Will SCM Woes Force Apple To Rethink OS Strategy?

Image credit: iStockphoto/Robert Way

In 1997, Apple Computer was supposedly on the ropes. The Cupertino firm's main product, the Macintosh computer, languished with a market share in the low single digits. But for many market-watchers, Microsoft was the Apple killer.

“Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said today that the software giant will invest USD150 million in Apple and will develop and ship future versions of its Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and development tools for the Macintosh,” said a 1997 C/Net article. There were claims that Redmond would turn Cupertino into a digital vassal state.

That year, I interviewed a senior Apple executive and asked him about rumors that Apple would go under. He replied: “We've got 50 million users worldwide. We're not going anywhere.”

As of October 2021, Apple has a market cap of USD2.376 trillion. Claims of Microsoft hegemony now seem as absurd as Apple's 1988 copyright infringement lawsuit, where Cupertino “sought to prevent Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard from using visual graphical user interface (GUI) elements that were similar to those in Apple's Lisa and Macintosh operating systems.”

Apple's share of markets that didn't exist in '97 is legion. But how well has Apple integrated into the business environments of the early 2020s?

Operating system painpoints

In 1997, the Apple executive emphasized the firm's then-dual-pronged core market: publishing and education. Before Windows 3.1, when PC users began buying peripherals including mice and plugging them into their machines, Macs were the province of marketing departments, illustrators, and other creative types — often regarded as frivolous by the guys crunching numbers in Lotus 1-2-3.

But then as now, Macs were workhorses for many employees in enterprises of all sizes. In 2021, some leverage messaging platforms like iMessage for business cases. Ease-of-use and familiarity with Apple's iOS for portable devices are cited. And with today's work-from-home environment, many knowledge workers use whatever devices suit their situation best; for some, that's iPhones and iPads.

Despite massive platoons of software developers, Apple still glitches when it comes to OS updates. 2017's iOS 11 proved particularly difficult.

An article from Gizmodo titled “8 Annoying iOS 11 Problems and How to Deal With Them” summed up the frustrations of many users and led to a belief shared by many users today those early versions of an iOS update are extended beta-testing windows.

The brass at Apple seems to have gotten the hint. The latest iteration, iOS 15, is offered as an optional download — even for those who've selected “Automatic Updates” as their default.

It's not dot-zero, it's dot-six

Conventional wisdom dictates that upgrades to “dot-zero” versions of software are not a best practice. Once an update is in the wild, Murphy's Law may dictate that some users will quickly discover a bug, meaning version xx.0.1 is pushed out in great haste. But Apple's latest MacOS, known as “Big Sur,” still suffers teething pains despite a dot-six version released earlier this month.

Complaints include “long download times, lag, Touch ID issues, issues with first and third-party apps including Box Drive, iMessage issues, Wi-Fi problems, Bluetooth problems, lockups, freezes, and crashes.” Even worse: “The macOS Big Sur update is also bricking some older MacBook models.”

Regrettably, new OS bugs are not unknown among Mac users today. A quick glance at Apple's discussion forums shows many threads discussing the installation of older operating systems, their license restrictions, and which older models can run which OS.

This isn't unexpected because, in some ways, Apple is a victim of its own success. The laptops they've manufactured for the last decade are hardy beasts — I've got a 2011-vintage machine that still works. It's dinged up and the trackpad is shonky and all the specs have long been outpaced. But it still functions and when it finally goes celestial, I can take it to the Apple Store where they will recycle it for free because Apple offers that service as part of their CSR.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

There are a lot of users out there working on Macs that aren't the latest shiny-shiny. And that's a good thing — both because our collective resources are finite and because older machines are currently more difficult to replace.

Apple's famed product launches are a torture test for any enterprise SCM at the best of times. In 2021, we face both a shortage of semiconductors as well as supply chain issues from cargo containers on down.

We'll see how the current global supply chain situation shakes out, but for now, maintaining tech hardware a bit beyond EOL seems a sound idea. And older Apple gear is still useful — either running a previous version of Apple's OS, or your favorite Linux flavor in a VM, or both.

Clearly, Cupertino's current ecosystem is a far cry from its 1997 iteration, and with greater profits comes greater responsibility. The firm gets a lot of things right, and its consumer-oriented devices — even if beyond EOL — handle substantial workloads for businesses across the globe.

However, it remains to be seen how well the company will manage the supply chain management and logistics challenges that the world faces. It also remains to be seen whether their new OSes will work with older devices as supply chain shocks delay product availability.

And as of this writing, iOS 15.1 is in its fourth beta-testing version.

Stefan Hammond is a contributing editor to CDOTrends. Best practices, the IoT, payment gateways, robotics, and the ongoing battle against cyberpirates pique his interest. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/IgorSPb