Apple's Quality Problem May Be Bigger Than You Think

Like millions of others, I've upgraded my iPhone to iOS 6, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) new operating system for iPhones, iPods, and iPads. I'm not impressed. Not yet. Passbook, a neat new app for storing affinity program information, gift cards, coupons, and boarding passes, isn't working.

You wouldn't know it to look at the phone's home screen. Passbook's wallet icon, with its flashes of green, yellow, and blue, stands out against the black background. Click to open, and a start screen invites you to begin adding data. All you need to do is navigate to the App Store, the screen says.

Click again, and the problems begin:

Source: iDownloadBlog.com.

Source: iDownloadBlog.com.

Interestingly, it's not that I can't connect to the App Store at all. Navigating from the error screen to "featured apps" brings me to the store's main screen. Clicking the "genius" tab didn't work, nor did updates as of this writing.

Twitter also had issues. A reply sent to me by a follower appeared on my iPhone, but not via Twitter. Hojoki, a cloud aggregation service that I authorize through -- whoop! whoop! irony alert! -- my Google ID, notified me of the reply.

Both App Store features require entering an Apple ID and password. Twitter also depends on verifying my iOS credentials, which suggests the problem has less to do with Passbook and more to do with how Apple's servers are handling user requests.

The "fix" is in
On Thursday, the Apple support forums buzzed about a fix to the problem that included switching off Apple's mechanism for automatically setting the date and time in iOS devices. Move the date up a year and navigate back to Passbook, the instructions said, and all would be well.

Source: Macworld.

Source: Macworld.

The "fix" no longer works for some -- Yours Truly included -- and I think I know why: because it sounds more like a security hole than a genuine patch. Think about it. How queasy would you feel knowing that a one-click change to the default device date would allow for circumnavigating your ID and password?

Imagine the implications, especially if Apple has any designs on challenging eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) PayPal and Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN  ) in enabling mobile payments via the iPhone? My guess is Apple has coders working overtime on an iOS update.

Where did all the magic go?
Whether or not I'm right about security concerns, we've got good circumstantial evidence that hardware isn't the issue. Apple's support boards are filled with Passbook complaints from iPhone 4 and 4S users; I'm a 3GS owner.

There's also history to consider; Apple's iOS and iPhone upgrades have been plagued with problems in recent years. Consumer Reports refused to recommend the iPhone 4 after discovering problems with the antenna. The iPhone 4S suffered from a battery issue that required a quick iOS fix. Last year, some users reported errors when upgrading to iOS 5, apparently created when a tidal wave of download requests overwhelmed some of Apple's servers. And finally, there is Apple's new Maps software, which is suffering from mixed reviews.

Add it all up, and investors are left with a troubling question: When did Apple stop obsessing over quality? Did it fade out with the end of the Steve Jobs era? I doubt it, but we've seen enough problems with iOS in recent years that -- even for an Apple bull like me -- it's time to ask the question.

Taking a bite of the Apple
This and other issues notwithstanding, Apple remains one of the world's best-positioned companies. If you're thinking of buying or already own shares, now's a great time to sign up for our premium research service. You'll get a complete rundown of everything you need to know about the Mac maker, plus a bonus iPhone 5 report with ideas for profiting from the new device. Sign up today to get not only all the research but also free updates for a year.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2012, at 11:45 PM, kbear2 wrote:

    Are you serious? Or are you just looking to put "Apple" and "Problem" in the same sentence to get hits?

    You are complaining about two apps that gave you some fits on a phone that is several years old. Then you make an attempt to blame a couple other problems on the post Steve era when they actually occurred while he was still at Apple. Huh?

    Oh, and heaven forbid there were server slowdowns when a "tidal wave of requests" for downloads caused difficulty for some. Horrors!

    And yes, the map app is not perfect. If it were any other company you wouldn't be expecting perfection. Most of Google's software came out in beta form originally and that's how they learned to improve it. I suppose Apple should have labeled Maps as such as they did with Siri. Maybe that would have appeased the nitpickers.

    I'd hate to be your wife or child.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2012, at 11:46 PM, 13astion wrote:

    Umm, are you COMPLETELY forgetting about the MoblieMe launch?!!?

    That was a complete debacle, aaaannnd it still happened under Steve's watch.

    Also, many of the problems you mentioned above (like the iPhone antenna) happened with Steve at the helm.

    STOP trying to make something out of nothing. Companies have problems with products. It has NOTHING to do with the absence of one person.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2012, at 11:58 PM, detoxdomain wrote:

    Apple has much much bigger problems than this. Get out while you still can innovation witb this company has peeked they have very few avenues to travel. The decline will begin about this time next year.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2012, at 1:28 AM, JaanS wrote:
  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2012, at 2:19 AM, fatmonk wrote:

    perfectionist is what apple is about... i agree, they should iMap as beta. Hey it works great for me. I love fly through mountains. It is like a movie.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2012, at 9:35 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @kbear2,

    >>You are complaining about two apps that gave you some fits on a phone that is several years old.

    Thanks for the note but you either misread the story or don't care about the facts. We know this isn't a hardware problem; reports came in from upgraders with a wide variety of handsets, including 4S owners.

    >>And yes, the map app is not perfect. If it were any other company you wouldn't be expecting perfection. Most of Google's software came out in beta form originally and that's how they learned to improve it.

    No one expects perfection from Apple. Please don't project your assumptions on me or anyone else.

    The facts is that Passbook still doesn't work for me. I'm sure Apple is working on a fix. Others have found loopholes but the problem has been wide ranging, touching even iPhone 5 owners:

    https://discussions.apple.com/message/19704617?tstart=0#1970...

    So long as quality -- and perception of quality -- is *central* to the Apple thesis (and yes, it is) then hiccups like these make for important news.

    Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    Tim Beyers

    TMFMileHigh, Motley Fool Rule Breakers Analyst, Supernova Odyssey I Portfolio Contributor

    Web: http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2012, at 12:24 PM, chadscards1274 wrote:

    Tim, just FYI Passbook works on my wife's iPhone4S, not sure why you're running into issues.

  • Report this Comment On September 24, 2012, at 12:49 AM, kbear2 wrote:

    Apologies, I did miss the part of the sentence including the 4/4s models reporting problems.

    However, the rest still stands. You are ascribing a lack of quality control potentially to the absence of Jobs when those and other glitches occurred on his watch.

    As for projecting assumptions... you might look at the title of your article.

  • Report this Comment On September 24, 2012, at 10:28 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @kbear2,

    >>You are ascribing a lack of quality control potentially to the absence of Jobs when those and other glitches occurred on his watch.

    I'll admit the wording could be better, especially in reading the last graf. I shouldn't have used "when," which sounds much more presumptive than I meant to be.

    My point wasn't to ascribe but to ask: is quality an issue? I think it's a fair question given recent history.

    >>As for projecting assumptions... you might look at the title of your article.

    I don't see the correlation. The title refers to the question asked at the end, nothing more. Phrasing a question might have been better, however.

    Thanks for writing and Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    Tim Beyers

    TMFMileHigh, Motley Fool Rule Breakers Analyst, Supernova Odyssey I Portfolio Contributor

    Web: http://timbeyers.me

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