I’ve read a lot recently about Apple not being a great Software company. Most notably, I saw a lot of tech press scoffing (predominantly via Twitter) at Tim Cook’s assertion that Apple was a phenomenal Software company during the Goldman Sachs conference where he recently spoke. One of the most notable cries was something along the lines of “Cook trumpets Apple software prowess, ignores Maps, Siri failures.”
It was then that it struck me – Apple absolutely is an amazing software company. It is so easy to forget that Apple invented and continues to innovate and upgrade the operating systems that power its hardware; namely OS X and iOS.
OS X is indubitably the best Desktop/Laptop OS on the market right now, and Mountain Lion, for all of the geeks’ complaints, added some truly useful features (Notification Centre, iCloud/Facebook/Twitter integration and a whole new slew of apps) that Joe Public instantly understood and began using. Can you say the same for Windows 8? I thought not.
Then we land on iOS – perhaps the biggest thing to happen to Software in the past 13 years, if not longer (apart from the App-economy that the OS itself went on to create). iOS is a truly unbelievable invention – a totally understandable, touch-driven operating system with the power of a full PC behind it and no instruction manual required. Everyone can use iOS. Everyone. That is phenomenal. You can’t say the same for Android.
So, is Apple a great software company? Yes, it’s a phenomenal software company.
What Apple does suck at, and what the Press were getting at but misnamed, is web services. God, Apple suck at web services right now. I don’t have any problems with iCloud as such (I think people forget how unbelievably useful iCloud backup/restore is in itself), but Siri? Losing what little usefulness it has almost daily. And Maps? Let’s not even discuss it. Total shit – and it infuriates me that people like John Gruber, who claim to be objective (and I love Daring Fireball, by the way), still attempt to defend Apple Maps relative to Google Maps. Apple Maps absolutely suck. End of story. A dreadful “product”.
Even worse, Apple’s failure at launching great web services is beginning to tarnish iOS itself, as this is the platform upon which most of these services run. There is now a widespread perception that iOS is failing to innovate; that there was a time when each iOS update unveiled a new, shiny innovation in the OS that changed our iPhone usage for the better. This is somewhat true, and it’s a big danger for the perception of Apple’s quality and innovative abilities. We must remember, however, that pre-iPad Apple had a roughly 6 year innovation cycle. We were all spoiled by the iPad. Apple included.
However, we know Apple are pushing hard to change things – we’ve seen the job postings for Siri; we’ve seen the apology for Maps and the promise to make it better. Will these products actually improve to the point of being usable daily in the next six months? We will see (although I’m willing to bet Apple Maps are totally kaput, such is the damage to the perception of the service wrought by its failed launch, and so good are Google’s Maps).
We should all step back for one moment and realise that Apple is a great Software company. This is especially more impressive when one considers that they are really a hardware company that makes some software to make its hardware useful. It also makes announcements all the more deflationary when Apple “fail” to deliver “amazing” updates to their Software. Microsoft never do this, few people complain. Such is the pressure on Apple.
What Apple is not great at is web services and it is this, along with a large update to iOS (to remove the perception of stagnation and which should be part and parcel with a web services overhaul as the two are so intertwined/mobile/connected) that should be Apple’s biggest priority in 2013.