Having recently updated an iPhone 5 and MacBook with Apple’s latest IOS (8.1.2) and OSX (Yosemite) software I am experiencing a number of bugs. Buttons don’t work, screens freeze, thumbnails do not update… the list goes on. This was also a similar experience when updating the iPhone 4 with IOS 7 and OSX Mavericks on MacBook. It points to a documented cycle where Apple or Google (with Android) releases new software (often around the time of a new hardware release), the new software becomes buggy, bugs are fixed, stability is restored temporarily then another update brings a new set of bugs. If you have experienced this and are not annoyed by it as a user you should at least be concerned by it. For companies that are so focused on user experience as Apple and Google, this suggests an area of improvement… except that it is also integral to their business model in selling hardware.
The factors driving this cycle appear to be widening the software/hardware gap:
Apple and Google are selling, and customers expect, an experience that that works across all hardware products (mobile, tablet and PC…possibly other hardware in the future). This includes continuity of experience where starting a message on one device can be finalized and sent on another. It is not just the complexity of this new software but the fact that all devices require updates to maintain compatibility – basically a large amount of software needs to be updated.
Complexity of features and openness:
There are increasingly a large number of features for users and developers. This is what Apple and Google markets to customers – ‘feature innovation’. But with so many new features the likelihood that everything works perfectly is decreasing. Apple in particular is also starting to support more and more third party applications and hardware which adds to the complexity and decreases the chance that everything works perfectly.
Competition between Apple IOS and Android has increased. So fierce is this competition that the need to differentiate has created a ‘software race’ of sorts as the two giants try to outdo each other in features and functionality.
The hardware cycle:
New Apple and Android based phones, tablets and PCs (e.g. Samsung) are released release on roughly a yearly cycle. With each hardware update and new software update is provided. The software release often matches the new hardware but becomes incompatible (to a certain extent) for the old hardware.
It is this last factor that is very tightly related to the business model. In 2015 it is predicted that 1 billion mobile phones and about half as many tablets and PCs will be sold in global markets. A portion of these will be from wear and tear and some because of new exciting features. The majority, I believe, will be related to the gap between hardware an software performance.
Apple and Google ask customers to update to the newer version of software (through software alert) on their older device, rather than suggesting the optimized version for their particular device, which perpetuates this gap causing customers to seek an upgrade to the latest hardware. This is their business model and a version of ‘planned obsolescence’ and I believe Apple and Google sell significantly more devices as a result.
So what is the appropriate gap between hardware and software performance? Is it unreasonable to expect an iPhone 5 to work perfectly with iOS 8? The answer for a consumer is probably no particularly as the iPhone 5 is less than 2 years old (the length of a standard phone contract). It is possible that Apple and Google’s software strategy will in the future consider performance impacts on hardware and provide hardware specific updates thus decreasing the performance gap and improving experience for all customers…But don’t hold your breath as this will only come with major business model change or a decrease in hardware sales.