OS Update Blues

I want to start with the caveat that I really love Apple products. I think they are the best designed products on the market. I think Apple really “gets” it when it comes to designing consumer electronics products: make something simple and beautiful that adds to a persons living space without getting in the way of actually using the device. TV manufacturers have understood this less-is-more design principle for years. However, I have some serious issues with Apple’s software decisions.

Beginnings

Anyone who remembers back to iOS 4’s release probably remembers the absolute joy of having multitasking, the iPhone 4, wallpapers, a new dock, and the multitude of features I can’t remember to put here. Indeed, iOS 4 was an extremely exciting update for many reasons. However, all that I could remember about the iOS 4 update is absolute horror. You see, I had an iPhone 3G. It ran well with iPhone OS 2 and iPhone OS 3. I had no slowdowns, no issues whatsoever—it just worked.

When iOS 4 was released, not only did I not benefit from most of the features of the new update, but the features I supposedly did get caused my phone to become a brick that drew power. Anything from swiping between app screens to using the keyboard was slow. Not just slow, but balls slow. Fat person on an electric scooter slow. Elderly person with cataracts driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass slow. Not only that, but an hour of any appreciable use would kill the charge on the phone.

iOS 4 totally ruined my experience with Apple products. I was very close to an upgrade, but I had to endure 4 months of not really being able to use my phone. Mobile data? Wasn’t really being used. I had actually been eyeing Android for a while for various reasons. For a year, I left Apple for Samsung and Google. That is an interesting story, but we shall leave it for later. For the purposes of this article, just know that not even the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 could keep me in Apple’s ecosystem. After the 4 months I had experienced on the back end of an OS upgrade, I wanted out.

The Issue

Now I find myself back with Apple. I have had my iPhone 4 for about a year and a half, and I find myself wanting to upgrade. Well…any time a new phone that makes me salivate is released, I want to upgrade; but this is different. I not only want to upgrade, but I am ready to upgrade. An adolescent might want to have sex for various reasons, but he or she might not be ready to have sex. I feel the same way with my phone.

Yes, the iPhone 4 continues to be one of the most attractive consumer electronics devices ever designed. It is by all accounts sexy. However, a sexy design does not make a great phone. When push comes to shove, user experience is what makes a phone awesome. I will state right now that my experience with iOS 6 is not like my experience with iOS 4. That is to say, the experience isn’t nothing but unresponsive. However, when the unresponsiveness occurs, I might as well be holding an LCD picture frame with a 3G radio and a high resolution display because that’s all that my phone does. I am not talking about taking a second to process an input either—about half of the time, the pretty little animations and touches that Apple likes to put into their software products will work flawlessly, but something as silly as trying to navigate through the app or hit the play button on a song will simply leaving you to wait a while so that the OS can take its sweet-ass time.

One Example

Let’s take the Podcasts app for example. When it was released before iOS6, it was slow. While it has gotten better, the release of iOS 6 has virtually negated any performance enhancements contained within the app itself. I believe it would be salient—although obvious—to point out that this is an app whose sole purpose is to play podcasts. It’s slow. It’s not just slow, but half of the time, I can’t hit the damn back button. Half of the time when I am choosing a podcast, it just sits there with the little circle spinning happily next to the WiFi icon in the top bar while my frenzied attempts to actually use the app are ignored entirely.

There is a serious problem when a background process will actively prevent—not impede—the use of an application, especially when that app is as simple as downloading and playing podcasts. The superfluous bullshit isn’t necessary. In fact, it uses valuable resources in the form of a 1 GHz single core CPU and 256 MB of memory. In 2012, even for cellphones, that isn’t a whole lot.

While the skeumorphic design sensibilities of Scott Forstall are interesting and affable, they entirely miss the point of what I want to do: I want to use my phone. I am all for beauty and novelty coming together in one attractive package, but both of those wear off very quickly. And when that happens, not being able to actually perform the task at hand makes me begin to resent the ideas and the passion that went into implementing the novelty and beauty. At that point, both are worthless.

To be clear, I am talking about the cutesy little tape player that spins and indicates the progress of the podcast. The inherent problem with this is that’s the only utility for it, and that thing just keeps spinning even when I can’t hit the back button.

I may seem a bit irrational with my frustration. However, I see these problems in Safari, Mail, Notes, and other apps. I see this in third-party apps. I am focusing on the Podcasts app because that’s the one I use the most. The Music app, my second-most used app, can be just as bad.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

It would be a beautiful dream if this only existed in iOS with the iPhone. Unfortunately, it also exists on the desktop with a not-yet underpowered 27” iMac. I purchased my iMac right after the mid-2011 update. It was designed for Lion. I purchased the 3.1 GHz i5 with 4 GB of memory version. A little more than a year later and one OS update later, it’s showing its age already. Something as simple as closing apps causes the OS to become unusably slow for about a minute while the hard drive begins clicking wildly.

Now I can hear the screams already: “Why didn’t you get the 8 GB upgrade?!” Well the short answer is that 8 GB wasn’t an option in the Apple store. I assumed that Apple would be able to make the next OS update work with 4 GB. Normally, that expectation is met. However, radical actions like quitting an application seem to confound the operating system. It’s as though I just threw an infinite series at a first grader and said, “Solve it.”

Meanwhile, on my Boot Camp partition, Windows 7 just closes applications. Some applications take a bit longer than others because they have a lot of memory to dump. That’s not what I am talking about with Mountain Lion. With Mountain Lion, something as simple as Preview will cause my computer to be unusable for a little while.

Where Do the Cards Fall?

Like I said, I love Apple products. Every time I find something I don’t like about them, I will begin to seriously consider other options. I will explore the other options, but I always end up coming back to Apple because their products are that good under ideal circumstances. Quite frankly, nobody else can even match their hardware.

So why do I bitch? Well it’s quite simple: unilateral control over the entire ecosystem means that Apple can very easily make sure their software runs extremely well across all ranges of their devices. What I am asking for is not even that standard. Quitting an application on the desktop—a fast desktop—should not make the hard drive go insane and cause the computer to lock up. Trying to use UI controls in iOS should be of priority over whatever background process is preventing that and allowing pretty animations.

These are blemishes upon a beautiful face.

This Is My Next

With that enormous blemish established, I can’t justify leaving Apple. Even with the excitement of Windows 8, even with the Nexus 4, even with Windows Phone 8, and even with the temptation of what I might be missing, I can’t leave my iMac, iPhone, and iPad. Quite frankly, Mac OS is suddenly far more powerful than Windows. iOS and the iPhone ensure me the security of knowing that my phone experience won’t suck. The iPad ensures me the security of knowing that my tablet will not just be a giant phone that can’t make phone calls. My iMac ensures me the security of knowing that my desktop experience is a legitimate desktop experience—multitouch gestures add to the experience rather than make the tablet experience work; multitasking means multiple windows rather than a window with an unrelated thing on the side; and the hardware is guaranteed simplicity, quality, and power.

My next phone will be the iPhone 5…this December. I can’t stand having the iPhone 4 anymore. I want Siri, the extra row of icons, and the new design. I want the new processor. I want it all before I have to wait too long in two years when I am ready to upgrade again.

My next tablet will be the iPad Mini 2. My iPad 2 is still plenty fast, and I am extremely happy with it as it is right now. I have no complaints other than its size right now. All things considered, that’s a minor niggle.

My next PC will be a Mac laptop at some point in the near future. Honestly, I cannot decide if I want a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I can’t honestly determine what my use case will be for it. Oh, and it will have 8GB of memory, regardless. Yes I know that I can upgrade the memory myself. I am getting a laptop for other reasons.

I write all of this stuff because I want others to learn from my mistakes. Moral of the story: with your phone or tablet, buy right after a refresh; and with your Mac, get the extra memory.

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