Hope Springs Eternal: a New Approach to OS X at WWDC

For the past few years, Apple has introduced a new version of OS X at WWDC. The demos have been presented with wit, charm, and enthusiasm by Craig Federighi. But, in practice, customers have found the initial release wanting, even with public beta testing. Can Apple change its routine to surprise and delight us in a more fundamental way?


The feature set of OS X 10.11 is pretty much set. Preparations have been made, internal reviews are done, and practice presentation sessions are in progress for the WWDC keynote on June 8. The question, is, will anything be different this time? Will Apple surprise and delight us with a newfound introspection about its devotion to the user experience? Or will the company settle for yet another rollout of snazzy features that demo well but don't get used in the long run? (Handoff: I'm looking at you.)

Yosemite has been a mixed bag. I like the look and feel, and the requirement for signed kernel extensions is excellent. For me, I haven't had any networking issues with the daemon called discoveryd, but others have. It's been reported that Apple will return to mDNSResponder, proven networking software. That's a heck of an embarrassment.

AirDrop never reliably worked for me until iOS 8.3 and OS X 10.10.3. Others had early success; some have never got it to work to their satisfaction. Nor instant hotspot.

While iTunes isn't tied to OS X, the volume of the criticism has reached a crescendo lately, and few have expressed unabashed love for this aging monolith. When did we stop loving iTunes? It's time to fix that too.

There comes a time when a company becomes too large to deal with its own momentum. Microsoft got into that mode with MS Office and Windows. The culmination of thinking based on self-delusion was Windows 8. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft appears to be turning itself around. It's a sobering task.

Apple, on the other hand, has had better leadership and engineering, but still suffers from the Roxie Hart syndrome. Apple loves its customers. The customers love them. Apple loves that the customers love them. The customers love that Apple loves them. Sort of like that. Hard, cold reality gets locked out of that kind of love fest.

The result is a kind of Pollyanna approach to OS X development. In a fairly isolated environment of the Apple workplace, few things go wrong. Executives have engineers who fix the slightest problem with their Macs. Executive suffering is not permitted lest it impede the conduct of the company's business. Isolation from the many customer experiences ensues.

Next page: The customer still comes first.

The Customer Still Comes First


Could "Mojave" be the next OS X?

Meanwhile, customers just want everything to work reliably. Customers don't want to see features that Apple product managers think are cool. Instead, they want to see Apple own up to the idea that a smoothly functioning, reliable OS X is the hallmark that has made the Macintosh so incredibly popular. They want to hear affirmations that are sincere and recognize their needs. They want to upgrade with enthusiasm and confidence.

Again, because problems tend to be scattered and isolated, it takes a considerable amount of work to isolate edge cases. Pressure to look cool and have jazzy new things at WWDC takes time away from due diligence. But admitting that is not politically correct. All must always be well in Camelot.

Another factor is that WWDC is a developer event. To be sure, customers watch the keynote with enthusiasm, but the mission of WWDC is to get developers excited about how Apple can help them be financially successful. The careful, introspective approach that honors the customer doesn't achieve that. So Apple has to balance the level of QA against time and budget for exciting new APIs.

As an aside, if you have a mind to explore all that might be in OS X 10.11, perhaps to be called "Mojave" or "Sequoia," the very best article I've seen is: "Mac OS X 10.11 release date rumours: all the new features expected in Yosemite successor." It is excellent.

First Microsoft and now Google have discovered the delicateness of that technical and political tradeoff between glitz and substance. See: "Google played it safe today, and the tech industry is a little worse for it." [Ignore the editorializing in the title.]

Now it's Apple's turn to not only show us what it can achieve, but also smartly telegraph that the time for nonsense in this elegant OS is over and the company has rediscovered the spirit of security (especially in Safari), stability, and can once again declare that "everything just works."

That renewed spirit is what I'll be watching for in the WWDC keynote.


This is an abbreviated edition of Particle Debris. Page two with all the tech news debris will return next week. Note that, as always, Particle Debris is an editorial—the author's own opinions.