You know what your problem is, Apple? Complacency

Let's praise the cosy mobile duopoly working so hard to make things so much better


Comment When several "leaked" reports appear to show that Apple is focusing on quality, not features, it's reasonable to conclude that Apple is concerned the world perceives a quality problem.

We heard the message via Axios in January that Apple was focusing on reliability rather than new features. And again at the weekend.

But wait. Here was Apple three years ago vowing, as usual, via winks and nudges, to focus on quality.

You can almost swap the three-year-old quotes for this year's report.

"I wouldn't say there's nothing new for consumers, but the feature lists are more stripped down than the initial plans called for," said the 2015 source.

In 2018 the roadmaps for macOS Mail and other apps had been stripped down too. Uncanny or what?

But now is a very good time to focus on reliability, rather than features, at least at the platform level. The smartphone market has matured and is no longer a breathless race to implement new features. Each Google I/O passes without anything earth-shattering.

"Android P offered up such marginal improvements that Google was forced to rely on previews of long-term work in progress to generate any meaningful wow factor," noted Edison's Richard Windsor back in May.

Both Google and Apple can be happy with the way things have turned out. Apple has preserved its hardware margins, and Google retains the lion's share of both the installed base, and new growth, at well over 80 per cent. In mature markets people are invested in their platform and the peripherals that go with it, so the marginal benefit from persuading people to switch isn't worth it. As a result, complacency is the problem.

Google is still troubled by the fact the installed base lags far behind the latest code, while Apple can rely on the majority of iDevices being updated soon after the software is released. Fixing this is a multiyear challenge for Google, which now offers better partitioning (Project Treble) and a new OS in the not too distant future.

Similarly at Apple, the successes have obscured relative weakness in other areas. So Apple can bask in the success of its high-performing chip division – which gives Apple a genuine advantage in products as diverse as earbuds, watches and tablets – and pat itself on the back for reviving the iPad

However, the "Pro" line of MacBooks don't feel so Pro any more, with poor design and dodgy hardware choices spoiling the story. Just as Microsoft had to bring back the start button, I would expect Apple to bring back a real Escape key at some point. But that isn't something a software developer conference is set up to cure.

Where Apple can begin to restore a little confidence is in areas like platform security. Last year's password bug was a very un-Apple-like brainfart from a set of engineers steeped in Unix for 30 years.

Last year I cited an UX overhaul as one of the most needed upgrades to the iPhone. But why bother? Nobody's going anywhere.

And with Apple fixing basic reliability issues, that seems further away than ever. ®


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