Why Apple is just plain mediocre in web services

Recently, a pattern has begun taking shape that I fear signals something worryingly awful is afoot as excellence takes a back seat at Apple in favor of mediocre web services. It’s always been that way, critics might add. Indeed, here we are, at the end of 2012, and yet weekly outages of key iCloud services such as iMessage and FaceTime are still a norm rather than a rare exception.

While iCloud storm is raining on users, Apple seemingly struggles in figuring out how to sprinkle its magic dust on Internet software. With over half a billion iOS and Mac devices straining its data centers, something clearly had to give. The iPhone maker isn’t an isolated example: competitors experience outages, too. But Apple’s different in that its online woes are symptomatic of a much larger set of problems the company faces.

Cupertino’s infrastructure is lacking. For all the computational power its array of super data centers provide, Apple’s software underpinnings are outdated and increasingly incapable of handling high load. Software shortcomings are putting Apple at risk at a time when competitors like Google tap their massive scale and expertise to successfully marry hardware to Internet software in ways Apple cannot…

But don’t take my word for it.

Enter former Apple engineer Patrick B. Gibson, the guy who helped build the original iPad, now an engineer at Tilde.

In a blog post, Gibson offers several data points to support his thesis that Apple’s only begun dipping its toes into the hot waters of advanced web services:

• Apple can’t update its online store without taking it offline first.
• A popular Game Center game was able to bring down the entire network.
• Apple requires you to re-friend everyone on Game Center, Find my Friends, and Shared Photostreams.
• Notes requires an email account to sync.
• The iTunes and App Stores are still powered by WebObjects, a mostly dead framework written almost 20 years ago.
• iMessage for Mac lives in an alternate dimension in which time has no ordered sequence.

Gibson’s unapologetic in his critique of a former employer, bluntly suggesting that “almost everything that Apple does that involves the Internet is a mess”.

He hit the nail on the head, didn’t he?

Apple’s lackluster web skills stems from its inability to recruit best engineers for the job. It’s not like Silicon Valley’s brightest web engineers are falling over themselves to land a job at Apple.

Instead, these folks go work for hip startups like Twitter and Facebook.

That’s why Apple should buy Twitter, Gibson opines:

Where Apple falls short, Twitter flies. Not only does Twitter use some of the most advanced web technology, they invented it. They own scale. They know how to send hundreds of thousands of tweets a minute. Further, Twitter is social network with values that (used to) reflect Apple: focus and simplicity.

Apple should buy Twitter not for its social network, but for its talent and technology. That talent and technology could undoubtably help bring Apple and iCloud into the 21st century. The social network is basically an added bonus.

While I agree that Apple is a mediocre cloud player, buying Twitter – as Gibson and others are proposing – is a band-aid solution and here’s why.

Apple’s inexperience and baby steps in online services have cost them reputation (MobileMe, much?). And as design tools nowadays are readily available to anyone, Apple finds itself at grave risk because competitors like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are getting better and better at designing compelling gadgets.

To illustrate the point, Gibson cites his co-worker who observes Google’s getting better at design/hardware faster than Apple is at cloud/services. I couldn’t agree more.

It’s really frustrating that Apple – even with all the web services advancements like iCloud – still is is ill-prepared to challenge Google. MobileMe was a terrible mess. Siri was nice until Google fired back with Google New and an updated Search app with Voice Search.

And if anything, the Apple Maps adventure has proved that club Cupertino has a long way to go before it can challenge Google on its own turf. One can only partially blame the hardware side of Apple’s cloud infrastructure.

Apple’s $1 billion data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

As you know, in addition to the iCloud data center in North Carolina, Apple also operates advanced computational facilities in Prineville, Oregon and Newark, California.

The firm is also building a new facility in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, near the Shenzhen China border, and planning another one in Reno, Nevada. Analysts happen to think that additional super data centers will crop up all over the world as Apple seeks to build a 21st-century broadcast network.

None of that will change the fact that the software at the heart of iCloud cannot compete with what the Googles, Amazons and Microsofts of this world are doing right now. Pointing the finger of blame at Eddy Cue, Apple’s “Mr. Fixer” and SVP of Internet Software and Services, is all too easy.

Cue’s job description basically encompasses everything Internet-related, per Apple’s Leadership page:

Eddy oversees Apple’s industry-leading content stores including the iTunes Store, the revolutionary App Store and the iBookstore, as well as Siri, Maps, iAd and Apple’s innovative iCloud services.

Eddy’s team has an excellent track record of building and strengthening online services to meet and exceed the high expectations of Apple’s customers.

The executive was charged with fixing Maps and Siri only recently, after Apple’s boss fired iOS head Scott Forstall on October 29.

Frankly speaking, if I were Eddy Cue I’d focus on the performance of Apple’s data centers and the architecture of the underlying web software rather than waste precious time sitting on other companies’ boards.

Despite all of the shortcomings, Apple – for better or worse – sure knows how to sell iCloud to the masses, don’t they?


I could watch this ad over and over again.

Now, don’t get me wrong, iCloud out-innovates Google with in-app features like Documents in the Cloud and full device backups. But Apple’s web services overall are in a disarray.

And with issues like Maps and Siri dashing hope that Apple can beat Google on the web services front in the near future, I wonder whether and its users are becoming the victims of de-Googlification of iOS as its offensive cloud strides leave a lot to be desired.

I’d be interested in hearing your opinion down in the comments.

Is Apple’s problematic approach to web service gonna cost them dearly?

Will Apple’s problems with Internet services ultimately trigger Eddy Cue’s downfall?