Another iOS update, another spate of issues. Apple’s iOS 9.3 rollout was first marred by a glitch that locked people with older iPhones out of their devices entirely, and now a new bug has emerged which appears to be crashing apps on newer phones whenever some users try to click on links.
iOS 9.2 introduced a bug that stopped the battery percentage updating if you changed time zones, among others.
iOS 9.1 was primarily designed to fix the large number of issues in 9.0 (which was itself billed as a return to stability after the rocky iOS), but it also killed Touch ID functionality for many users.
As long as we keep increasing the functionality we expect from our phones, there will be problems. Photo: Bloomberg
It’s enough to make you nostalgic for a time before ubiquitous Wi-Fi when the product that shipped was the one you got forever. It’s enough to make you wonder how long it will be before you can download a mandatory “upgrade” without expecting that it’s going to break at least one thing on your phone. The truth is, it’s probably not going to happen again. Ever.
It’s become clear these issues aren’t solely reflective of any carelessness or hubris on Apple’s part, but rather of the reality that the company literally can’t test its software rigorously enough to weed out all the bugs anymore.
This is the new world, where the sheer amount of functionality you demand from your iPhone far outstrips its creators’ ability to make sure it’s up for every task. It’s not a problem specific to Apple, and users of virtually any consumer electronics will be familiar with the feeling that comes with inexplicable loss of functionality after an update.
But Apple’s place in the popular zeitgeist — as well as its insistence that its products become both increasingly complex behind the scenes and more elegantly simple for users — makes it a prime example.
Imagine all the billions of different combinations of apps and use cases on iPhones all over the world, all of which will need to work well with any new software Apple pushes out.
Accounting for each app’s compatibility would be hard enough, but accounting for how each might react in conjunction with a random assortment of others is impossible. Even if Apple invites all users to test the software early to weed out issues (as it’s been doing since iOS 9.0), and even if it pushes seven separate beta versions of its new software before release (which it did with 9.3). If it tested for much longer the software would be out of date before it arrived.
And while some of the issues do appear to be serious and widespread — an effect doubtless magnified by hunger for “Apple fails” in the press and on social media — they’re often the result of bugs that would have been wildly difficult to isolate in a testing phase
For example, the broken links issue appears to have been caused by a specific class of apps which need to be present on the iOS 9.3 device to prompt the bug. Apple news site 9to5Mac has isolated Booking.com as one such app, but suspects there are more.
Such apps make use of iOS development tools like Universal Links and Shared Web Credentials, which make communication between browsers and apps easier. Since the programming of each app is done by its developer and not by Apple, and apps number in the millions, it’s not really surprising that some of them will cause unexpected issues when the operating system they operate in is tweaked.
It’s time to accept the fact that on a system as variable and complex as a smartphone, there will always be a certain number of software issues, and the fixes to those issues will cause other issues. It’s the price of the complicated simplicity we demand.
Update: As far as the Universal Links issue specifically, Apple has acknowledged the problem, issuing the following statement: “We are aware of this issue, and we will release a fix in a software update soon.”