An open letter to Tim Cook on the current status of Apple Software Stability

On 9 Jan 2015, at 3:38 pm, Aidan Clarke <email address redacted> wrote:

Tim,

I write this email to you today as a direct result of having seen this article today in ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com/article/apple-has-a-serious-problem-with-software-quality/) that spelled out almost exactly the gut feeling that I have been nursing for the last 12-18 months.  Namely that the quality of Apple software products has dropped dramatically of late, holistically, across the Apple software and cloud ecosystem of products. 

Interestingly, I started this email from my iPhone 6, but after 20 minutes of drafting, I multitasked to find a link to the article I reference below, only to find my drafted email lost completely - I had clicked the link to your email address in Safari, and the email was actually being drafted there, not in Mail - multi tasking away from it saw the email lost to the ether…) 

So here I start it again on my Mac.

Some background: We run an Apple household.  For a family of four, we have no fewer than 5 Macs in our household. Our digital life runs on Apple.  We watch home movies and (used to) rent movies on iTunes on AppleTV, iPhoto and Aperture own a decade of our precious digital memories, we use Apple printing services to print photos and photo books when photographs that we take need to take on corporeal form.  All of our precious documents live in Time Capsule disks. All four members of our household have iPads (two adults and two kids) and we still use iPods for music. All phones in our house are iPhones, updated to the newest available iPhone as soon as our phone contracts are up for renewal. All of our phones backup our precious mobile data to iCloud. Between my wife and I, we have owned every single iPhone that has ever been released.  All of our precious digital data is backed up on Time Machine drives and Time Capsules. We average 4 Apple devices per member in our Family...

I am an IT professional who, a decade ago now, frustrated with the instability of Windows and the difficulty of getting a viably friendly Linux desktop/laptop solution, jumped into the Apple ecosystem with both feet when it switched to Intel and I never once looked back until recently. 

They just worked. It was brilliant.

Since then, all the members of my extended family that looked to me for tech support were all told: If it isn’t Apple, I won’t help - I had found a better way to do technology, and I took all that looked to me for guidance with me and, for the best part, everyone experienced what I had: that it was better.

I will say this to you firmly: Apple’s hardware tech support / customer service is second to none - period.  I have received nothing but the best examples of customer service and support from Apple both from Apple stores all over the world (I travel internationally regularly for work) and even through my local Apple Certified Reseller.  For this, you should truly pat yourselves on the back. 

However replacing hardware as a list ditch effort to solve software issues, while appreciated, isn’t how this stuff should work...

The software and cloud services side of the Apple house, with each passing day, leaves MUCH to be desired.  The best litmus test that I have on the topic is my technophile mother.  Whilst what I would consider a “Power User”, since switching her to Apple in 2007, tech support calls to me for things that were not working as she expected them to, all but stopped; Because of Time Machine, when she destroyed her MBP laptop with a glass of red wine, she was able to bring herself back online when her laptop was replaced by the insurance company! It was fantastic.  

But now, as time marches on, the odd annual call for help has gone and now occur what seems to me to be almost monthly. To me, my mother is the canary in the mine, and from where I sit, the canary is coughing...

Back in our house: The AppleTV was added to our household to aid my visually impaired wife - finally a simple home system,that she could drive without needing to call me every time she used it, was available.  All our home movies were available at the touch of a button.  She could rent movies easily for herself and the kids, and movies we bought were easily available. She even started to learn to use the voice over features to read titles to her when her sight was problematic.  About 18 months ago, it stopped being like this. for some reason, whenever we rented a movie, it just wouldn’t play.  I would get a phone call wherever I was in the world every time, and even I could not coax the device into letting us watch rented content when I tried. AppleTV was updated, reset to factory, set up again, and even replaced with a new one.  The problem seems to be something about the iTunes store and our account.  Support calls were raised, and never went anywhere.  The problem occurs even when I try to rent content on my Mac! There are similarities to what we see in this thread: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5391235) - but, no word from Apple.

It still doesn’t work, and so the AppleTV has now been decommissioned and no more is new digital video content sourced from Apple.

Concerns over the situation with our iTunes account has meant that I am now totally reluctant to set up the new family access features released with iOS 8 for my children, lest it somehow make the situation worse.

My wife’s iPhone 5s, as of iOS8, now seems to end up in a state 2-3 times a week, where people cannot hear her.  A hard reset of the phone seems to restore it’s two way audio again, but, as you can imagine, it scares me that my visually impaired wife is going out in the world with a communications device that is not reliable in an emergency. This problem started with iOS8… The item is similar to some of the problems reported here (http://www.tuaw.com/2014/09/29/ios-8-0-2-probably-not-apples-finest-update/) again, silence from Apple.  Siri, even advertised by Apple to help visually impaired people with their phones, has been so unreliable for her, that I have now disabled it, because at least without Siri, the old iOS voice command to get her phone to call someone when she cannot see, works again.

My Thunderbolt display experiences semi regular events that cause the gigabit network interface in it to just stop responding.  The whole network (all hardware etc) has been replaced over the last 12 months as part of other upgrades to my home network, but the display’s connectivity still plays up.  The Thunderbolt Gigabit Ethernet adaptor that I bought for my mac to work around this problem suffers the same fate, and, as I have discovered, I get the exact same issue on my work network, 50km from my house. Similar to issues seen here: (https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3517737). 

To my "coincidence driving causality" addled experience in IT, these networking problems started with the upgrade of my past MacBook pro to Mavericks. I have since replaced the MacBook pro with a new 15” Retina Model running first Mavericks and now Yosemite. Two separate systems, two different network locations, both having the same issue with the thunderbolt since Mavericks was released. Snow Leopard on my MacMini however, has never had a problem with the Thunderbolt Display’s Network connection. I hoped that the recent Thunderbolt firmware update does something to fix it, but again, the update provides no actual information as to what was fixed (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1775).  Corporate silence.

iPhoto gave us our first glimpse of the digital armageddon about 6 months ago - iPhoto, at some part of its upgrade cycle since 2007 when I migrated all our photos into it, has lost photos.  Browsing through 10 years photos, suddenly there are chunks of the library that simply show a triangle with an exclamation mark in it when we try to open the photo. Not to many, statistically speaking, maybe a few hundred out of ~40,000, but that is still a few hundred of our personal memories that are lost... I have been back through 2 years of TimeMachine archives (I now rotate and store my Time Machine backup disks at the end of every year, just incase) but the photos are still missing - this happend at least 2 years ago.  As you can imagine, my wife is now paranoid about trusting iPhoto to keep any of our digital memories safe.

Wifi on my MacBook Air under OS X Yosemite mostly never connects when I resume from sleep(https://discussions.apple.com/thread/6601963) - No word from Apple.

Now all of these things can happen.  I work for an IT Vendor that sells hardware and software.  I have worked deep within product release cycles and know that all of the things that I am talking about can happen.  What concerns me the most though is that when I go and google my problem, I often find hundreds or thousands of other Apple users suffering similar fates, and most often, Apple is for the most part totally silent on the issue.

Now I can understand the need for Corporate silence.  Corporate silence has its place surrounding new product releases or around issues that have litigious implications etc.

Corporate silence on things like this however, do nothing but alienate your customer base and sow the seeds of resentment that will eventually hurt Apple’s bottom line and it’s shareholders, and makes customer's lives potentially miserable in the interim.  I shudder to think what my life would be like if something were to ever cause our iPhoto library to corrupt to a greater level than it already seems to have. My wife, with her declining eye sight would simply be distraught and the problem would be left to me to fix, as the guy that made the choice to go “all in” with Apple, fending for myself.

But it doesn’t have to be like this…

One of the best examples I can think of in recent times of the antithesis to what I am seeing with Apple presently, is the background to the story of Qantas flight QF32 in 2010 that I picked up on Linkedin last week: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-air-crash-investigations-didnt-tell-you-qf32-airbus-hughes.  The article goes on to talk about how communications with customers are simply put the basis on which any financial relationship is built. And what we have between us (myself, Aidan Clarke and you Tim Cook) is indeed a relationship.  I ran the numbers and,  over the last 5 years on average, I spend 1.5-2% of our families annual post tax income with Apple.  And this doesn’t take into account the Apple equipment that is purchased through my employer at my request. I can not say that of any other vendor in my house, period.

So, I write you this email, hoping upon hope that you can turn this ship and prevent, what I currently see, as the inevitable continuing decline of Apple to be a Microsoft, or an SAP, or an IBM: A company that people do business with out of lack of choice, rather than out of inspiration and hope for something better.

As a result of all of this, once again, I have started gentle investigations into alternate platforms. Android, Windows, and Linux.  But this is not what I want… and I truly hope that you know this.

I sincerely thank you for the time taken to read this email..

Cheers...

Aidan

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Aidan Clarke

<email address and contact number redacted>