features that continue to trickle out (Universal Clipboard, Handoff, Unlock with Watch, …) useful and new. I wish they worked
more consistently (for me, they still seem to fail about one in ten times, if
not even more often), but when they do, they’re very nice to have, and have
affected my workflow, in a positive way.

There are also low-level quality improvements such as APFS.

All in all, yes, macOS (the X era of it) has simply matured to a point where we
no longer get the tentpole features like Spotlight and Time Machine. There are
no more glaring omissions.

And they do occasionally try to experiment, such as with features like Auto-
Save in Lion; they just don’t always get it right. (It wasn’t good enough to
excite users, and meanwhile, the quality was bad enough to also annoy users.)

I just wish they they just do a no-new feature for next two years and only focus on bug fix, code cleaning and performance improvement. Although arguably they are doing that every year and are still doing it far better than Microsoft Windows.

I don’t know about far better than Windows. Both have their set of baffling
glitches. (Literally yesterday, a colleague clicked “install” on Windows Update.
The UI first showed an error, then a different error, and then it started
downloading. Did it auto-fix the errors? Very strange.)

Anyway, yeah, Nick’s analysis of “four out of five is too generous” on software
quality sounds right to me. It’s not terrible, but it also isn’t that good.

My biggest problem with the yearly releases is keeping the names straight. I literally couldn’t understand the first paragraph without looking up the order of releases.

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