The company will continue to update its software annually, but internally engineers will have more discretion to push back features that aren’t as polished to the following year.
Software chief Craig Federighi laid out the new strategy to his army of engineers last month, according to a person familiar with the discussion. His team will have more time to work on new features and focus on under-the-hood refinements without being tied to a list of new features annually simply so the company can tout a massive year-over-year leap, people familiar with the situation say. The renewed focus on quality is designed to make sure the company can fulfill promises made each summer at the annual developers conference and that new features work reliably and as advertised.
“This change is Apple beginning to realize that schedules are not being hit, stuff is being released with bugs – which previously would not have happened,” when Apple was a smaller company with fewer engineers, customers and devices to manage, says one person familiar with the company. Apple declined to comment.
The shift is an admission of what many customers have already come to notice: Some Apple software has become prone to bugs and underdeveloped features. In recent months, users have complained about text messages appearing out of order, the iPhone X registering incoming phone calls late and frequent app crashes.
Apple has also recently released features later than it expected, as the rush to meet the annual deadline overtaxed engineers and created last-minute delays. For example, last year’s iOS release didn’t initially include previously touted features that would let consumers send money via iMessage or synchronize full text message histories among Apple devices.
The decision to formalize the process and give engineers more time to perfect software is a major cultural shift. For years, the company has funneled its energies into quick-turnaround, splashy upgrades that are designed to wow the faithful and make rivals seem slow-footed.
The strategy has paid off handsomely because the feature-packed upgrades keep customers tied to Apple’s ecosystem and prompt them to use more of the company’s lucrative services. More than 90 percent of Apple customers use either of the last two major iOS updates, compared with 30 percent of Android users who have downloaded the two latest versions of Google’s mobile OS, according to data from both companies.