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“This is unacceptable”

Most things have limits. Speed limits on roads, how often a razor blade is used, the expiry date of fresh fruit.

In an earlier life as a young Engineer in ’91, I noticed how different management styles affected the behaviour of staff. One of my favourites was Randy Ziffer. A spirited young Director of Manufacturing at Sun Microsystems’s only non-US plant in Linlithgow, Scotland.  I recall one troublesome period when SparcStations we were making were being rejected by a Japanese OEM for cosmetic reasons. While Engineers asked Operators to use the detailed visual Specifications and Managers to read it, rejects continued.

It became a hairball of finger-pointing and Specification bashing until Randy heard the noise.

“This is unacceptable” he yelled. Everything stopped. Assembly, Testing and shipping (known as a ‘Stop Ship’ or product lockdown) until the problem was resolved. Despite each function of the organisation doing its job, a wheel had fallen off but nobody noticed as we were all too close to it. Except Randy. This is how I feel about Apple’s software business today.

My first mac was the Mac mini in Feb 2005. A powerhouse of 1.42 GHz PowerPC processor with 80GB Hard drive (less capacity than a podgy iPad!) running 10.3 Panther. What made it special was the software and design because “It just works”. You bought iLife and iWork and accomplished work. Every month or two brought software updates full of bug fixes, refinements and new features.

By 2005 I left Sun to follow a childhood fascination and become a Photographer which itself was swinging away from 35mm film atoms to digital bits. After much research on cameras, computer hardware and software I upgraded to a water-cooled Power Mac G5. I’d spent too many years building my own Windows machines to know problem-free serious computing now meant Apple. This machine ran 10.4 Tiger – a big update from 10.3.

Apple Aperture
Apple Aperture

At the same time Apple launched Aperture. This was new. A wholly non-destructive method of processing a camera’s large RAW files and its UI was beautiful to work inside on my 30″ Cinema Display. Nothing looked or felt like it and came almost one year before Adobe’s competitor Lightroom. I used Aperture from its release date and was a fan (as was Colin Prior at an event in Glasgow’s College of Building, Printing and Art). I converted to shoot digitally and only used Aperture. Some clients asked for serious edits like moving people in 80 person group shots, change dress colours, skin colour, widen eyes, fix my own mistakes (ahem) and more. Most of it could not be done in Aperture because its forte was non-destructive editing of large quantities of images. It was a fast workflow, but could not manipulate enough bits in the nooks and crannies of a frame to satisfy everything. It became part of my sales patter that I was always going for a realistic and pure form of photographic style because that was my artistic license (in truth it was the lack of a Photoshop license – I don’t pirate anyone’s software).

Eventually the dam cracked and after two minutes with Gimp I threw £555 at Adobe for Photoshop CS3 and god knows how many man-hours of Lynda.com, Kelby training, podcasts, seminars, courses, books and websites learning it. I could now do most things with Aperture and Photoshop and was relatively happy despite Aperture RAW updates being tied to OS updates and awful video card performance admitted to in Apple support forums by Aperture Senior Product Manager Joe Schorr.

Fast forward seven years and Aperture has achieved two major updates while Lightroom managed four. I switched from Aperture’s stagnation to the active development of Lightroom around 2009 and I’m mostly happy for it. There were major mistakes during Apertures development;

  • Initial overpricing saw a price cut and £100 rebate within year one.
  • Awful Core graphics performance in late Power Mac G5s and intel Mac Pros.
  • ‘Climb then descend’ software development. When Aperture was written, several of the Final Cut team assisted then returned after its release. Then Aperture devs were then moved onto Final Cut for its development including FCP X releases.

Apple historically runs lean on talent, which is hard grafting for those within, but comparatively secure long-term. However a new era of successful smart device development (iPhone, iPad and whatever) means hardware releases tug more strings than software alone. The consequence is what we are seeing today. Stunning new showcase hardware products with almost fully functional pillars of surrounding software. This is a recipe often ignored, especially by some Japanese Corporations.

Poking through the successes revels failure beyond Aperture’s demise. Jerky reboots of its lineup causes great worry amongst Apple users/Customers. Final Cut Pro to FCP X (itself a sequel to iMovie’s rather good re-imagineering of iMovieHD) and recently the reheat of iWork. Which was really cross-device consolidation that knee-capped features. This causes great uncertainty and lack of confidence over what Apple will do tomorrow.

When pushing change, Apple often leads us to water, then occasionally drains the loch.

Jerky reboots aside, why does my iPhone 5S and iPad 3rd gen iOS 7 fail every day, often twice or more? It’s not funny when reading an article in Feedly, swipe to another app then BANG spring board reboots itself necessitating a painful trip through feedly to find then reload my article. My local Genius checked my iPad out and reported its normal – until a fix is released. This major flaw has been going on for too long now. Un-Apple-y.

Unless something changes inside Apple, adding an iWatch with its own software and service pillars to the lineup alongside iCloud, iOS and OS X consolidations will result in more points of failure. Can we drop the fashion wars between green felt vs Gaussian blur? User experience is suffering and that is getting lost in all the noise.

Where is my Randy inside Apple? Software is suffering.

 

 

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