Apple's latest iPhone software upgrade is full of frustrating new features that are keeping users away in droves.

Technology Spectator

It says something about the recent iPhone iOS 6 operating system upgrade when the New York Times posts help on how to fix issues with it. In this case, a problem noted by users trying to run the new Passbook app. Not that most users around the world would have much need to do this because there are very few companies supporting it.

The debacle with the change from Google maps to Apple’s own ‘unique’ view of the world has also generated a range of suggestions from the suggestion of using Google maps via the Safari browser to uninstalling iOS 6 completely.

The root of the trouble

These problems stem directly from Apple’s approach to upgrades of its phone operating system. Firstly, it works on an annual upgrade cycle timed to occur with the release of new hardware. This is actually a very aggressive time scale. New features this year were launched at the developer conference in a very raw state and were then tested and refined over a few months.

These features were accompanied by changes in the development platform and the developer tools were also evolving alongside the new iOS features. This has the effect of limiting the functionality that can be built into new versions of the operating system each year and also has an impact on the coherence of the changes. The cynical view would be that this approach encourages everyone to keep constantly upgrading because earlier versions are almost guaranteed not to work well.

Another impact of short development cycles is that products are initially focussed on the US market. It is always surprising that consumers in countries other than the US are happy to accept that roll-out schedules will sometimes mean that a feature will not be available for months and sometimes years after it has been released in the US. With iOS 6, the choice of Yelp as the provider of information about businesses meant that Siri and the new maps are not able to provide information of services outside of the US. Support for Apple’s answer to NFC – Passbook – is concentrated in the US.

With every Apple iOS upgrade, there is a hit-and-miss feel to new features. This is highlighted in the new Facebook integration and the new Podcast application.

Facebook friends in your address book

Idiosyncratic would be one way of describing the way Facebook friends have been integrated into the phone’s address book. Whoever thought that having 700 (or more) additional contacts appear in the contact list was a good idea obviously wasn’t that popular on Facebook. The algorithm for matching existing contacts with those on Facebook has also resulted in random unknown people being linked to contacts. I am not sure if this is amusing, worrying or both.

New podcast application

Another curiosity has been the move of podcasts to their own app. Although this has meant a slightly more dedicated interface for podcasts, it has reduced the practicality of not having the things that you listen to being in the one place. The new podcast application also displays Apple’s obsession with so-called skeuomorphic design. The throwback use of the analogue dial to select podcasts makes sense only to people who remember what radios looked like before they went digital. This has been contrasted with Microsoft’s completely abstract design approach with its Windows 8 design.

Splitting the podcast functionality into another app has also increased the complexity of the phone as it now seems no longer capable of remembering if it was playing a podcast or music and where it was last when you resume listening. A fun new ‘feature’ I have discovered is a podcast randomly starting to play after hanging up from a phone call.

Of course, there are some actual improvements in all of the changes in iOS. Admittedly many of these, like the ability to wake up to music or taking panoramic photos, were previously available in free apps but after all, Apple does have to get its ideas from somewhere.


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