An Apple customer in Spain tries out the new iPhone. But what's happening… (Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg )
Is Apple losing its grip? Most people asking that question are referring to the maps app that comes bundled with iPhone 5. The app, which is Apple’s attempt to wean its users off a superb map program created by its archrivals at Google, is a spectacular flop, the NFL replacement ref of the software world. It’s so bad that Apple chief executive Tim Cook has issued a formal apology for it.
But when will Cook apologize for the disaster that is Lion upgrade 10.7.5?
That’s an upgrade to the operating system I installed, unwisely, on my iMac desktop, a superb performer on which I haven’t lost 10 minutes of work since I acquired it in mid-2010.
Apple released Lion 10.7.5 on Sept. 19, the same day it released a larger upgrade called Mountain Lion. But because I’d already discovered that Scrabble for Mac, my favorite game, was mysteriously incompatible with Mountain Lion, I chose to stick with Lion and installed 10.7.5 to keep it current. That was a mistake I’ve evidently shared with thousands of other users, because the upgrade broke our Time Machine.
Mac users know Time Machine as a first-rate backup program that comes with every Apple computer. You plug in an external hard drive, and the system automatically backs up your hard drive to it every hour. It keeps an hourly backup for the previous 24 hours, daily backups covering the previous month, and weekly backups for all previous months.
Typically the hourly backup takes a few minutes to complete, and you don’t even notice it happening because Time Machine works silently and in the background. But it’s incredibly valuable: Even if your computer suffers a catastrophic meltdown, Time Machine saves you from losing more than an hour’s work. And if you need to find a file or a version from a week ago, a month ago, or even more than a year ago, you can retrieve it from Time Machine.
Soon after installing the latest upgrade, I noticed that Time Machine was working a lot slower—sometimes spending hours on a simple backup that used to take minutes. Eventually I put in a call to Apple support, which initially expressed perplexity and had me run some simple diagnostics and disk cleanup programs on my system. But they didn’t have a solution. They still don’t.
Online forums for Mac users are burning up with complaints about exactly this problem. Plainly it’s associated with the Lion upgrade and more specifically with the Mac’s Spotlight program, which allows you to search your entire hard drive, and which also got all screwed up by the Lion upgrade. Users are waiting anxiously for Apple to issue a software patch to correct the problem, but so far it hasn’t materialized.
Meanwhile we’re getting absurd results from Mac programs that previously worked flawlessly. One of my fellow sufferers on the Apple.com online forum we all use as a support group just reported that his Time Machine is showing that his routine backup will be done in 54,015,439 days. “In other words, the year 149,999 AD,” he writes. “Just in time for millennium.”
Free-floating anxiety abounds: Does Apple know about the problem? Do they care about us? Will they issue a software fix or is this a plot to force us to move up to Mountain Lion? The bottom line is that this bug has made one of the Mac's best features nearly useless.
I’ve only been a Mac user for three years, so for all I know bugs like this aren’t uncommon in Mac upgrades. But Apple isn’t a company known for pushing buggy software out the door and fixing it at leisure — traditionally that’s Microsoft’s business model. So this experience is not only a big disappointment, but a disturbing hint that having developed a reputation as a company that could do no wrong, Apple is beginning to rest on its laurels.
I should mention that I have no complaints at all about Apple’s support techs—they’ve devoted a lot of time to working with me (occasionally on their days off), they’re faultlessly professional and empathetic, and they seem determined to help me find a solution. Other than Time Machine and Spotlight, my iMac keeps humming along; but it's unnerving that I can't automatically back up my work.
Somewhere, somehow, the Apple higher-ups let a flawed program sneak out the door — two programs, if you include maps. That could be coincidence, or it could be the beginning of a trend that leads to no good place. Over to you, Tim Cook.
Google maps not coming to iPhone soon
Educational electronics: Apple's classroom invasion
The dysfunctional patent system behind Apple vs. Samsung