Mac Experts Weigh In: OS X Quality is Declining

More and more Mac experts are weighing in on the idea that OS X quality has declined and has become noticeable and annoying in Yosemite. This is a new, uncomfortable feeling that Macintosh customers are unaccustomed to. That OS X no longer "just works" is an emerging meme.


To put this all into context, we have to remember that there are some very emotional fans of Apple. If a writer reports on a serious Apple problem, no matter how high the technical level and sincerity, feathers get ruffled and the author can be rudely excoriated in social media for not being a proper fan boy.  It is an art form to gently, gracefully pull the reader into the idea that something is wrong with an Apple product  and address it with maturity without letting emotions run wild.

The fact is, Apple does a metric boatload of things right. But the company is also run by human beings under considerable competitive pressure, and mistakes will be made. As always, we watch to see if Apple is in denial about awful bugs or whether things get better.

Often, it's left to one crusader to break the ice and take all the heat. Then, perhaps, it's safe for other writers to weigh in with a technical, level-headed approach. In the process, we can drill down to the truthful basics and real change can happen.

It All Started When...

The dam was burst on 4 January 2015 when Marco Arment wrote: "Apple has lost the functional high ground." This honest, constructive essay launched with:

“It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.

Later, Mr. Arment wrote that he regretted publishing this piece (which you should now read if you haven't already). The scorching heat he received was bad enough, though it subsided in time as tempers cooled. What Mr. Arment regretted more was the ammunition he handed to the Apple haters lusting for blood.

Instead of what was intended to be constructive criticism of the most influential company in my life, I handed the press more poorly written fuel to hamfistedly stab Apple with my name and reputation behind it. And my name will be on that forever.

Even though something bad happened, the misuse by the media of expert analysis, good eventually triumphed.

Next page: Good coming from evil


Page 2 - Good Coming From Evil


Thanks to Marco Arment, it's relatively safe now to explore Apple's failings with OS X. His name will be remembered for that far longer than the temporary fits of the Apple haters, and I want to affirm that to him. Because of his courage, here is some excellent writing that has emerged as a result.

1. Glenn Fleishman. "The Software and Services Apple Needs to Fix." Mr. Fleishman starts by recapping the situation with clarity and accuracy, but then gets to the heart of the matter: These are the things that Apple needs to fix, not only in OS X but also in iOS and services. There is technical meat on those bones to be picked.

Later, Mr. Fleishman followed up with "Isles of Stability and the Perception of Apple's Software Getting Worse." He concluded:

In the past, we expected stuff would eventually get fixed; now, it just feels like things are broken all the time, and don't improve.

2. Jim Tanous. "Apple’s Frequent Update Experiment Has Failed – It’s Time for Another Snow Leopard." Mr. Tanous was formerly an Apple store genius [and a highly-valued contributor here at TMO - Editor], and there are few as capable when it comes to recognizing and diagnosing issues with Apple OSes. In his article, Mr. Tanous writes:

But the fact is that the list of bugs as of 10.10.1 (many of which are still present in the latest preview build of 10.10.2) is long and troubling, leading me to a realization this week: I no longer trust OS X. In fact, OS X Yosemite on both my 2013 Mac Pro and 2014 MacBook Pro is unusable in its current state.

One of the reasons the above is happening is likely the dizzying pace of new features Apple has added to OS X without proper QA. When there is pressure to add features on a yearly basis, then there is agenda. Agenda leads to meddling with the basics of the OS, and that results in half-baked code and user headaches. Perhaps worse.

Apple now names OS X versions after famous California landmarks. Mr. Tanous suggested that the next version could well be "OS X Death Valley."  Take this with good humor. It's a gentlemanly barb designed as a wakeup call to Apple engineers.

Speaking of meddling with OS X basics, we have the next entry.

3. Iljitsch van Beijnum. "Why DNS in OS X 10.10 is broken, and what you can do to fix it." He writes:

For 12 years, the mDNSResponder service managed a surprisingly large part of our Mac's networking, and it managed this task well. But as of OS X 10.10, the mDNSResponder has been replaced with discoveryd, which does the same thing. Mostly.

Mr. van Beijnum goes on to describe the networking problems he's had since installing OS X 10.10.  They may also relate to the following...

4. Kirk McElhearn. "iTunes syncing is broken: Apple, please fix it." Mr. McElhearn. is an acknowledged expert on iTunes, and so his observations have to be taken very seriously. His latests post on the issue is at his own blog: "One Possible Explanation for Some iTunes Sync Problems." There, he writes:

iTunes syncing is broken, and Apple’s not doing a good job of fixing it. There are some problems that seem well-documented, such as duplicate purchased tracks causing sync issues, and others that are too vague to find a cause."

Technical Assessment

When this many Apple experts see smoke, investigate, and find fire, it's a safe bet that something unfortunate is happening inside Apple. No one knows enough to explain it, but when these kinds of problems surface, it's certainly time for Apple to take a breather and diagnose the big picture. Perhaps, as Mr. Tanous suggested in his article, it's time for another Snow Leopard-like release. No new features. Just another 20 months of hard work and clean up. Personally, I'd like to see a steady progression of 10.10.2, 10.10.3, 10.10.4 ... 10.10.9 in 2015 and early 2016—before a release of OS X 10.11 in late 2016.

I understand Apple's competitive issues, but the train can't charge forward if it gets derailed.

[UPDATE: Over the weekend, Jean-Louis Gassée added to the discussion in important ways. "Do Apple’s software-quality problems signal management issues?"]

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of January 12.

Page 3 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of January 12


Nothing in the preamble above, all constructive criticism by the various authors, is intended to suggest that the Mac is not an important part of our lives. I've written 4.8 million words for the Mac Observer on a series of amazing Macs of my choice throughout the previous eight years. It will always be my platform of choice. Accordingly, here are some additional thoughts on the Mac's place in our lives by Jim Dalrymple over at The Loop. "Apple and the Mac."

There are some visible signs that Apple is trying to figure out how to boost iPad sales. One popular theory is that Apple will launch a 12-inch iPad "Pro" for education, enterprise and government markets in the first half of 2015. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes explores the ins and outs in "Could a bigger 'iPad Pro' help boost flagging sales?"  He's on the fence, but I think it's a great idea and would buy one.

Another sign, and it's a puzzling one, is that some Apple retail stores are promoting iPad keyboards. Perhaps Apple got wind of sales of these kinds of keyboards via Logitech and (the new) Brydge. In any case, here's the article to ponder. "Apple retail promoting laptop-style iPad keyboards, iOS game controllers in hardware push." Will Apple start making its own iPad keyboards? Perhaps. Probably the day after Microsoft kills the Surface.

Best yet: for an in-depth analysis of iPad sales prospects in 2015, with lots if charts, see this terrific article: "iPad Observations Heading into Apple Earnings." I haven't seen a better article assessing the current plight of the iPad sales picture.

What else can Apple do to breathe new life into iPad sales? The iOS side of that equation will likely be seen at WWDC in June. Eventually, like OS X, iOS has to grow up too.

If you loved what Amazon did to the book publishers and Apple, you'll be equally excited to hear about Amazon's clever TV programming "Trojan Horse," according to Barry Diller. Apparently Amazon is using its original Prime Instant Video series, collaborating with Woody Allen, as advertising in itself to lure customers away from other TV sources -- and benefit with sales in the process. "Amazon is not doing [Prime Instant Video] to benefit advertisers. Essentially, the programing in this case is the advertising," Mr. Diller said in an interview. Details: "Barry Diller: Pay-TV Program Margins 'Decimated' by Amazon Prime."

Apple executives and engineers must be shaking their heads.

There have been numerous stories about Apple abandoning Intel for its mobile Macintosh CPUs and turning to its own ARM technology. Apple had already forsaken Intel when it came to portable products like the iPad. That's because Intel, as I read it, didn't take Apple's demands for low power mobile CPUs seriously. Will the same thing happen with MacBooks?

For starters, we have: "Apple May Switch To Its Own Homemade Chips For Laptops, Cutting Out Intel, According To The Most Accurate Apple Analyst In The World." That was naturally followed by an Intel panic moment: "Intel CEO reaffirms relationship with Apple in face of ARM rumors."

You just know the truth is in the middle. Intel says, "Oh, yes! We can do that! Here's our wonderful roadmap." And Apple executives think to themselves, "Nice. But we're tired of being tied to your roadmaps. We'll get back to you."

And so it goes.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.