iOS 8 teaser 001

Earlier in the month, Instapaper creator and Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment offered a scathing critique of Apple’s declining software quality. I generally disagree with Marco on most topics he blogs about, but this time he got me thinking that Apple’s “it just works” mantra no longer applies. And as software woes continue to persist, the problem clearly is much larger than the relatively benign Maps debacle.

From that botched iOS 8.0.1 update, delayed improvements and an over-the-air iOS 8 installer requiring a whopping 4.6 gigabytes of free space to a bunch of issues plaguing OS X 10.10 Yosemite such as performance bottlenecks, its insatiable resource requirements, ridiculous Apple Mail hiccups, intermittent Wi-Fi issues and more – the firm appears to have “lost the functional high ground,” as Arment put it.

And with plenty of far-reaching technologies being introduced simultaneously — Handoff, iCloud Drive, custom keyboards, photo and storage extensions, new ways to share content, HealthKit, HomeKit, WatchKit and CloudKit, to mention but a few — small wonder Apple is finding itself in the middle of a pretty rocky transition, to say the least.

Throw in things like iCloud and CarPlay and suddenly diminishing software quality exhibited in the latest releases of iOS and Mac OS X becomes a major customer pain point. Apple is an aspirational brand so winning back user trust is paramount.

So, what should Tim Cook & Co. do? Do they continue to stick to the annual OS release schedule? Or should they give engineers enough time to smooth out the rough edges and ship software when it’s ready rather than for their marketing benefits, even if it means making us wait longer for latest and greatest software innovations?

As Guy English observes, the annual schedule means that by now Apple’s engineering teams are already being allocated to next year’s iOS release, which means less talent is at hand to tighten the remaining loose screws in last year’s release.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber chimed in, saying that “by the time the loose screws get tightened in iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, we’ll be getting developer betas of iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 at WWDC.”

Cast your vote below.

For the sake of the clarity of this conversation, I’m including an excerpt from Arment’s post that summed it up nicely for me:

Apple has completely lost the functional high ground. “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.

He later amended the article and toned down the wording but the key points still hold true even if they’re less controversial now.

Apple ran into a similar situation in 2007, ahead of the iPhone’s release. But then-CEO Steve Jobs made the right move pulling engineering resources from OS X Leopard to focus on the iPhone software.

As a result, Apple delayed Leopard’s release because “we cannot deliver the quality release that we and our customers expect from us.,” as he wrote in a press release.

“We think it will be well worth the wait,” he added. “Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we’re sure we’ve made the right ones.”

Don’t you wish Apple made same trade-offs with recent OS releases?

OS X Yosemite Desktop

On the other hand, switching to longer OS cycles is easier said than done.

For starters, major iOS releases from the onset were tied to the annual hardware refresh cycle and remain so. On the OS X side, not so much.

But deep integration between the two operating systems has made things more tightly integrated than ever, which in turn generates dependencies that require concurrent development of both iOS and OS X.

What’s your opinion?

Does iOS, as it is now, requires a shoring up of its technical foundations, do you think?

Should Apple switch to a Snow Leopard style iOS release to squash all the bugs and make everything feel settled and stable rather than produce a bevy of new features which lead to new user-facing bugs and introduce a whole new set of challenges for developers?

Do we really need a major OS X and iOS release every year?

Sound off in the comments below.