iPhone App Bugs – Questioning the Validity of Issue-prone Software

2009-05-13-iphonebugsPrior to OS 2.0 and the App Store’s inauguration, optimists crowded the iPhone scene with conjecture that the new software would bring not only the iPhone but its users truly into a deserved limelight. Well, nearly a year later, there are tens of thousands of apps and millions of happy iPhone and iPod Touch users; the iPhone platform is hotter and the iPod Touch funner than ever.

In 2007, I was a proud owner of a jailbreaked iPod Touch 1G. It could play music, videos and with a bit of help from my MacBook Pro’s Wireless sharing function, could browse internet. Like most historic jailbreakers, however, I wanted more – the Installer App along with a boundless server database and applications aplenty hefted my iPod into truly useful stratospheres, or so I thought.

In 2007, it was cool to hack and get some more functionality out of the stodgy platform. In 2008, I tossed and turned whilst dreaming about the added functionality that the App Store would bring me. Things started off slowly of course but soon, the App Store was rife with must-have apps. My first, happened to be a game, Gameloft’s Asphalt 4, a game that satiated my waning desire to be a race-car driver and which early on, proved the iDevice to be a powerful gaming platform.

However, I am not really a gamer. Let me rephrase that: I am not an action gamer. Games like SimCity, The Quest and the upcoming Sims are the cornerstones in my gaming castle. But as I said, I am not a gamer. Thus, the releases of eReader, Stanza and more recently, Amazon’s Kindle have sparked my desire for quality apps that are capable of engaging my brain in more productive ways. Excellent dictionaries and productivity suites too are emerging and at prices that if not cheap, are stomachable.

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So, we have a great platform that is emerging from adolescence and cheap thrills as a more productive platform that hopefully will be able to create and sustain a degree of respectability. Unfortunately, respectability is not a word that many software companies hold dear to heart. Consumers will not just cough up RESPEK fo’ Apple like what yo! unless a couple of things that have crept into computer culture since the dawn of cyberspace have been routed out: bugs and complacency.

From communications to programming, mistakes riddle our releases more than ever. Why? Perhaps our references have fewer qualms about poor form or misinformation. I reckon, however, that it is simple laziness. In either case, the internet has intertwined complacent fact-finding with laziness and now, a new generation of developers who, bred in this environment, are creating the apps we buy.

In the past, when software was simpler, cheaper and only available boxed on the shelves of your local computer shop or games store, it had a much lower rate of failure. Once published, it was not easy to fix a mistake nor inform users that they need to download a patch or an update. It was as is. The same still rings true for cartridge-based platforms like the DS and the PSP. They incur higher software prices at the store or from online shops, but most software is guaranteed to work.

The root of the problem could lie within Apple. Their DRM routines within Apps and the iPhone’s firmware are far from perfect and need tweaking and keep us waiting breathlessly for the next OS update or firmware revision. However, it is true that a huge number of developers out there just spit out apps without any regard for fit and finish. Since the App Store will notify a user of an update when it becomes available, there is little need to properly debug – the internet will fix the problem as users replace beta testers for vast swaths of software.

The Quest and Enfour’s Dictionaries have not been flawless but have performed well within reason in this festering, fault-breeding internet culture of ours that prefers expedience over excellence. I have not experienced crashes or slowness; rather, I have experienced no less than what I should be able to expect from any developer: software that works and performs its purpose. Intellectual property should be as solidly tested as hardware. If something is amiss, we as consumers, should be able to demand to have the problem righted. If we cannot expect our software to perform to its capabilities defined by platform limitations, we should have the right to expect free fixes for a software’s limitations or oversights.

In the inner earphone business for instance, Phonak Audeo are fastidiously addressing manufacturing problems in several of their early batches of the 121 and 112 earphone models. Customers are treated as individuals and in most cases, given no-questions-asked replacements. They are establishing a lasting reputation as a company who stands by their products which now encompass both high end hearing-aids and reasonably priced but respected inner ear monitors.

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At the same time, when a fatal error crashes one of our beloved apps or cripples it enough to be unusable, we have to wait and hope that the developer will address the issue. In many cases, the quick answers: restart, delete and restore are spat back in our faces as if we have created the problem. If none of the pat answers fix the problem, then we wait for either Apple or the dev to fix the problem by maybe addressing a problem that existed in their myopic programming practices.

While this article is somewhat harshly aimed at devs, Apple are as much to blame if not more. Firstly, we buy a platform that has nearly limitless potential, but are given a crippled firmware that holds back innovative software developers who need to find other methods to output their creativity. Secondly, they leave out the bare essentials such as copy and paste, MMS and landscape editing. The most bothersome issue, however, is that Apple have taken nearly two years to update the iPhone to what it should have been at the start. As OS 3.0 looms closer on the horizon and arouses interest in the platform again, I cannot help but thinking it should have been present at the iPhone’s first release.

Like all things that are digitally published, money talks, quality balks and time heals. OS 3.0 may be the messiah we wait for, but it will undoubtedly bring even more pains to our community who deserve nothing more than a responsive and useful platform.

Apple can blame instability on developers and developers can hurl the same complaint at Apple. Both can blame the jailbreak scene, but none can fix the true problem: complacency. Is an app or firmware that constantly crashes, encounters failing code or never boots up worth the cost of ownership? No. Is it worthwhile for a developer to shove yet another piece of crap at us and then decry shoddy skills? No. In the meantime, it would be oh so nice if Apple and its dev circle could focus on the consumer’s need for quality rather than their personal need for big fat chequebooks.

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