Is Apple Spreading Itself Too Thin?

Monday, 2003-09-22; 23:42:00

(Originally posted on AppleXnet)

It started back in October of 1999. Remember when Steve Jobs finally unveiled the "Kihei" iMac, the fanless, translucent-y goodness wonder that boasted better graphics, bigger hard drives, AirPort wireless networking and more to Apple's consumer desktop lineup? The big news (to some, at least) was Apple's new iMovie editing software, which let regular Joes create professional-looking movies all with just a FireWire camcorder and a bit of time. Much of the press hailed it as a great piece of software, and Microsoft even deemed it good enough to copy, what with Windows Movie Maker debuting in Windows XP.

Now, nearly 4 years later, Apple's got a wide-ranging software lineup, from Remote Desktop, which allows administrators to monitor computers on the network or over the internet, to iTunes, which allows many a Mac user to legally purchase, download, and manage music over the internet, to iSync, which allows people to synchronize their contacts and events to organizers, cell phones, and even other computers through .mac .

Hardware-wise, Apple's got an amazing lineup. I'm not too concerned about that. What with the superfast PowerMac G5, the much-anticipated 15" aluminum PowerBook G4 as well as the 17" and 12" models, the iMac, the eMac, the iBook, the XServe, the XServe RAID, the iPod, and the iSight (did I forget anything? -- oh, I guess the mouse and keyboard, but I won't get into THAT debate, seeing as I'd get a barrage of hate-mail regardless of the stance I take), Apple's got its bases covered. Software-wise, though, it seems that maybe Apple is taking on a bit too many projects.

Take iMovie, for example. It took Apple a few months until the iMovie 3.0.3 update to allow users to be able to turn off the Ken Burns effect when using photos. Still, as an avid reader of MacFixIt, iMovie has some major performance issues, as well as a few other issues dealing with video formats and other things. I used it last year to help a friend create a movie project, and in the latest version of Mac OS X on my 17" G4 iMac, it was pretty slow. Not a great showing on what was a fairly new computer (my iMac turned 1 year old earlier this month). iPhoto has a similar dismal performance on my iMac, especially when shadows are enabled when scrolling through my list of photos (in my opinion, that should be OFF by default if it has such an impact on performance). Many people have complained about performance also dropping off a cliff after using it to organize more than a thousand photos -- that's not great for what's supposed to be an innovative photo organizer, especially since many casual paparazzi will probably hit that limit in no time. And iPhoto doesn't even offer that many touch-up tools.

iCal also has some issues. The impending iCal 1.5 update notwithstanding, iCal has problems dealing with different timezones (especially when dealing with differences in subscribed calendars due to timezones), doesn't allow any calendar colors beyond the 6 presets, doesn't allow the snoozing of alarms, and doesn't allow the display of passed events when the computer was shut down or sleeping. Or how about Remote Desktop? I've used it a few times, and it really isn't that different from ANAT, which was the equivalent program on Mac OS 9. It still has trouble over slower network connections, and it still has issues with distributing software. Backup, the software that's provided with Apple's .mac service, doesn't even allow me to make custom packages beyond simply selecting files and folders!

Don't get me wrong, I love Apple's software. I use Mail all the time -- it's my default mail client. iTunes is my default music player, iCal is my default calendar software, iSync is my default synching software (especially since I have a .mac account), and Safari is definitely my default web browser. For the rare times I want to organize photos, or make movies or DVDs, I'll probably turn to iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD. But many of the software titles that Apple churns out still have more than a few major problems.

I guess being a Mac user for a long time has spoiled me. I expect high-quality applications with the first release of a piece of software: I expect it to be reliable, useful, and above all, intuitive. When a piece of Mac software comes from Apple, I have even higher standards for each of those criteria, and I also expect it to be an innovative application. There's no question that Apple's software is useful, intuitive, and innovative. It's the reliable part that's starting to show some cracks.

Again, I concede that I'm probably being too harsh on Apple, especially when much of Apple's software is still in the 1.x phase. My perception is also probably a little bit biased, because Apple has started a policy of releasing public betas of their software, which makes it look like a piece of software has been released. But even so, iCal has been out in a non-beta form for over a year, and has only gotten one incremental update (the 1.0.2 update was VERY minor). iSync, Safari, and Keynote are also similarly still in their 1.x period. iMovie, however, is in it's 3.0.x phase. How come it's still having performance issues?

And Apple's most neglected piece of software, AppleWorks, is mediocre, at best, when using Mac OS X.

As a Mac user, I just want to make sure that Apple's software is as high quality as it can possibly be. And although Apple's software is certainly high quality, it could still be a little better. It just seems like Apple is getting into the habit of releasing a bunch of new software while not focusing on fixing and improving existing software. And that's got me a bit concerned, especially since I realize that so much of Apple's software has a lot more potential left. Apple just needs to do a slight refocusing of its software efforts, making sure that it's existing applications are up to par with the quality that I (and I hope most of the Mac community) expect. That way we can continue to use useful software without any problems.

At least Apple is publicly soliciting feedback -- sending bug reports is as easy as using one of its feedback pages. And that's a good sign that Apple probably knows about many of the problems and actually wants to improve its programs.

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