Apple needs to refocus on software

The quote “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” feels like an apt quote, here, in multiple respects.

I used to be a diehard Apple fanboy. Back in the halcyon days of software quality, even though Windows 7 was a damn good OS, I still really loved Apple’s computers. Apple was well-balanced at the time. The unibody MacBooks were built like tanks, the MacBook Air was a marvel in and of itself, and the Mac Pro was still a very relevant and very revered machine as opposed to the fate it was subjected to in 2013.

(Even iOS was in a good place! iOS updates at the time were day one updates, you didn’t really feel like you needed to hang back and wait for bugs to shake out before you updated. But that’s getting off into the weeds. I do have a piece in my head that I need to write about Apple as a whole, but this is mostly about macOS.)

These days, though, I’m sitting here with an M1 MacBook Pro, longing to replace it with a Windows machine much like I had before. That’s not due to the hardware of the MBP, as I feel modern Apple’s hardware is the best in the game right now. Apple Silicon is an absolute marvel, being super performant but also not outputting a ton of heat like the Intel CPUs that used to power Apple’s laptops.

No, the thing driving me away from the Mac (and also actively cheesing me off with iOS) is the software quality, or lack thereof.

The last few years have been awful. Big Sur was fine-ish, but I can’t really speak much to that because I came back to the macOS ecosystem midway through Big Sur’s lifecycle and therefore most of its issues were fixed. Though the release that preceded it–Catalina–was a hot mess, no doubt due to how it very suddenly killed all semblance of 32-bit support. (No doubt it needed to happen for Apple Silicon, but it still absolutely threw a monkey wrench into most pro workflows. It also broke compatibility with older apps, so good luck using that old version of Lightroom before Adobe went all in on subscriptions!)

Catalina also brought forth one of the big things I’d argue Apple became the villain on: Being ridiculously obtuse on security and privacy. I do think these things are important, don’t get me wrong. But it also feels Apple has gone all-in on this so much that it makes their OSes obtuse to use. iOS constantly bugs me that the weather app has been using my location. iOS also constantly bugs me that my girlfriend’s AirPods have been following me around (though I think thankfully it got the hint and finally stopped).

macOS is worse. By default it wants you to authorize every single device you plug in. You can turn this off, thankfully. Every little thing you want to do, like access the microphone, access the camera, and similar features? Gotta authorize it all, and restart whatever app you were trying to use. Apple mocked Windows Vista back in the day for being obtuse with UAC, but Apple has become so. much. worse. on this front.

(Brief interpolation: Catalina also introduced notarization to macOS, which means macOS will go to great lengths to stop you from running apps that haven’t been given a Developer ID and haven’t been signed off on by Apple. To get your app notarized–you guessed it–you gotta pay Apple the $99/year developer fee. Yet another one of those fun little roadblocks that Apple likes to toss at you in modern versions of macOS.)

I mention this because last night I was trying to get OBS Virtual Camera running on the M1 MBP. It required me to authorize a handful of requests for things like the mic, camera, and screen recording, but then wanted me to dig down into Settings and authorize more stuff so that OBS could actually work. OBS helpfully offers to open Settings for you, but it doesn’t open the panel that needs your attention, you gotta find that yourself. And because Apple helpfully iOSified the Settings app in Ventura, navigating through it is a mess. (Even though we’re in Sonoma now, it still feels like a mess compared to older versions of macOS. This was a mistake.)

Once I did find the part that needed my attention, it was a matter of having to click allow and entering my MBP’s password a couple of times. It’s a double edged sword. Yes, it’s nice to have beefed up security, but good gods does macOS just get right in your way for stuff like this and makes navigating it as annoying as possible.

Compare and contrast to Windows throwing up maybe ONE UAC prompt for this, and that was it.

Again: I know some IT guys are going to see this and say it’s for my own good. But when you make doing something basic so annoying and obtuse (gods I love that word today, it seems) that it makes me want to defenestrate my computer, I feel like you’ve leaned a little too hard into the security angle and need to back off a touch. This is why Apple introduced Touch ID (and then moved to Face ID) on phones; they understood that entering a passcode every. single. time. you unlocked your phone was irritating and as such most people just opted to go without, leaving their phones wide open for someone to snoop on. Therefore, make securing your phone easy, with little overhead introduced to your routine.

One of the things I used to like about macOS vs. Windows in Ye Olden Days is that generally macOS stayed out of your way unless it had something it really, really needed to tell you. Whereas Windows felt like it would get all up in your business for any little thing it deemed fit. Now? The roles feel reversed. Win11 rarely bothers me over the course of the day, whereas it feels like macOS always has something to scream at me over.

Oh Yeah, The Bugs

Bet you thought we were going to make it through without addressing the elephant in the room. macOS has become more known for how buggy it is despite a public beta program.

Big Sur, as I said, I can’t speak much to because I came in when it was at its midpoint in the lifecycle, so a lot of critical bugs were already fixed. That said, it was my first brush with macOS having broken up iTunes into a bunch of separate apps and handing device sync off to the Finder, and…this was more buggy than I’d like to admit. Wi-Fi sync was unreliable. iPods would lock up when syncing. Annoying, but usually re-initiating the sync would make it come good.

Monterey? One of the big things that affected me with Monterey was Apple redoing the parental controls and merging them with Screen Time. This caused a number of unintended effects, most notably taking away the ability to tell Apple Music to shove its streaming service where the sun don’t shine. (I actually wrote an article about how I really feel Apple’s also gone downhill since they got into services, specifically Apple Music. Kinda goes hand in hand with this.)

Monterey also had some interesting bugs later on in life, at least as far as my own MBP: Wi-Fi became really unreliable, and it would just spontaneously drop in the middle of large file transfers to my NAS. I had to hardwire if I anticipated transferring more than a couple gigabytes of data.

Ventura? I bounced off it super fast because it had an issue where it would just…kick off external volumes with no rhyme or reason. Given that I have a base MBP, I only have 256GB of onboard storage. Whenever I’m doing anything that’s storage intense (video editing), I’m doing it off an external volume, and I kept having my external volume drop off in the middle of a video edit, and my editor promptly freaking out because it had no idea where anything was anymore. How Apple could break something so ridiculously basic is beyond me, but here we are, I guess.

(Shoutout to Michael Tsai for compiling a list of issues with Ventura, too.)

Sonoma? By this point I’ve really just reduced my MacBook to being the computer I use when I’m on the go or in the garage, but I still sync my iPhone with it, as all my music is local files. Sure enough, that had issues all the way up to 14.4. You’d sync your iPhone and it would get stuck at Preparing to Sync. This was because the crash report tool (that collected diagnostic data from your iPhone, I’m assuming) would crash and hang the sync. The only way to get the sync to work was to either disconnect the cable and try again (which you can’t do if you’re Wi-Fi syncing) or know that you needed to go into Activity Monitor and kill mdCrashReportTool.

That this was broken for 5 months (give or take) boggles my mind. This is basic functionality. Maybe Apple doesn’t see it this way because device sync is old hat and they really think all your media should be in streaming services that you pay monthly for, but come on.

Sonoma also seems to have issues with my Thunderbolt dock, or still has issues left over from Ventura because whenever my MacBook tries to go to sleep on the dock, it flips out, and my external drive gets stuck in a disconnect/reconnect loop, and it absolutely spams Notification Center (and, guess what, you can’t turn this off!) with “drive unsafely removed” notifications. There is no way to clear all these other than dropping into Terminal and issuing a killall NotificationCenter.

macOS absolutely losing its mind and spamming NC with drive disconnect notifications.

Maybe I just don’t use it hardcore enough, but good gods, Windows doesn’t do this shit.

(Also, Linux stans, save your breath. I don’t want to hear it. I tried Linux. I have no interest to run it again. Anyone who tries to say “but linux” will catch an instant block.)

But I also stop to think: macOS didn’t do this shit either, a long time ago when it felt like Apple cared.

This is why I like to say Apple has a balance problem. Right now their hardware is stacked. The new MacBooks are great! The new iPhones are great! The Mac Pro exists, somehow! Apple Silicon is amazing! The Vision Pro is a beautiful piece of art looking for a purpose! The Apple Watch is great too! So is the iPad!

But Apple’s software efforts are laughable at best. iOS and macOS are becoming more known for being buggy than anything else. iPadOS is both buggy and stuck living in iOS’ shadow, unnecessarily chained to paradigms of past devices when it really needs to break free and become something more befitting of the computer replacement Apple pitches the iPad platform as.

Apple used to be known for their software prowess. Hell, one would expect they’d get real good at it now that they control the entire stack with Apple Silicon! But instead they’ve fallen so far that I’m almost afraid to update my Mac anymore for fear of something else breaking, yet whenever Windows 11 wants to pull an update I accept it sight unseen because Windows has–surprisingly–built up enough trust that I feel I can safely accept its updates. If you had told me this back in 2015, I would have laughed at you, with the advent of Windows 10 being what it was.

But, alas, here we are.

I really hope Apple at some point has an epiphany and gets back on track. If the rumors pan out for the next versions of macOS and iOS and Apple going hard on AI, I’m going to guess the answer is “ha, no, fat chance”. There was a spot of hope back with macOS Mojave and iOS 12, both releases that felt like they took a beat to re-center Apple’s software priorities. I hope we get something like that again, sooner rather than later. Apple desperately needs to refocus their software efforts.

But given all the talk about Apple going all in on the hottest new tech trend sweeping the news right now, I’ll believe it when I see it, and I’m not holding my breath.

A fun note: As I read this over to give it the final few touches and finally hit the publish button, almost as if to prove my point, Apple released iOS 17.5, which has a significant bug that caused photos thought to have been deleted years ago to resurface on people’s phones. Oops. Apple hastily put out 17.5.1, which is supposed to rectify the issue, but I think the bigger question here is just how was 17.5 able to pull those old photos from the ether like that? Apple’s got some explaining to do.