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Marco Arment sparks debate about Apple software quality

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 8, 2015
Analysts agree with prominent blogger's premise but not necessarily the solution: Slow down upgrade pace.

Credit: Photo by Nrbelex on Flickr

An influential blogger who often writes about Apple stirred the pot Monday with a post that called out the Cupertino, Calif. company for losing its way on software quality.

Marco Arment, formerly the lead developer of Tumblr and perhaps best known as the creator of Instapaper, took Apple to task for what he called "embarrassing bugs and fundamental regressions" in OS X, its Mac operating system. His Monday post caught a lot of peoples' eyes -- Arment has more than 77,000 followers on Twitter and his blog is widely read -- and kindled a small fire of controversy as others reacted to his argument.

"I suspect the rapid decline of Apple's software is a sign that marketing is too high a priority at Apple today," Arment wrote Monday. "Having major new releases every year is clearly impossible for the engineering teams to keep up with while maintaining quality."

The only reason Apple software quality is not criticized more often, said Arment, is because Windows' problems are even worse and Linux "is still too much of a pain in the ass for most people.

"We now need to treat Apple's OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ," Arment asserted.

OS X release schedule too fast?
He pointed a finger at Apple's annual pace of OS X releases, but also implicated iOS, which Apple upgrades each year, too. "We don't need major OS releases every year. We don't need each OS release to have a huge list of new features," said Arment. "We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace."

Strong words, but especially so coming from someone known as an Apple supporter.

On Tuesday, Arment returned to his blog to express regret. "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 ham-fistedly stab Apple with my name and reputation behind it," he said, referring to the scores of news stories and blog posts by others, who he accused of being "sensational opportunists."

But Arment is right, said Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner.

"I think the points he raised were legitimate. We don't need a new [OS X] release every year with hundreds of features," said Baker in an interview. "We need an OS that works well. I would much rather see a thoughtful improvement, limited in scope, that worked extremely well."

Annual operating system upgrades, Baker added, result in "feature creep," where enhancements and additions, including new APIs (application programming interfaces), are only used by small minorities of users or developers. Similar complaints have long been lodged against Microsoft and its Windows OS, Baker pointed out.


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