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Apple plans software shakeup to avoid a repeat of the iOS 13 debacle

Craig Federighi at WWDC 2019
Craig Federighi at WWDC 2019 (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • A report suggests Apple plans to change the way it develops internal builds of iOS.
  • The change has been made in the wake of the iOS 13, which was riddled with bugs.
  • The report also reveals that developers apparently gave up on iOS 13.0, and treated iOS 13.1 as "the actual public release."

A report from Bloomberg has revealed that Apple plans to overhaul the way it tests software, in the wake of an iOS 13 release plagued by bugs and stability issues.

According to the report, people familiar with the matter claim that Craig Federighi announced the changes at a recent internal 'kickoff' meeting with the company's software developers.

The new system will reportedly revolve around development teams ensuring that test versions of iOS future updates (known as "daily builds") automatically disable unfinished or buggy features. Testers will then be able to selectively enable those features via a new internal process named Flags, a settings menu that allows them to isolate each bug and its impact on the functionality of the software.

As Bloomberg notes:

The new development process will help early internal iOS version to be more usable, or "livable", in Apple parlance. Prior to iOS 14's development, some teams would add features every day that weren't fully tested, while other teams would contribute changes weekly. "Daily builds were like a recipe with lots of cooks adding ingredients", a person with knowledge of the process said.

Apparently, the test software got "so crammed with changes" at different stages of readiness that devices became difficult to use. This meant some testers would go days without a livable build, and wouldn't know what was and wasn't working. Not being able to test how the operating system was reacting to many new features is what lead to iOS 13's problems. In fact, according to the report, iOS 13.0 was so buggy, that developers essentially abandoned it to work on fixing iOS 13.1, Apple expected only die-hard Apple fans would take the plunge and risk uploading to iOS 13.0.

Apple plans to apply this new approach to iOS, as well as iPadOS, watchOS, macOS and tvOS also. There is also reference to iOS 14, codenamed "Azul". Bloomberg reports that this is set to debut next year. Some planned features may be delayed until 2021 and Azul+1, more likely iOS 15. Regardless, people familiar with the plans claimed that iOS 14 would rival iOS 13 "in the breadth of its new capabilities." Hopefully, it will not rival iOS 13 for 'number of bugs likely to render mobile software unusable'.

For some of our own thoughts on iOS 13, check out Rene Ritchie's breakdown of why iOS 13 didn't meet expectations, and ideas on how else Apple could remedy the problem.

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.

  • Can we really say debacle? I updated on day one, actually from the beta, and really haven't seen any horrible issues. Wife did as well, though not from beta. Yea, I'm getting the frequent updates, but didn't equate that to unusability. The way forward seems more to help internal testers that get way earlier code, so they can isolate problem updates to focus on others.
  • iOS 13 was pretty bad, sure it was usable, but we've come to expect more of iOS than just "usable". I've still got an issue with playing my radio app via CarPlay and I'm on iOS 13.3, usually any "breaking" issues would be fixed by now. Not had any issues on macOS Catalina though, dropping 32-bit app support was a non-issue for me as I keep my software updated
  • Yes, debacle is the correct word. What are we up to now, 13.2.3? Two months after 13 was released? iOS 13 is a joke. Frequent updates means there are problems. Lots of problems. Look at it this way. iOS 12 got to 12.4.1 in 1 year. At this rate, what will the final version of 13 be? 13.17.23?
  • "The report also reveals that developers apparently gave up on iOS 13.0, and treated iOS 13.1 as "the actual public release." Apparently? It was bleeding obvious. That's what happens when the 13.1 beta was available BEFORE 13 was even released. Still on 12.4.1 here. Not interested in 13 at all.
  • I like trying new OS features but it bit me in the *** this time. My phone constantly hangs apps, switches screens when I’m trying to do something else and is just overall crappy right now. Like android 3 or 4 years ago, unstable, laggy and a mish mash of bugs.
  • There are bugs in iOS 13, to be sure, many more than in previous versions of iOS, but evidently there are not a lot of "real-world" or "show-stopping" bugs or there would be a HUGE hue & cry about it, which there has not been. I have experienced some, but none has had any more serious consequences than have been fixed by shutting down an offending app or rebooting the phone. Nothing any more unusual than I have experienced on a FAR more frequent basis with my Android work-supplied phone. There are bugs on both platforms. I think a lot of the problem has to do with Apple's obsessive penchant for secrecy. Secrecy associated with software, new features, things that will surprise and delight users when they are revealed at presentations and actual launches. You can't really test those sorts of things if you don't allow REAL people to use your software in real-world use. If software cannot be tested fully by real people in real use situations, you absolutely cannot know whether or not that new software will work correctly when it is launched. Evidently Apple's current beta software program is totally ineffective at providing this feedback. In fact one of the big reasons is that on most occasions, new features are blocked on iOS betas, so they can't really be tested. This is something that Apple is going to have to deal with, and soon, because if there are not any world-ending bugs that affect all users and brick their phones right now, that does not mean that the next version will not indeed have them.
  • I made that 13.0 plunge and what a mistake that was. I was close to going to an Android phone because it was so bad.
  • When you start splitting the software into 2 paths (13.0, 13.1) without 1 being released it showed they were getting sloppy.
  • Wasn't iOS 12 supposed to be the year of getting things stable so they could add features to iOS 13. If so then iOS 13 has been nothing but bugs and updates. It hasn't killed my device but still I do expect far more from Apple 13 IOS versions on from the first iOS was launched. I pay for more so I expect more. The cost of the phones has become astronomical. 5G next year is great, IF, you live in a major metro market with 5G. The area I am in Verizon is supposed to launch 5G in 2020, but its only near me and not where I will typically be all the time so my 13 Pro Max will likely hold me for a couple years until 5G is more coverage. Plus the speeds they claim are not necessarily going to be there. Hopefully iOS 14 will arrive with less issues. but I doubt it.
  • Of course we can't know if Apple is actually changing their development process. This is Bloomberg after all. Their "Big Hack" story has been proven to be a complete fabrication with zero evidence, and. yet they refuse to retract the story and apologize for being such jerks about it. As John Gruber says, they are completely discredited and should not be trusted for anything they say until the retract that story completely.