By September 24, 2012

Hate Maps? Blame Apple’s Shrink Wrap Product Cycles

TUAW says it best, “In the uproar over iOS 6′s move to Apple’s homegrown Maps service, the driving theme is user frustration. Even the most ardent apologists have to acknowledge that Maps has serious issues, and the company’s critics are having a field day.”

There are many reasons and claims as to why Apple did this to its customers.

The Wall Street Journal, for one, blames Google, claiming that Google was unwilling to license turn-by-turn navigation and other advanced mapping features to Apple, which in turn forced Apple to “do something.”

But there’s another issue involved.

Annual Release Cycles

From my perspective, the real problem is Apple’s annual release cycle for iPhone and iPad and iOS.

Back in iPhone’s “early days”, you could count on Apple to roll out significant, incremental updates to their OS, adding new features and functionality between the major hardware releases.

But that’s changed. All new software features now have to wait until the next release cycle so they can be bundled in with the “200 other enhancements to the OS.” If a significant new feature should come out of development today, we probably wouldn’t see it until Apple unveils iOS 7 next year.

The new additions to Siri are a prime example of this. Unless, of course, that you happen to believe that football scores, movie time, app launching and Facebook and Twitter integration all just happened to complete their development cycles all at the same time.

Worse, Siri is a cloud service. So it’s entirely possible that we could have been happily looking up movie showtimes last January. The software could have been done. All Apple had to do was flip the switch on their end.

But did they do that? No. Do we get a constant, steady stream of improvements? No. Bug fixes and security enhancements? Yes. New features? No.

Instead, we had to wait until all of the new features developed over the past year were gathered up and put into a single shiny solitary box. A box known to us now as iOS 6.

It’s even worse with major features. Major software features and apps are are precious jewels to be hoarded and hidden and displayed in yet another velvet lined box. In this case, the box was iPhone 5.

In essence, and despite the internet and software updates and the App Store and instant downloading, Apple has regressed back to shipping “shrink wrapped” software, on a once-a-year delivery cycle. iOS 5. iOS 6. iPhoto ’11.

Hardware Vs. Software

People once said that Apple was a software company who sold hardware. Or a hardware company that supplied its own software. Only a few years back it could have been argued either way.

At that time, Apple’s software updates could expand and shrink as needed. People, after all, kept their Macs for years. The OS X team could tell management that they needed a little more time for development. Okay. Not great, but okay. We’ll push the OS X release back three months.

But today, Apple makes billions selling hardware. And worse, they’ve committed to releasing much of that hardware on a yearly cycle: The iPhone. The iPad.
Each year. Every year, Apple must have new features to tout and new reality fields to generate.

Significant features drive hardware sales, and you get more bang for the buck if you can point to a dizzying list of new apps and features and changes and say, “See, this is what you get when you buy iPhone 5!”

A steady yet largely hidden stream of updates and changes? Sorry. That just doesn’t cut the shrink wrap.

Back To Maps

Which brings us back to Maps. If Apple hadn’t made the switch now, today, in this release, then Apple’s product cycles would have required them to wait another entire year to do so. Another year in which Apple still wouldn’t have had turn-by-turn navigation.

Another year in which Google would pushed Android’s “advanced” features over those in iOS.

And, not inconsequentially, this year’s iPhone product launch would have been missing a major new software feature.

So, like Siri, Apple shipped a “beta” product early.

It was either that, or wait until next year.

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