If only every tech firm could be as unsuccessful as Apple

Apple isn't stuffed, but that doesn't mean it's completely safe

iPhone 6

There's a bit of an internet storm brewing around Apple this week, based partly on a blog post by developer Marco Arment: writing on Marco.org. He suggested that Apple's software quality control isn't brilliant.

He's right. I can point angrily at Mail, which keeps breaking; Safari on iPad, which keeps crashing; Continuity in Yosemite, which keeps ringing long after I've answered and ended a call; iMessage, which keeps going weird; or iTunes Match and AirPlay, both of which only seem to work when I don't want to listen to music.

The thing is, though, I could have said pretty much the same thing about previous OS Xes, iOSes, iWork apps, Logic Pro, iPhoto… the list of Apple annoyances goes back a long way.

Does Apple ship stuff that contradicts the "it just works" line? Oh yeah.

Has it been doing it for years? Oh yeah.

Is it getting worse, and if it is, does it matter?

Let's have a look.

The best of times, the worst of times

Arment's well-intentioned post fuelled the fire of the usual doom merchants, who were quick to pile on and proclaim Apple's inevitable demise based on what was intended to be a constructive post.

Apple is many things, but in trouble isn't one of those things.

It's rather like the story about legendary footballer George Best, who was staying in a hotel and ordered room service champagne; when the waiter delivered it to Best, whose bed was covered in thousands of pounds of casino winnings and the then-Miss World, he asked the footballer: "Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?"

Looking at Apple's sales and its financials, it's clear that lots of companies would kill to be as unsuccessful and doomed as Apple apparently is.

The thing is, though, George Best's (possibly apocryphal) waiter was actually correct. Best's lifestyle killed his career and ultimately killed him too. He may have been rolling around in enormous piles of money, as Apple is now, but his time at the top was over.

Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

The good, the bad and the Googly

I think Arment is probably right that Apple's software quality control isn't what it could be and that it does seem to be slipping somewhat, and I think his diagnosis - too many irons in too many fires, with unnecessarily tight deadlines such as annual OS releases - is probably right too. But the problem isn't that Apple is getting crap. It's that rivals are getting better at what Apple does, but Apple isn't necessarily getting better at what its rivals do.

Patrick Gibson framed it perfectly back in 2012, noting that "almost anything Apple does which involves the internet is a mess" while "Google, specifically Android, has been steadily improving its entire platform."

Two and a bit years on and Gibson has been proved right in spades. Look at the polish of Lollipop and the quality of Android's flagships and it's clear that Android has caught up with Apple. But look at Apple Maps, or iCloud Drive, or iTunes Match… do you think Apple has caught up with Google?

What happens when everybody else's stuff "just works" too?

When good enough isn't good enough

"It just works" was always something of an inside joke, but there was still a core of truth to it because for a very long time rivals' products barely worked at all. You forgave Apple its occasional sins because what were you going to use instead? Windows? Linux? Zune? Ha ha ha ha no.

That truth still holds to some extent - for example Microsoft's own goal with Windows 8 didn't do Apple any harm, and for a long time Android was pretty horrible compared to iOS - but some of the things that haven't just worked from Apple recently are pretty serious. iOS updates that kill all connectivity? OS X updates that can't do Wi-Fi properly? That isn't what we pay Apple the big bucks for.