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Apple Screwed Up (And Not Just With the iPhone 4)

Apple has gotten a lot of bad press lately over the iPhone 4. But, as “AntennaGate” (barf) closes up shop and we move on with life, it’s really important to point out that one other thing the whole controversy has done is cover up for a whole lot of bad decisions by Apple.

I’m miffed, and you should be, too. Let’s review, shall we?

The iPhoneOS 3.2 Release — Where’s iPhone?

iPhone developers saw the end of their honeymoon with Apple in April, 2010, with the release of the iPad. For the first time, developers had to deal with a substantially different piece of hardware: bigger screen, different user experience, no 3G or camera, and the real problem in a new iPhoneOS upgrade to 3.2. Well, the problem being that it ain’t for iPhone!

iPhoneOS 3.2 added a slew of new API features, but most notably user gestures. A nice little framework, it took all of the pain out of doing event management by hand. Gestures captured complex motions but sent simple notifications to the app. It’s great! However, it’s almost completely useless. The only time you can ever use gestures is for iPad-only apps.

The problem is that if you want your app to be 3.1.3-compatible (for the iPhone crowd), you can’t use gestures because they don’t exist in the 3.1.3 SDK. Your app would only support iOS 4. But supporting only iOS 4 is a non-starter right now, because…

The Big Middle Finger to 3G Users

When iPhone 4 was announced, iOS 4 was as well. We were all excited, there were lots of new SDK features and were eager to — wait, what? Original iPhone and iPod Touch users can’t upgrade????

Yes, for the first time, there was no longer an upgrade path for our “elderly” friends. We sorta let it slide because those devices were a few years old and too slow to handle our new applications well anyway. We also found out the heavily mainstream 3G wouldn’t support some of the newer features, most notably running apps in the background and home screen wallpaper. Oh, well.

What no one foresaw was the buggy upgrade Apple would make available for the 3G. Just about everybody I know with a 3G has seen their phone performance drop like a rock. Honestly, I don’t know how they deal with it. Huge hiccups and freezes, it would drive me crazy. From what I know, the problem isn’t the OS itself, but rather when you update it rather than restore. I believe it affects users more than developers because we were forced to restore during the betas. Users, however, generally do not. It’s risky, more complicated, and frankly I don’t blame a non-technical user for thinking it’s just a great sounding idea.

In fact, last month I was speaking with a particular industry icon (non-technical, you’ve seen her on TV) and we were discussing an iPhone issue she was having (not related to the 3G upgrade), and when I told her about restoring her phone her eyes went wide and she said, “You want me to erase all my data?”

Until now, Apple has not communicated well the problem. I work in a very tech-savvy office and there are literally dozens of people with useless 3G phones, walking around like zombies not knowing what to do. it was only in the last few days Steve Jobs hinted that the next update will fix the widespread problem.

This has been an unspoken disaster for Apple in terms of brand confidence. Surely, many of these people have decided to “upgrade” to a different phone completely — and they certainly weren’t choosing the iPhone 4 giving THAT publicity! (*cough* Android *cough*)

The iOS 4 Release — Where’s iPad?

Having sufficiently screwed over iPhone developers enough with the 3.2 mess, Apple has made amends by screwing over iPad developers even worse! Why on Earth can’t we run background apps on the iPad yet? My iPad feels so old and decrepit next to my iPhone 4. I can’t imagine why a company of such quality as Apple couldn’t possible release iOS universally on launch day?

Think about it. It’s not like there’s years of legacy here. At some point in the last few years at Apple, some exec (likely Jobs) said, “Hey, let’s make a bigger iPhone, we’ll call it an iPad!” and a wise developer responded, “OK, but we’d better keep the OS’s in sync because it would be a maintenance nightmare if we forked them!”

Well, apparently that developer DID NOT say that.

So, it seems the OS’s split, and they’re working towards unity within the next year. Kudos to them. But, WHY wasn’t there unity right away? Did they really want to start a new era of multi-versioned OS’s so soon, with just two pieces of hardware?? So now all of us iPad owners sit around wondering why we can’t use the GameCenter or get embedded fonts or background apps on our iPad. (And, heck, we got the home screen wallpaper before our iPhone friends — so now I’m really confused!)

We Expect More Form Apple

Our dream scenario of having all devices upgradable and supporting iOS 4 well doesn’t seem like it should be such a dream. We could all be building for and targeting iOS 4 right now if that was the case. Instead, most of our projects MUST still target 3.1.3 to support the bulk of 3G users who simply won’t upgrade. Plus, it doesn’t help that you can’t put out an iPhone-only app that targets 3.2 simply so iPad users can run it. (Apple forbids it when you try to distribute — the bastards.)

I expect Apple’s rough patch to stop. There’s no doubt there will be an iPhone 5 in July and they will address the antenna (and, yes, there really are problems with the iPhone 4’s reception) and put a TON of money into bringing confidence back to their brand. Hopefully, by then, the iOS is unified and the 3G issues are indeed snuffed.

We simply expect more, guys.

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John Blanco

John Blanco is a freelance iOS developer in Denver, CO. He's been developing mobile apps for 12 years, starting during the medieval days of Java ME, making him the ultimate hipster mobile engineer. Follow him on Twitter!

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One thought on “Apple Screwed Up (And Not Just With the iPhone 4)
  • Mike says:

    “Hey, let’s make a bigger iPhone, we’ll call it an iPad!”

    Wrong way round. They started development on the iPad first. The project was frozen for a while, hence the iPhone being released first.