What Happened To Apple's Software Quality?

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The introduction of OS X (or "OS Ten" for the purists) sparked a revolution of sorts for the Mac. Apple still remains firmly focused on its music players, phones and peripherals, with the Mac market share lagging far, far behind Windows. At current glance, Macs only control around 5% to 6% of the overall PC market, with Windows claiming over 92%. By those numbers, this isn't even a battle. Heck, it's not even a fight. But the numbers are somewhat deceiving. Apple has remained a thorn in the side of Microsoft, and slowly but surely, Mac market share has been on the rise. Even though Apple controls just ~5% or the overall OS market, that hasn't stopped it from producing advertisement after advertisement making fun of Windows and slyly encouraging viewers to make the switch to Mac.

It's safe to assume that the Mac's market share wouldn't even be as high as it is without the advent of OS X, which was a radically different OS from OS 9, and in many ways, it outpaced Windows XP. Granted, WinXP still stands as a popular OS from Microsoft. OS X made it look awfully dated though, and Apple's main problem quickly became the lackluster hardware it had to offer rather with an intuitive OS. After Appke switched to Intel CPUs, however, even that problem fell to the wayside. From OS X to OS X 10.4 (Tiger), Apple experienced few major issues. Of course there were loads of Apple loyalists who were angry about their OS 9 ("Classic") applications losing functionality in OS X, but that happens with every major OS overhaul regardless of the creating company.

One could even argue that
Windows Vista copied some of the concepts introduced in OS X--as if Microsoft was attempting to play catch-up. But for as much criticism as Vista received (and rightfully so, in our own humble opinion), Leopard and Snow Leopard seemingly cruised ahead with little to no negativity following them around like black clouds. What's interesting here, is that we think everyone has missed the obvious. Apple's software track record was darn near impeccable (at least when compared to the hundreds of gaffes related to Windows) during the OS X 10.0 to 10.4 years, but something has happened since the introduction of OS X 10.5 ("Leopard"). And it's not something Apple should be particularly proud of.

OS X 10.5 was launched in the fall of 2007; needless to say, the majority of Apple's focus that year was on the original iPhone, which was yet another groundbreaking product. That phone was unveiled in the summer of 2007, but we're guessing the bulk of Q1 and Q2 2007 was spent fine tuning its functionality. By and large, Leopard
was a real hit. Few people had major complaints, and while there were a few here and there, Apple worked hard and fast to fix quirks and keep things running smoothly. We even covered a number of those screw-ups/fixes during its time on the shelf.

Credit: Apple.com

Why mention OS X 10.5? The flurry of early bugs--which was very un-Apple like--was just the beginning. Apple went so far as to say that Snow Leopard would be its next operating system. Why? Because rather than introducing hundreds of brand new features as Leopard had, this one would simply be making Leopard a smoother, more reliable cat. Sounds like an easy way to make $29 per upgrader, doesn't it? Evidently it wasn't so simple, as Apple's least expensive OS ever--the one that was engineered from the start to simply improve upon the groundwork laid by Leopard--is quite possibly its buggiest OS ever. Or at least that's the reputation that it is quickly getting.

It's quite baffling, really. Apple had years to fine-tune Leopard and make the changes it wanted to make in
Snow Leopard. It didn't have to "wow" the crowds with amazing new features. It didn't have to re-invent the desktop. It didn't have to integrate hand gesture control or eye tracking to get noticed. All it had to do was take Leopard, and make it better: smoother, faster, cleaner and less buggy. In essence, all consumers were looking for was a great big OS patch for $29, and in reality, all we got was headache after headache. Granted, not everyone has found reason to complain about Snow Leopard, but it seems that any complaining is too much complaining when the whole goal here was to simply make a Leopard that worked better than Leopard.

All that said, it begs the question: "What happened to Apple's software quality?" Since Snow Leopard hit the shelf just 2.5 months ago, we've seen a dizzying array of issues. Many users can't use their printers. Apple even admitted itself that the OS could literally eat all of one's user data if you snuck into the Guest Account in a certain scenario. Apple's own support boards are still loaded with issues ranging from programs being incredibly unstable to the inability to open Network Settings. We fully understand that Apple has had very little time to address these concerns, and we're confident that the majority of them will be solved eventually, but one glance at those forums certainly gives one pause. In fact, isn't this exactly what a Windows support board should look like if we were to believe Apple? What about that whole "it just works" thing? When did that stop applying? Since when were Apple operating systems riddled with problems the same way Windows operating systems were? Hmm.

Credit: Apple.com (UK)

And if you think that's concerning, don't even dare to venture into the iTunes, iPhone OS or Apple TV forums. In fact, Apple just released an emergency x.x.1 update to its Apple TV for this reason: "There is an issue with Apple TV software version 3.0 that can possibly cause your content to disappear after a period of time. All customers running Apple TV software version 3.0 should immediately restart their Apple TV and then upgrade to Apple TV software version 3.0.1." Really? Vanishing data? Call us crazy, but this is exactly the kind of thing that Apple would generally poke and prod Microsoft over. Why doesn't Microsoft take this opportunity to shoot a parody ad that goes after some of the issues that Apple products have been dealing with lately? One could say that Microsoft is too busy enjoying its 90+% market share to worry over Apple's silly ads, but like it or not, they're having an impact on public perception.

We've also noticed that iTunes updates seem to be coming at a more rapid pace, and while iTunes has never been a particularly well liked program (which again begs the question--since when does Apple make software that is disliked by the masses?), it seems that new bugs are popping up at a record pace.

Credit: Apple.com

Yet again, we come to this question: "What happened to Apple's software quality?" We've got a few ideas, actually. The first guess is that, in fact, nothing at all has happened to Apple's software quality. Maybe Apple's software has always been this buggy and has always broken compatibility at a rate that resembles Windows operating systems. The difference now is that people are paying attention. Apple's user base has grown immensely over the past few years, and thus, each and every quirk is magnified more now than ever before. There's a good chance that a bug in OS X 10.2 would only be recognized in fan groups, whereas now, each and every bug (such as the Apple TV one, which actually broke over a weekend) is reported all across the web as the desire to cover Apple grows.

So yeah, maybe we're all just paying closer attention now, and Apple is actually holding steady on its software quality. And of course, it makes sense to think that with more users, more bugs will be found. There are simply more chances for things to go wrong, and more people are there to make a fuss about it. That's part of growing up, and that may be the reason that Apple's software seems worse now than ever before (even if it's really not).

But even if all that's true, is there still an issue at hand? With a larger user base comes a larger responsibility to the people that support you. Shouldn't Apple's software actually be as bug free (or as close to bug free as possible) as their advertising leads us to believe? Or are we just expected to blindly believe everything we hear? What's your take on all of this? Have you noticed Apple's software going downhill? Are things still better than over on the Windows side? Shout out your thoughts in the comment section--we're more than interested to hear your take.

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rapid1 5 years ago

Microsoft and apple are software companies. Yes they both have hardware and on the hardware end of things have products that are exactly the same end to end. However; Apple tends to support a small area of the hardware market whereas M$ tries to make software that works on everything. I see this as apples biggest failure.

They are a Bebe against a Gap. They also always grab pockets of the market and also sooner or later get laid to the side. I don't think any of this has changed it is just a different decade.

So they may be doing great right now. But sooner or later I imagine we'll be in the same place. Steve Jobs is a genius as is Bill Gates but he does not run the company to the greatest extent any more. I wonder when he's going to have to come back to save his Child like Jobs did?

BrianM 5 years ago

[quote user="News"]

Short memories apparently, or is it rose tinted glasses looking back at what happened?


Having been a tech specializing in Mac OS (since 7.5) for around 15 years, things have remained around the same for reliability since around 10.3.

it is a relatively small sample of just a few hundred users that I do work for, but out of them, there have been far fewer issues going to 10.6, than there were in the early days of 10.5.  By about 10.5.3/10.5.4 most of those issues had been resolved.  (There was a printing compatibility issue when 10.5 came out as well, certain support had been disabled, so printers shared by a 10.3 mac were not seen on 10.5, this was fixable, but was still an issue)


It actually seems fairly consistent from reading posts from people with problems over the years, that its the first time they ever ran into problems, and why has apple's QA gone downhill?  (I've been using macs for xxx years and have never had an issue before)


As a tech I've actually noticed a decline in software issues I'm having to fix, and with more mac users, I see more hardware issues (although the percentage is generally quite low, with a few exceptions like the MacBook Pro's with 8600M graphics)  But there are many more mac users out there.  

I also frequently get told someone thinks their mac has a virus... this turns out to be a bad hard drive most of the time, although have also had it be bad ram, and bad logicboards (SATA controllers, processors, video chips - causing erratic behaviour)  The 3 times I've run into a trojan, only one of the users mentioned them noticing a slowdown in web page loading (DNS hijack trojan)

Questors 5 years ago

It's only fair to report both sides of the argument (as it were).  I started out  using Apple IIc with Apple branded monitors glowing lime green block letters and numbers.  It was heaven!   I would then travel homeward and jump on my Atari 1200XL (Yes a real home computer not video game console)  with, let me recall...ah yes 2 MB hard drive.  The Atari was an IBM compatible - a PC.  It was heaven!

Through the years, I have watched the Apple computer world nearly die on several occassions while the PC flourished.  People are naturally going to gravitate to what seems most promising by using what has been the most market stable with consistancy.This is akin to the Yugo versus Honda.  Like it or not, it is the PC which has been the most widely compatible in terms of both hardware and software over the years.

Over the last few years, we have had a slew of Apples thrown at us - pun intended - from every direction... from computing, to entertainment as well as communications.  People want to know and have the right to know if these products measure up.  Have their computers been as upgradable as easily and cheaply as PCs have been?  No, the cost and ease of upgrading has not been close.  Have I been able to purchase a (as best a comparison as possible) an Apple computer for the same price as I can build a PC? No, the cost comparison has not been close. 

I do not like Apple's advertising tactics.  They should be an upstanding company and advertise on the strength of their products, not the weakness of another, whether perceived or real. They should not use a high school grade television commercial with a stuffy dishonest suit trying to argue his merits to a guy who reminds of Mike Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I learned long ago, a very corny phrase that seems to have held true for a long time: If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is.  Apple presents themselves in this fashion.  The other exception Apple tries to use in justifying itself as superior I find disturbing, is using the fact the larger the number of an item or product on the market used by a greater percentage of the population, will normally produce a higher percentage of issues reported than an item of equal quality but less distribution and usage.  It's the law of averages and statics.

If thing were reversed, it would Apple' OS being attacked by viruses, maleware and spy-adware constantly.  The "bad people" are going to go where the greatest potential for notoriety and/or money can be gained using hacks to steal passwords and identities, etc.  This argument holds to for Linux as well.

It's good the media reports fairly on the quality, good and bad, of Apple products.  Whether it is concerning their software or their hardware.  Since they are a growing market and at least for now, it seems we will be seeing more of them,  the consumer has the right to know the facts. 

Me?  I believe Apple probably makes good products, but I want to know what their quirks, bugs and problems are before I make a decision to buy into them. I want to know the cost of an upgrade path and if it is financially effective over time. I need to know how compatible the Apple is with what I need from it.  So, I will stay with my PC for now.  I will continue to run Windows XP Professional, with no complaints, a bit longer and eventually purchase my license to use Windows 7 while I dual boot with whichever distro of Linux I have currently installed.  Besides, using the argument software issues have declined, yet you are seeing a higher rate of hardware related failures and issues is not much of a convincing factor to switch, convince me Apple is superior to a PC, or use Apples for anything other than baking pies (yeah, yeah horrible pun). 

BobM 5 years ago

Yes I agree whole heatedly... Apple "insults" the same people it's trying to attract. Granted their are those who couldn't care less but for many out there who have had to use PC's their whole life due to business, this seems condescending at best, but more like complete arrogance.

The smugness of Apple and it's fan-boys is one of the worse advertisements they have and these commercials just reinforce this notion. The thing they never tell you is that ALL of Apples products are designed on PC's and UNIX systems. Only this past year was UGS's NX CAD software ported (Apple paid for this) to the Mac!

So for them to play this stupid superiority game is a joke!  Stick out tongue




3vi1 5 years ago

I hope we can expect a similar article on Microsoft "innovation", complete with icons of Microsoft's logo in similar states of disrepair. I think it should be a hard-hitting examination of exactly how much was actually changed from Vista to Win7, with comparisons to pre-existing systems like OS X and KDE4.

It could also address the innovative patents they've been filing:  like the one they were recently granted for sudo, an app that's been heavily used in most every Unix-compatible OS for 30+ years.

It's not that I totally disagree with you:  Mac's aren't 100% de-bugged... no platform is.  I just don't know why they deserve this press when their software quality still appears to exceed that found in Microsoft's products by every discernible measure.  Compare the iPod to the Zune leap-year bug problem, for instance.  And, security-wise, the statistics match Apple's advertising.

joesmith 5 years ago

I just bought two new all-in-ones.

An HP Touchsmart and an iMac.  Let's just say that I am entertained by the comparisons between the two.

The Mac crashed within a day when my daughter put in a CD to rip to iTunes.

Had to power the unit down to get the disc out - everything was frozen.

The Touchsmart takes a good 2-3 minutes to wake up out of sleep on random days.

Bottom line - both machines are awesome - both machines crash.


This is our first Mac and my wife keeps asking - where are all the programs that the artists use?

I thought it was so creative, etc. , etc.  My kids love the camera software, but its really not that unique.

The HP has different, but similar software, so really, what is so special about the Mac.

And the touch screen?  Let's just say the novelty has worn off after just a few days.


Apple does not compete in the low end which makes them seem more expensive.

Both machines are what I consider high end and the Apple is actually a better value.

The prices were the same and the hardware of the Mac is bigger/better/faster in every way - screen, processor, HDD, video card.


At the end of the day, I want everything to work and computers are not perfect.

Let the battle continue.



boybunny 5 years ago

OSX has always been buggy. After five machines, and 12 dead internal HDDs, I now am certain that OSX eats HDDs. Though speak about it online and apple fanatics try to silence you with some very extreme actions (including real life trouble).

OSX has become the biggest bloatware in current operating systems. The problems with OSX bugs have accelerated in the same period. There is a possibility that Apple is learning what Microsoft learned eight years ago. The more the bloat, the more lines you need to debug, the harder it is to catch every bug.

As far as the article goes, I would have to disagree with the take on the hardware. The IBM CPU range is far more elegant and more powerful than the mess Steve (hissy fit) Jobs dragged Apple and users through with Intel CPUs. Not only did laptop batteries need to be doubled in capacity, but they lasted 50% of the time under the load Intel put on them. Laptops literally became “nut roasters” and people like myself who used laptops on their LAPS had to use them on desktops. Not only that, but for us in the high end graphics world, we had a great 64 bit OS, but were forced to suffer into a 32 bit downgrade in the switch to slower Intel CPUs*. There have been compatibility issues for us who got first generation Intel machines with both the Core Duo CPUs and the motherboard chips. HARDLY the elegant solution Apple users had when IBM supplied the CPUs. Finally for speed, IMB still have CPUs (G7?) that outperform anything that Intel produces, not to mention no chance at all of utilising CELL technology. So we got a speed reduction while Apple had to sacrifice some of their profit margin because IBM sold their CPUs at a much discounted rate. Much more of a discount than Intel would ever offer.

*Intel CPUs were much slower. Apple artificially made Intel CPUs look faster by holding back the latest IBM CPUs for 18 months before the official switch date. IBM CPUs continued to get much faster and added more cores during that time, but Apple fanatics did not have them in Apple hardware to see how fast they could have run.


Unfortunately OSX does not have much in the way of graphics software. Apple hardware did have advantages six years ago over Windows machines. Being able to access 4GB of RAM per program, and being able to add 8GB of RAM total made OSX a great graphics platform. Now though, 64 bit made on OSX is flakey and difficult to use at best. Not to mention that OSX software developers are circle jerk fans. No one wants to program something that is not available on OSX, they all want to create their own version of software that is currently popular on OSX. So you get five to 10 versions of the same sort of software, but nothing at all for other sorts of tools. This is why I finally switched back to XP. XP64 gives the freedom I had on G5 Macs, but it is even better because I have three or four powerful programs available in every tool type I need to work with. In fact Mac artists and film makers I know see what I do on XP64 and are now drooling at the options and tools available to them on Windows. You can create artwork on OSX, but outside the Adobe suite, you only really have Corel Painter and ArtRage that I would heartily recommend. Though all these titles and many more great art tools are available on Windows.

BrianM 5 years ago

I can say with certainty that Mac OS X does not "eat HDDs", failure rates are the same, because they are the same hard drives.  They fail in the same way.

They just cut down on size by several GB with snow leopard.

I can't agree with your battery rant.  The Intel CPUs use less power.  The batteries were the same Wattage and same mAh.  For example, the last iBooks used 50 or 62 Watt hour batteries (12" & 14" models), the 13.3" MacBooks used 55 Watt hour batteries.  With very consistant

PowerPC did have a speed advantage in certain tasks, but the intel machines had major improvements in file I/O performance.  Most users noticed even a lowly MacBook felt faster than a PowerMac G5  (even simple stuff like doing an OS upgrade takes twice as long or more on a PowerPC mac, given the same amount of ram)  BioTech (DNA research) and some astronomical programs for the first couple of years  were still faster on G5's, but the Xeons have exceeded them in raw processing now. (the DNA tasks in particular were more luck than raw processing power, one function was done in one step with PowerPC, that took many more instructions with x86)  The G5's were also very high on power usage and heat (Even IBM said while it was possible for them to make a portable version of the G5, it would have taken significant effort & cost to do so)  Cell is great for streaming calculations, but really not great for general CPU power.  It has essentially one general use CPU, then 8 Special Processing Units that are optimized for streaming data - video & audio (including 3D).  "Cell is widely regarded as a challenging environment for software development" - programming to take advantage of the "Velocity Engine" on the G4/G5 was hard enough, the Cell is harder to use efficiently, although the gains can be great... it would have been great for the high-end towers doing video & audio work potentially, but may have taken much longer to get native versions of software going on it.  The heat generated and power used is quite high (take the PS3 as an example, early PS3s used close to 200 watts of power, newer models have gotten that down around the 100 watt range, I don't think you'd see a Mac mini with a Cell in it, especially not using 13-35 watts)

 Intel was turning their heat & power issues around by learning from the Pentium M series, which lead to the CoreDuo & Core2Duo series (which did result in a 32bit "step back" until Intel got the main chipset moved to 64bit as well)  Only the early CoreDuo systems really ran into the memory limits of 2 GB.  Plus the switch to intel lets a Mac user run both Mac OS X, and Windows if they want/need, best of both worlds either through dual-boot, or Virtual Machine.

IBM CPUs were not "held back"  IBM had put more and more pressure on Apple to place very large orders, they were more interested in their designs for servers and their cell & blade designs than in Apple's orders.  (Especially with the low price that had been arranged, not sure how or why IBM ever agreed to those prices)  Intel loves apple, guaranteed orders for their latest processors, they worked with apple to do the transition, many engineer hours to improve performance.  While the raw cost of the processors is more, the total cost was about the same, since Apple got the intel chipsets plus the processors, which also helped reduce development cost on the boards.

I know places switching to Macs to do video editing for the smooth combination of Final Cut Studio plus  Adobe Suite (although 10.6 has resulted in some issues with CS4 until 10.6.2, which do seem to be resolved now)

64bit is better supported than ever, it can be an issue with certain apps due to plugins and add-ons, most users do not see these issues though.  Well except the screen savers... that was the most common "64-bit issue" that my customers ran into.  And if Apple hadn't delivered 10.6 early, it may have been less of an issue, many developers were expecting the end of September for release, not for Apple to ship before september.

Last point about software... the software 6 years ago, and now is about the same, if not some new additions to Mac OS X, that really hasn't changed.  Photoshop Elements has improved drastically, and Pages does the page layout that most people need... who aren't doing it professionally.  Keynote for presentations even had Microsoft having to send out a memo internally to remind their employees that they should use a Microsoft product for presentations.

For windows, there are good tools, and for 3D work great ones that only a fraction exist for Mac OS X.  Maybe Windows 7 will make more of a difference in the OS getting out of the way of the user/artist to let them work, time will tell.


3vi1 5 years ago

I've seen movies based on less script than in the last two posts.

gibbersome 5 years ago

Don't forget Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle, From Justin to Kelly, Half Baked, Kazaam, Howard the duck, Freddy Got Fingered and the often forgotten....Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

oblio211 5 years ago

...including in no particular order, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Witless Protection, Delta Farce (a theme here), SpiceWorld, Daddy Day Camp, Glitter, Weekend at Bernie's II, Corky Romano...to name a few. "Steve (hissy fit) Jobs" -LOL!! Too true!

3vi1 5 years ago

ROFL... Great examples!

jaytee47 5 years ago

Tech blogs are funny beasts.  When there are companies that are firing on all cylinders, such as Apple, a lot of them will use that popularity to manufacture page hits using absurd premises as click-bait.


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