Apple to Revamp Software Development Cycle, Adopt Slower Cadences

Apple to Revamp Software Development Cycle, Adopt Slower Cadences

Apple is planning to change how it rolls out new features for iOS and macOS going forward, with the goal of improving the company’s overall scheduling and addressing certain concerns about the bugs and flaws in its ongoing products. iOS 11 has been criticized since launch for its problems, even after multiple patches, and the company has periodically addressed these issues by with yearly OS cycles that focused on fixing bugs as opposed to introducing a raft of new capabilities.

According to Bloomberg, however, this is more than just a periodic pause for Apple to catch its metaphorical breath. Apple’s historical development cadence focuses on tying all new features to a major iOS release. Unlike Google, which introduces new capabilities in a piecemeal fashion as individual apps are updated, Apple goes for an all-or-nothing approach. Each new set of features launches as part of a new iOS version, and capabilities are rarely added outside that window. Apple is now slowing its pace and giving developers more time to work on stability and bug fixes by planning its introductions over a two-year cadence.

iOS 12 will be run according to these new plans, but that doesn’t mean the OS won’t include new features. It’s rumored to include new options that allow third-party applications to run across Macs, iPhones, and iPads (this change will also be folded into macOS 10.14). It is not yet clear how Apple would accomplish this. Other features are being pushed back to give the company more time to develop them.

iOS 11 has not been well-received.
iOS 11 has not been well-received.

Former Microsoft developer and head of Windows 7 and Windows 8 development, Steven Sinofsky, has published his own thoughts on the topic, and we recommend giving his article a read. One of the points Sinofsky makes is that Apple has, over the last decade, created an ecosystem that saw it go from a small phone vendor to a major player. It took an OS originally developed to run on the NeXT workstation, ported that OS to PowerPC, then to the x86 architecture, and finally to ARM. It ramped up its own CPU development team and now leads the mobile market in ARM single-threaded performance. It has done all this while simultaneously iterating on iOS, year after year.

As Sinofsky points out, we tend to talk about development as if its three goals — the so-called “iron triangle” of quality of release, pace of change, and the adding of new features — exist in a zero-sum game. It is, to be sure, much more difficult to develop solutions that balance all three of these requirements than to focus unilaterally on just one of them. But this is a balancing act that Apple has been performing fairly well for a decade, across an ecosystem Sinofsky considers without peer, save possibly for that of IBM and its System/360. The idea that companies choose one, and only one of these criteria to focus on is something he dismisses, writing:

In practice when building Office (and later Windows) whenever someone on the team would panic and ask “are we date driven, feature driven, or quality driven” we would just roll our eyes and pull up a chair… This was so common we just called it conversation #37 and move on.

Sinofsky is writing from the perspective of an outsider, of course. But having led development on Office, Windows 7, and Windows 8, he’s also an expert in the way large companies approach and plan massive software deployments. His perspective is worth considering against Bloomberg’s overall story.