As Hardware Becomes Ever More Impressive, Software Suffers Rough Edges

Originally published at:

Essayist Craig Mod points out that the fit and finish of software isn’t on par with what today’s tech companies are doing in hardware. He suggests that developers need to refocus on their craft.


Thanks, @ace. Excellent article. I especially liked his footnote on TouchBar.

The TouchBar is categorically the worst hardware “feature” added to anything Mac-related in the last two decades. I can’t think of anything — aside from that bastard hockey puck mouse (which one could easily opt-out of by plugging in another mouse) — that the company has so readily doubled down on despite it bringing almost no benefit, only negatives, to the table. (I’ve tried BetterTouchBar, added weather widgets and AirPod battery levels to the TouchBar but in the end find it detracts more than adds.) Thankfully, in these recent revisions of MacBook Pros we got back the esc key and a dedicated Touch-ID button. This at least makes the TouchBar bearable, slightly. And the new keyboards are, truly, excellent (assuming they stand the test of time). True, these MacBook Pros should have probably looked like this four years ago, but better late than never.

Maybe it’s time for Apple to pause on features and undertake High Sierra style update of macOS and the apps it comes with.

Probably iOS too, but TBH in my own experience iOS 13 is far more stable and usable than Catalina. But maybe that just reflects that my work takes place 99% on my Mac whereas iPhone is basically just mundane stuff like maps, reading news, and checking email.


I was going to say “bravo” to Craig Mod’s essay, until I came to his description of Quicken “(which, against all rational expectations is just a joy to use)”. Clearly from his footnote, he had never used Quicken 2007 or earlier versions which ‘just worked’. Quicken 2020 may be prettier than 2007, but functionally it leaves much to be desired. It cannot run a common report for those of us who are self-employed - comparing year to date results this year with last year." After nearly 3 months, I cannot get splits to work. Form has won over function. I feel like changes have been made for the sake of change.

Otherwise, it’s constructively thought-provoking. My own thought is that Apple is trapping itself, trying to do too many things for too many people who want to do things differently. The end results is a wealth of confusing options, never explained, and never tested adequately because too many users are doing too many different things to test them all. One size fits all may be easy to make, but it fits nobody well.


I have to disagree. The big problem is how much software must now do. I’ve been writing programs since the late 1970s and the crap we use to get away with was unbelievable. Programs would trash their own data, computers were constantly crashing. Users had to remember cryptic command sequences. Look at vi and emacs. If you accidentally ran either program, the chances are you couldn’t figure out how to quit them.

We expect a lot out of our software. We expect it to work on multiple platforms. We expect it to know what we want even when we’re not too sure ourselves. We expect it to integrate with dozens of other programs. I’ve ran a few software departments, and we just couldn’t keep up with what was expected.

One more thing: In the old days, we would map out every detail of our program and then have a year or so to write it. In the 1990s, we use to put out a software update every three months, and that was considered rapid development. Now, software is continuously released. New features are added all the time. There’s just no way to test like we once did.


We certainly do, at least for PCs and Macs. 20-30 years ago networked workstations really were not A Thing. Cloud storage was an IBM pipe dream. Communication among applications (beyond copying and pasting) was difficult and rarely real-time. Security? Pffft.

And, yes, the expectation of “Internet time” has not improved things. Continual requests for features; having to deal with changes made by the applications with which your app interacts (or depends), rapid OS and security updates that tend to break things,… Dealing with all of these is involved even without having to push something out the door annually or even every couple of months (cough Mozilla cough).

System 7’s “Publish & Subscribe” feature did this really well (for the time), and was great with apps that supported it. I used to love it. Just pointing out one exception – overall, your points stand.


True – I thought of P&S as I wrote my response. I’ve long thought of it as a “killer feature” for Apple of that time though it was not universal among apps of the day. And, alas, that was back when Apple needed serious marketing help.


Here’s my guess based on my decades long background in the publishing industry. Publish And Subscribe was just about a miracle when it was released on Macs. It was a very good selling point for Macs, and MS Word did support it. Not long after, Microsoft developed its own equivalent technology for its Windows version; IIRC, it was buggy. And not long after that, Aldus Pagemaker included a version that would correct type changes between publisher and subscriber. Then along came Quark Xpress which included changes in major formatting, including the ability to open and work on graphics directly in projects; all the files were embedded. Just click on a photo or illustration in a page and it would open in Photoshop, Illustrator or whatever, and make changes seamlessly, without jumping back and forth. You could have people sitting in workgroups working simultaneously on a project in different kinds of software. It changed automatically for all the document’s stakeholders, including embedding fonts, etc. It was manna from heaven for workgroups. InDesign made editing graphics and text directly even easier. So shortly after Publish And Subscribe was born, newer software with more and better features made it obsolete.

Publish and Subscribe, as well as the buggy Windows equivalent, were not a must have feature for many Mac or Windows users. In fact, except for power users, most Mac and Windows users never even knew about them or cared if they existed. They didn’t even notice when they were gone.


I think that perhaps the major problem is that the basic hardware changes so fast that the programmers just begin to learn the idiosyncrasies of a chip and it’s associated support chips that they change and they have start all over again.

The hardware may be brilliant for the iPhone. But I have friends who tell me that they returned brand new laptops because the new laptops weren’t faster than older ones.

I want faster hardware than my iMac. But I would have to shell out way too much money. I’m too small for the iMac and can’t use the uppermost 2 cm of the screen. Because - you know - humans don’t come in small sizes. And the iMac gets so terribly loud.

The software quality is becoming a disgrace. It’s like they don’t even use their own software anymore. I recently had a look at server-side rules in iCloud. The icon with a capital i is for editing. Next to the i is a hamburger icon that does nothing when I click on it. And the rules look totally different to the ones in Mail.

@rem177: as developer I couldn’t care less about the hardware. I need to learn the new stupidities from Apple each year.


Did they check the specs before they bought it or just assumed that because it was new it would be faster?

That sounds like an ergonomic problem. I have done many setups for people of all heights and it sounds like the setup is wrong. the top of a screen ideally should be at the top of your line of sight. Human beings don’t truly look straight ahead but at a 15 degree down angle

A new laptop should be faster than a laptop that is 3 or more years old. In the olden times that was the usual time span between new computers.

I had my physical therapist check out my desktop/computer setup. The computer would need to be lower than the desktop.


Do the laptops have ARM chips? If so, they are Windows machines, and Microsoft has not optimized a version to take advantage of ARM’s speed and power consumption. Neither have most Windows developers, so a lot of stuff runs in emulation, and there have also been complaints about them being slow, buggy. So it’s no surprise the Windows ARM laptops don’t live up to expectations about speed and power consumption.

The odds are in favor of next week’s WWDC being focused on developing software and upgrades specifically for ARM Macs.

I forgot to mention that the friends are all macOS developers. So no ARM.

That is an assumption that should not be made. the selector should “always” check the spec of the machine that they are selecting because companies make changes that sometimes don’t appear to make sense.
This comes from experience as I was a computer consultant from 1987 till I retired in 2012. I was a member of the ACN (Apple Consultants Network).

I am glad that you had a physical therapist check out your setup. It is true that sometime, especially with the current iMacs, that the computer needs to be lower than a standard desktop. there are a couple of ways to do this,

  1. There used to be desks that had a cut out at the far end of the desk that had a shelf that raised or lowered and you could put a monitor or in the case of the iMac the computer on that shelf. This would allow you to sit higher than the item involved.
  2. You could raise the area where you are sitting to higher than normal and using an adjustable keyboard tray you could then be sitting is such a way that you would be looking at the top of the screen helping you with your problem,
    I hope that one of these suggestions helps if not perhaps you could send me a picture of your setup and perhaps I can be of more help.

Or if not, at the very least it should be cheaper.

Personally, I find this the most intriguing aspect of the ARM rumors. The potential to see larger performance increases again (though I’m not at all convinced that will actually be realized). MBPs simply aren’t getting faster quickly enough.

I just recently replaced a 2013 13" dual-core i7 MBP with a 2020 13" quad-core i7 model. The new Mac is fine, but the speed increase is underwhelming considering a full 7 years have gone by. Everyday work is snappy, but so was it before. The one thing that IMHO has improved most (apart from TB3 of course): speaker quality, believe it or not.

But here’s a real time waster, and if anything it’s getting worse. Apple’s OS updates take forever. And this despite 1 Gbps fiber download, super fast SSD, loads of RAM and the best 13" CPU money can buy. Why is this process getting slower rather than faster? Even more so because these updates seem to be coming out at shorter and shorter intervals. This wouldn’t be a problem if we were talking a mid range throw away PC. But on a $3000 notebook that’s not acceptable. Real performance progress would be making sure processes that take on the order of an hour are reduced to minutes.

But you know, all that I’d be perfectly willing to shoulder if the OS and apps were actually solid. But they’re not. And we all know if we’re being truthful that Apple’s software QA/QC has taken a dive in recent years. Fast and loose releasee schedules, wizz bang flashy stuff, and lots of hype. But the substance has suffered and rot has been allowed to creep in. It’s high time for a serious High Sierra style come-to-Jesus moment. How about no new features until the last “new features” are made to actually work reliably and work well. Refine the system, take out the inconsistencies, make it actually fun to use again. How about do for software what the recent butterfly axing did for keyboards?

That golden age of great software? I remember:

– disk swapping continuously to boot up my Mac Plus or save things on MS Word;

– catastrophic system crashes that would take down the entire system and often lose substantial data

– rarely any kind of security protection

As for the software being universally consistent(1) and usable(2): No.

  1. Kai’s Power Tools:

  2. Apple’s DVD player:

Finally: hardware design is definitely good now, but I still have to plug my Apple Pen into my iPad’s lightning port after taking a tiny cap off (I’m still not sure how I’ve not lost this) and then basically can’t use either for a while. Meanwhile, the screen on my previous MacBook Pro died because dampness migrated under the glass and the screen on my current MacBook Pro is thin enough that the edge digs into my finger when I open it.


OS updates (Windows, too) have become gargantuan in part because it’s easier to integrate and send every module than it is to figure out which ones have changed (and guess right about that, because otherwise there’s another highly public mess to clean up) and because the general availability of high-speed Internet is sufficient enough to make it an assumption.

As I recall, System 7.5 Updates ran into multiple diskettes, which certainly were no faster to add to the computer (in fact, the current “come back when the status bar is gone” method is preferable [to me] than feeding a bunch of diskettes into the one disk drive on command). And I remember tales of people going to Genius Bars to get updates because they were just too big for the level of Internet access they had at home.

I’m no fan of huge updates (especially n.n.1 updates fixing something n.n just fixed). But I don’t see the issue as being one of recent duration.


This is one of the many reasons why Apple wants to dump Intel processors. And Apple doesn’t source speakers from Intel.

I suppose it depends on how you define A Thing. Certainly Apollo computers functioned as networked workstations, and the remotely stored files were accessible, transparently to the user, on any workstation. That was by 1987, so more than 30 years ago.

YES! I rarely use all caps, but this earned a shout.

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