Apple failing at the internet?

Mark Hattersley
28 November, 2012
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A former Apple engineer has taken to the internet to declare Apple a dud at the internet.

The hard-hitting piece by Patrick B. Gibson calls “Apple’s approach to the web has been a clusterf**k”. He goes further to explain that a friend has a thesis that “Apple’s biggest problem: Google is getting better at [product] design faster than Apple is getting better at web services”.

Patrick B. Gibson outlines the following problems:

- Apple can’t update its online store without taking it offline first.

A popular Game Center game was able to bring down the entire network.

- Apple requires you to re-friend everyone on Game Center, Find my Friends, and Shared Photostreams.

- Notes requires an email account to sync.

- The iTunes and App Stores are still powered by WebObjects, a mostly dead framework written almost 20 years ago.

- iMessage for Mac lives in an alternate dimension in which time has no ordered sequence.

- Ping.

The piece has been picked up by Business Insider’s Henry Blodget who believes that “it rings true” and that “with a few exceptions–such as iTunes, the App Store, and the auto-updating of its operating system releases – Apple’s online services are startlingly frustrating”.

But is it really true? Apple has had a few problems with cloud services in the past, notably MobileMe, but iCloud seems fairly solid so far, and to-be-fair Google (and every other online service) has issues. This website details that Google Mail was last down just over 24 hours ago.

I think we’re all aware that Apple is capable of updating its store without shutting the whole thing down for several hours. Amazon updates its store with thousands of new products daily, as does Apple.


Apple clearly chooses to do it this way when introducing marquee products, presumably because the “Apple Store offline” frenzy is free global marketing.

Anybody who genuinely thinks otherwise has probably not thought things through. This could be why Patrick is an engineer and not in marketing.

Game Center – So Game Center went down for a couple of hours when a popular game overloaded the service. Xbox live occasionally goes down, PSN Network sometimes goes down, Steam sometimes goes down, and so on.

Sometimes services go down because data centres are besieged by problems. Like Tropical Storm Sandy which knocked out a lot of servers in North Carolina. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but all major companies are dealing with the cloud, and getting better at it.

As for Notes requiring an email account to Sync. Technically iCloud takes care of this (although you need to have an account for that, which also doubles up as your email account). You can use Gmail or any other mail account as well. This seems sensible to us. Does Patrick B. Gibson expect iOS to sync without an account (is iOS supposed to guess who everyone is)? Does he think it’d be better if you couldn’t use a separate email account to sync note? Of if Notes used a propriety system?

As for the iTunes and App Stores are powered by WebObjects. Well… they work pretty well don’t they? Apple’s billions of happy customers don’t care how old the tech is as long as it works. In fact, we can’t remember the iTunes Store itself ever going down. You don’t update the underlying technology behind the world’s biggest music store just for kicks and giggles. Oh, and iTunes Store has 400 million users – that’s not a good choice to highlight a failure.

iMessage is still a very cranky service, admittedly, but definitely improving.  Last time we checked a Google Android phone it didn’t have a unified messaging service. So Google is only better in the sense that it doesn’t try? Still, we long for a day when iMessages works all the time, flawlessly and is easy enough to set up and explain to our grandparents.

As for Ping… fair enough. But see also Google Wave and Google Buzz. Or indeed any one of Google’s myriad of failed services. Apple seems happy to integrate FaceBook and Twitter into iOS and stay out of the social media business, which is probably for the best given that the secretive nature of the company doesn’t lend itself well to social media.

We’re not sold on this. Cloud services are difficult in general, and the more they become fuzed into devices like the iPhone, the more important they become. And the bigger a deal it is when they go down.

Apple, if anything, seems quite ahead of the curve with iCloud, and when Google starts to offer similar services it may find similar issues down the line. And if you think Google is getting better at product design you might want to take a look at a Google TV.

One Comment

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  1. Mark says:

    Google TV is a poor example given how appalling the Apple TV is. Quite simply the worst Apple product I have purchased in years of buying devices from them. Made worse by their decision to release software that cripples the device.

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