A Series of Unfortunate (Apple) Events

15 September 2014AppleOpinion

Apple prides itself on producing consumer products that ‘just work’ by successfully combining hardware, software, and services. Unfortunately, the company has experienced a series of high-profile blunders in recent weeks, highlighting that they too aren’t always perfect.

iCloud Security

In late August, news broke that revealing personal photographs of female celebrities had been stolen and distributed online. Apple’s iCloud storage was directly implicated in the scandal:

Anonymous posters on the online message board 4chan — where the photos first surfaced — alleged that the images were obtained from iCloud accounts. The first ones to appear were sexually explicit images of Lawrence, 24, who acknowledged through her publicist that private material had been stolen.

Subsequent reporting identified other potential sources for the stolen photos such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Snapchat. In an official statement, Apple clarified that specific iCloud accounts were the subject of targeted attacks but that Apple’s systems were not breached:

We wanted to provide an update to our investigation into the theft of photos of certain celebrities. When we learned of the theft, we were outraged and immediately mobilized Apple’s engineers to discover the source. Our customers’ privacy and security are of utmost importance to us. After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved.

But by this point the damage was already done: countless reports identified iCloud as the root of the problem and articles were written with step-by-step instructions for disabling iCloud. The timing couldn’t have been worse, with Apple’s announcement of Apple Pay – a payment service reliant on trusting Apple – just days away.

Live Stream of iPhone 6 and Apple Watch Event

On September 9, Apple held a special event to announce the iPhones 6 and the highly-anticipated Apple Watch. The company’s marketing abilities were in full force leading up to the event, building anticipation for a product launch like only Apple can. For those that didn’t receive invitations to the event, Apple announced a live video stream accessible over the web or Apple TV.

Unfortunately, the stream had some serious issues, as documented by Simon Fredsted:

Excited to watch Apple’s new innovative products, millions of people tuned in to the live webcast where Tim Cook revealed iPhone 6, Apple Pay and Apple Watch.

As someone following the live stream while it happened, monitoring twitter feeds live chats during the event, one thing became clear to me immediately as the stream started to play: something was totally wrong with the stream.

On the surface, everything seemed to go well when the stream started playing around 15 minutes before the event. We saw video of the hall the event took place in, in beautiful HD, but something was off. Not everyone noticed this immediately, but I did: two songs were playing on top of each other. It sounded horrible to my ears.

As Fredsted goes on to explain, the live stream got worse from there with audio errors, dropouts, and feed restarts. As Tim Cook took the stage, his voice was obscured by a Chinese translator. This was definitely not the way Apple wanted millions of onlookers to experience the Apple Watch for the first time.

U2 Album Giveaway

Towards the end of the September 9 event, Apple got the live stream working smoothly, just in time for a live performance by U2 and a pretty big music announcement: the band’s new album, ‘Songs of Innocence’ would be gifted to all iTunes customers as a thank you from Apple. As a U2 fan, this was a great treat from my perspective and certainly more of a surprise than the design of the iPhones 6 which had leaked weeks before the official announcement.

Unfortunately for Apple and U2, not everyone appreciated the gesture as much as me:

To put it lightly, Apple’s “gift” of a free U2 album hasn’t been warmly received by everyone. And it seems the company has heard the chorus of complaints loud and clear. As of today, Apple’s offering an easy way to permanently erase Songs of Innocence with a single click. Doing so immediately removes U2’s latest album from your iTunes music library and iTunes purchase history. Apple has even set up a support website to guide people through the process.

I feel bad for Apple and U2 on this one. I doubt anyone could have predicted the backlash that giving away a free album (from one of the biggest bands in history no less) would generate, especially since the album could be hidden from day one (although not completely removed from one’s purchase history).

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Preorders

As it has done in the past, Apple announced that it would accept pre-orders for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus beginning on September 12. While Apple didn’t specify an exact time, many speculated that the company would open the flood gates at midnight Pacific Time. In the lead up to 12:00 AM PT, the Apple Store went offline with its typical “we’ll be back” message.

When my alarm woke me at 11:50 PM PT, I groggily crawled out of bed and loaded the Apple website on my iMac. Like many, I periodically refreshed the page as midnight approached, but instead of being greeted by the pre-order page I anticipated I kept seeing the “we’ll be back” message. Then, a few minutes past midnight, the Apple website stopped loading all together, throwing a random server error instead. Apparently I wasn’t the only person awake in the middle of the night trying to give Apple my money. According to Macworld, I wasn’t the only one that experienced problems either:

Apple, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon began taking orders for the new phones, which hit store shelves Sept. 19, at 12:01 a.m. Pacific/3:01 a.m. Eastern. The process is the same as it always was: Stay awake (or wake up insanely early) and spend an hour trying to get through the ordering process without punching your computer in frustration. But this year, preordering the iPhone was especially infuriating.

After 15 to 20 minutes of unsuccessfully attempts to access the Apple pre-order site from my iMac and the Apple Store app on my iPad, my anticipation turned to disappointment and eventually to frustration. I eventually gave up and went back to bed, resigned to the possibility of being stuck with my iPhone 4 for a few more weeks/months.

Luckily for me, I had to be up early for work the next morning (around 4:00 AM PT) and by that time the pre-order site was working properly. In about 60 seconds I was able to pre-order my beloved iPhone 6 128GB in Space Grey with an expected September 19 delivery. In the end, no harm done.

As if the server errors and delayed pre-order launch weren’t enough, Apple made another mistake on its Canadian website, as reported by the Huffington Post:

The new iPhone 6 is available for pre-order on the Apple.ca site. But click on the link titled “More details about iPhone delivery dates,” and you will get a map of Canada riddled with errors. Ottawa is where Toronto is. Toronto seems to be somewhere near Cornwall, Ont. Edmonton is northwest of Calgary, instead of northeast. And Vancouver Island appears to be a peninsula attached to the mainland.

Given Apple’s history with maps, this error was particularly humorous and gained a lot of attention in Canada.

It’s been an extremely busy fall for Apple news and announcements. Unfortunately a lot of that news has focused on mistakes and issues rather than shiny new products and services. But despite all the bad news, Apple seems to be doing just fine, having just announced a record 4 million iPhone 6 pre-orders in the first 24 hours of availability.

UPDATE: HealthKit Bug

On September 17, Apple released iOS 8 to the public. But as Steven Musil reports for CNET, the release coincided with third-party developers having their apps removed from the App Store without notice due to a bug in Apple’s new HealthKit framework:

Apple said a bug in its HealthKit health and fitness application platform prevented its release alongside the launch the iOS 8 operating system for iPhones and iPads.

HealthKit gathers data such as blood pressure and weight from various health apps on Apple devices, and can be viewed by doctors in one place.

Regulated medical devices, such as glucose monitors with accompanying iPhone apps, can send information to HealthKit.

“We’re working quickly to have the bug fixed in a software update and have HealthKit apps available by the end of the month,” a company spokesperson said in an email on Wednesday.

Apple has also pulled some healthcare apps from its app store that connect with HealthKit, such as MyFitnessPal and Carrot Fit.

UPDATE 2: Major iOS 8.0.1 Bug

On September 24, Apple released iOS 8.0.1 to address the aforementioned HealthKit bug and allow HealthKit-reliant apps to return to the App Store. Unfortunately, for users like myself with an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, the update disabled both cellular service and Touch ID. As Darrell Etherington reported for TechCrunch, Apple quickly pulled the iOS 8.0.1 update from availability to limit the number of affected customers:

Apple has pulled the iOS 8.0.1 update from availability, a fix is likely incoming. For now, it appears to only affect iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users. An Apple spokesperson provided us with the following statement:

“We have received reports of an issue with the iOS 8.0.1 update. We are actively investigating these reports and will provide information as quickly as we can. In the meantime we have pulled back the iOS 8.0.1 update.”

This is a huge embarrassment for Apple, made worse by the long series of mistakes that came before it. My guess is that the pressure to quickly address the well-publicized HealthKit bug led to some quality-assurance corners being cut prior to releasing this update. If that is the case, it highlights a lack of maturity on Apple’s part: rather than meticulously addressing the HealthKit bug, it appears they rushed a fix to market which actually compounded the problem by introducing new, more serious bugs.

If you upgraded to iOS 8.0.1 before it was pulled back, you can revert to iOS 8.0 by connecting your device to a computer running iTunes, as described in this support article from Apple. When I originally tried to follow these steps, I got a cryptic iTunes error. I disabled iTunes WiFi Sync, then disconnected and reconnected the lightning cable to my phone. Reverting to iOS 8.0 then worked without loosing any of my data or settings.