Ap­ple should take a new ap­proach to launches

It could be time for Ap­ple to move be­yond an­nual re­lease cy­cles, ar­gues Dan Moren

Macworld - - Contents -

We’ll fix it in post. It’s a long-stand­ing joke in the pod­cast com­mu­nity – when some­body fluffs a line or stut­ters dur­ing record­ing, we just kick the can down the road and re­pair it in edit­ing. (For pro­grammes that ac­tu­ally do edit­ing, any­way.)

But lately it’s started to seem like a more com­mon oc­cur­rence across the tech in­dus­try, and even Ap­ple’s jumped aboard the train. We’ve seen a num­ber of places where Ap­ple an­nounced a par­tic­u­lar fea­ture ship­ping in a prod­uct – whether it be a new hard­ware de­vice or a ma­jor soft­ware up­date – only to even­tu­ally re­lease the prod­uct with­out said fea­ture, promis­ing it in a sub­se­quent soft­ware up­date. The most re­cent ex­am­ple is the Homepod, which will lack sup­port for mul­ti­room au­dio, stereo pair­ing, and Air­play 2 when it ships next month. But be­fore that, we had IOS 11’s promised Mes­sages in icloud, Ap­ple Pay Cash and, again, Air­play 2.

These sorts of things do hap­pen, of course, and while you can chart ex­am­ples back into ear­lier eras, the high num­ber and pro­file of these sit­u­a­tions re­cently has me look­ing back to what might be the root of the is­sue.

Un­der­promise, overde­liver

Part of the prob­lem with these tech­nolo­gies seems to be that they’ve just been harder than an­tic­i­pated. From what lit­tle I’ve heard, Air­play 2, for ex­am­ple, has been a big chal­lenge that has ne­ces­si­tated go­ing back to the draw­ing board. Even though it was an­nounced at WWDC last June, it’s only re­cently ap­peared in de­vel­oper ver­sions of IOS.

Un­der­promis­ing and overde­liv­er­ing is usu­ally some­thing Ap­ple is pretty good at. Part of the com­pany’s driv­ing force has al­ways been a ded­i­ca­tion to tar­get­ing what it be­lieves to be the

most nec­es­sary fea­tures, and con­cen­trat­ing on those. Take, for ex­am­ple, the first iphone, which shipped with­out third-party apps, as well as with­out key fea­tures like cut-and-paste.

The prob­lem comes when Ap­ple goes in re­verse, over­promis­ing on fea­tures and then not be­ing able to de­liver them promptly.

In some in­stances, the com­pany cops to this, as it did when it had to push back the ship date of the Homepod be­cause it needed more time. But some­times those de­lays just hap­pen, and Ap­ple doesn’t ex­plic­itly ac­knowl­edge them, as with the Mes­sages on icloud fea­ture that was much touted dur­ing the com­pany’s key­note last year, only to van­ish from Ap­ple’s web­site af­ter the re­lease of IOS 11. (Re­ports sug­gest that it’s made its way into the first IOS 11.3 beta.) At that point, it starts to feel a lit­tle more like the com­pany is a bit out of its depth.

The wheel keeps on turn­ing

If I had to lay these chal­lenges at the feet of one par­tic­u­lar fac­tor, I think it might have a lot to do with Ap­ple’s cur­rent yearly up­date sched­ule. You don’t have to look very closely to see that a lot of Ap­ple’s eggs are in one, maybe two bas­kets: the June WWDC key­note, where it announces plans for its ma­jor soft­ware up­dates for the year

as well as of­ten some hard­ware, and the Septem­ber event, where it re­veals a new iphone and more of­ten than not some new or re­vamped de­vices as well.

That’s a lot of pres­sure, es­pe­cially on the soft­ware side. Man­ag­ing two dif­fer­ent ma­jor plat­form re­leases – not to men­tion an­cil­lary plat­forms like watchos and tvos – is a tall or­der, and do­ing it every year only com­pounds that.

Bugs are still be­ing worked out and fea­tures fi­nally added even as the next up­date is al­ready be­ing pre­pared. In and of it­self that’s not un­usual for soft­ware de­vel­op­ment, but the scale of the op­er­at­ing sys­tems and of the num­ber of de­vices they ap­ply to can’t be dis­counted.

Ex­pec­ta­tions play a big part into the ev­er­turn­ing wheel, as well. Users, de­vel­op­ers, pun­dits, and the mar­ket all ex­pect to see big an­nounce­ments out of Ap­ple in June and Septem­ber. That puts even more pres­sure on the com­pany to de­liver on that sched­ule. And though Ap­ple fa­mously backed out of Mac­world Expo so it didn’t have to be be­holden some­one else’s out timetable, the com­pany has ended up teth­ered to the very timetable that it cre­ated for it­self.

It also means that if we don’t see a ma­jor new fea­ture or en­hance­ment at WWDC, we know that we’ll likely be wait­ing an­other year be­fore there’s a chance of new fea­tures – in essence the clock resets and starts over.

This ad­her­ence to a once-a-year re­vamp of Ap­ple’s soft­ware plat­forms cer­tainly seems dif­fi­cult to sus­tain as it stands now. Per­haps it might help

were the com­pany to shift to an up­date sched­ule with smaller, but more fre­quent up­dates. Or maybe it sim­ply needs to be more rea­son­able about not over­promis­ing on fea­tures it can’t de­liver on sched­ule. Ei­ther way it cer­tainly feels like the com­pany is bit­ing off more than it can chew. And while that’s frus­trat­ing for users in the short term, I worry that in the longer term, it might point to Ap­ple’s plate be­ing overly full.

Mes­sages on icloud could fi­nally be re­leased to the gen­eral pub­lic in IOS 11.3

We’ve all come to ex­pect big an­nounce­ments at WWDC. Could that be work­ing against Ap­ple?

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