Apple's software is fine -- people just notice bugs because they actually use it

The latest narrative in Apple land is that the company’s online software and services “need work.

It’s wrong.

In fact, the recent batch of people noticing issues in Apple’s software reveals much more about which products are actually being used on a daily basis than any decline in Apple’s software quality.

That’s what top Apple executives Eddy Cue, who is in charge of software services, and Craig Federighi, boss of software engineering, argued during a podcast with Daring Fireball’s John Gruber.

Anecdotal evidence, such as the bugs that commentators have pointed out in apps like Mail, iTunes, or iCloud, only tell you that a problem might exist — it doesn’t address how widespread it is.

“I know our core software quality has improved over the past five years,” Federighi said. “But the bar just keeps going up.”

“Think how integral your iPhone, your iPad, and still, your Mac are to your life. How many hours a day. We see the usage metrics,” Federighi said.

“What this means is, when you have a billion people running phones in every corner of their lives with all these third party apps, with all these countries and all these languages, there are going to be issues, there are always going to be issues, but there are plenty of people who could encounter one, and now it’s amplified,” Federighi said.

Any software engineer will tell you that there is no such thing as bug-free software. The number of bugs spotted has at least as much to do with how many eyes are on the software as how many bugs it contains.

“It’s not to say we don’t have any bugs or any issues. Every piece of software does,” Cue said. “We care deeply about it.”

During the hour-long discussion, the two Apple executives dropped a few new stats about Apple’s software:

  • 782 million people use iCloud
  • At peak rates, Apple can handle at least 200,000 iMessages per second
  • The iTunes Store and App Store processes $750 million in transactions every week — that’s a lot of individual purchases

When you have that many devices and services being used on a daily basis — as Cue points out, people “rely on these for their lives” — even extremely rare events can affect scores of people.

Apple currently has one billion active devices in use. There are few companies dealing with this kind of scale. And when other products or services in the billion-user club mess up or are overly complex, people do notice, whether it’s WhatsApp, or Gmail, Microsoft Office, or Android.

Ultimately, the chorus of commentators criticising Apple’s software and services is still a good thing for the company: People are using their products, and they expect a high level of quality from Apple.

Gruber described Apple’s software issues during the discussion as “death by one thousand cuts across the board,” but even one thousand cuts is still a relatively small number of issues when you’re looking at companies in the billion-user club.

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