The achingly slow pace of iOS software development
Mar 8, 2012

The achingly slow pace of iOS software development

The big news in the tech world yesterday was the launch of Apple's latest iteration of the iPad. For those of us suffering the quintessential first world problem of being stuck with the hardware of only an iPad2 this means we are left to hope for something exciting on the software side as iOS 5.0 got a bump to 5.1. As far as I can tell, the biggest update since the release of 5.0 back when the iPhone 4S came out was the addition of Japanese to Apple's voice recognition software, Siri, which is not avaliable on past iPads (and is presently only a neutered version on the latest iPad).

When I won a free iPad2 as a promotion I was happy, but didn't see how it would play a significant role in my life. I was severely short sites. Nowadays, I use my iPad for nearly everything. From when my iPad alarm wakes me up in the morning to when I put my iBook down at night, most of my computing in between is done on the iPad. I use it on the subway, I teach with it, I use it in classes, I use it on the couch while watching TV, and I write nearly every word of this blog on it. I don't just enjoy its versatility and convenience of being able to comfortably use it anywhere I am, I genuinely prefer the actual user experience. Given all this, I certainly would like to see big improvements in tablets and feel the hypes for massive growth in tablet penetration is not exaggerated.

Many have criticized the latest iPad on the hardware side for being too slow an evolution and not a revolution. It offers a truly stunning new high resolution screen compared to the field, does the necessary improvements to 4g and a better rear camera, a chip upgrade, and that is about it. I am okay with this. At the end of the day, a tablet is a sheet of glass that connects to the Internet and so upgrading the look of that sheet of glass and its connection to the Internet is sufficient and I am not convinced what else really is desperately needed on the hardware side. Size, weight (slightly increased in this iteration) and most importantly battery life are nice but these are difficult for Apple to make huge headway on and are instead limited by current technology. Apple is, after all, only an assembler when it comes to technology.

Where the problem for me lies is the pace of software development. While I enjoy it, I do not think that the software side is anywhere close to where it will and should end up in several years. There is horrific horizontal integration (more on this in a few days), and many significant improvements that can be made both on behalf of developers as well as the OS and the development ecosystem it creates. I found the upgrade to iOS 5.0 to be a slow evolution at best, the 5.1 upgrade should not be mentioned (despite extensive coverage in the tech press).

Apple is not the only slow developer on the software side. RIM has had enormous problems - existential problems, perhaps - in its slow role out of software for its playbook which noticeably lacked basic functionality like email and had repeated long delays. Android moves at about the same pace of Apple, sometimes slightly ahead sometimes slightly behind on features. Nokia is staking its future on the Windows Phone platform which is coming very late to the Apple/Andriod Party. Windows 8, which promises a potentially game changing refresh on tablet operating systems and is banking very heavily on a tablet centered approach is deemphasizing its Windows-on-ARM and delaying possibly until Q2 2013.

Ultimately, I think we emphasize hardware too much. The biggest changes to our user experience and capacities are on the software side and successes, like the iPhone, are largely due to its genuinely revolutionary change on the software side creating the AppStore ecosystem. Unfortunately, the flip side seems to be that development on the software side is very slow, difficult and expensive.

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1 comment:

Dakshadesign Rob said...

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