iOS 7 was a complete interface and interactivity redesign and iOS 8, a complete functional upgrade. That led to some complaints that Apple was putting innovation ahead of platform stability. This followed years of complaints about iOS looking stale and missing features, of course, but fair enough. In the rush to get major changes out the door, especially when new products depend on them, there were some stumbles along the way.
iOS 9, anticipated for this fall, will focus more on stability. Recent updates like iOS 8.1.2 and iOS 8.1.3, however, and upcoming updates like the in-beta iOS 8.2 and iOS 8.3, and the currently internal iOS 8.4, make it clear Apple isn't waiting on the next version of iOS to address issues. They're already addressing them.
Apple, like many companies, has a system for prioritizing its bugs. High priority bugs get fixed before lower priority bugs. Customers, however, rarely see high priority bugs (because they get fixed) and see a lot of low priority bugs (because they haven't gotten fixed). That's why all of us have a set of bugs that annoy us at any given time. The exact set of bugs vary from person to person, of course, because setups and behavior vary from person to person. What crashes for one doesn't crash for another. What seldom seems to work for one works flawlessly for another. Yet, regardless of their complexity or frequency, we all want all of them fixed. And now.
In an ideal world, one of limitless talent and time, they would be. Engineers wouldn't have to prioritize getting a new feature shipped over getting an existing feature polished, or fixing a bug that hurts performance over one that hurts pride of craft. Yet the reality is, no matter how big or rich a company, resources will always be constrained. There will always be a limit to how many people have the skills to do a particular job and the interest in doing it at that particular company.
It's what leads to tick-tock cycles, where something new is introduced, and then iterated over time. It's what also leads to cycles being alternated — so design changes while much of the internals remain the same, or vice-versa — because regardless of how much we say we want stability we buy based on features. (Which means that, if stability is more important to you, you'll need to be more vocal about demanding it and supporting it, especially when it comes at the expense of additional new features.)
iOS 8 smoothed out a lot of rough edges from iOS 7. iOS 9, regardless of its focus, will no doubt smooth out a lot of rough edges from iOS 8. Apple, whether responding to sentiment over design and functionality, or factoring it into future product plans, spent the last two years introducing major changes. Now, whether responding to sentiment over stability or still factoring in future product plans, it certainly seems reasonable that stability could be up front on the agenda. Based on recent releases, in fact, it feels like it already is.
iOS 8.1.2, for example, optimized and returned a lot of storage space, especially for iPad users. iOS 8.1.3 reduced the amount of free space needed to update software versions. Taken together, they helped fix one of the major complaints about iOS 8 — that it was simply too big for many people to install using the over-the-air Software Update.
Likewise, iOS 8.2 — which I've been using through it's beta cycle — felt more stable and solid still. iOS 8.3 — which I've just downloaded and installed — looks to be even more of the same. They'll introduce new features, including support for new products, but they'll also polish some things that came before. Likewise iOS 8.4, which has been in internal testing for a little while now.
iOS 9 will continue that trend. How much publicity goes to iteration versus innovation will ultimately be a marketing decision — even OS X Snow Leopard had significant new features like Grand Central, Exchange, and OpenCL, after all.
But the point is we don't have to wait. There's every indication Apple is already is aware of current sentiment, and iterating for stability now.