Crash Test Dummies

I certainly don’t bemoan the fact that the iPhone now has a robust, creative and genuinely delightful market for sanctioned, third-party applications, but jeebus does my iPhone crash a lot. To me it’s proof positive that, in dividing its attention between this device, Mac OS X, Macintosh hardware, iPods and half-assed Web applications and services, Apple’s previously sterling quality levels have slipped notably. Just try using my post-2.0 update iPhone — or similar iPhones owned by many of my friends — without freezes or crashes. I bet you can’t.

A Controlled Environment

Not very flatteringly, it reminds me of comments that Steve Jobs made last year to New York Times technology reporter John Markoff in which he cited reasons why they were reluctant to allow third party applications on the device.

“We define everything that is on the phone… You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers…

“These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them… That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

Third-Party Apps

The situation Jobs warned against — de-stablizing a phone’s core functionality — is exactly the situation we have today. To be fair, it’s not always Apple’s fault; many of the applications that are available for the platform are works in progress and need a lot of cleaning up. (I’m not too proud to count the iPhone application we developed at The New York Times among these.)

Still, Apple’s own applications like SMS, Contacts, Maps, Safari and the phone itself are now in my experience highly error-prone. Whether or not that can be blamed on still maturing third-party applications is a bit of a red herring. The fact is, eighteen months ago Steve Jobs foresaw the situation and still couldn’t stave it off. I’m disappointed.

  1. I hear ya Khoi.

    My iPod touch has been crashing so frequently that my girl thought that the Apple logo (in it’s current chrome state) you see when it fires up was used to indicate that it was broken – given that it looks a little like it has a crack running through it.

  2. The New York Times app is among those that frequently crash my iPod Touch. It’s also a bit of a burden having to constantly download and install updates.

  3. My iPhone is rebooting at least once a day now. I have a modest collection of third party apps, and I can’t even use them. They either reboot the phone or simply exit back to the ‘desktop’.

    Apple’s really screwed up with version 2.0..

  4. I don’t have an iPhone yet, but this doesn’t really deter me, I’m buying one pretty soon, and I don’t plan to use many 3rd-party apps, since so far they all just look like proof-of-concepts that shouldn’t even be out of the prototyping phase.

    It might sound elitist, but this is what happens when you make it too easy to write programs. Everyone and his dog (not aimed at you Khoi) thinks they can write an application, but they don’t seem to realise the expectation of quality people expect from a commercial product. And to a lesser extent, people still expect good quality from free apps, just ‘cos you aren’t charging someone, doesn’t mean you can serve up an inferior product.

    Like I said, I’m still getting one. In my view the core functionality of the iPhone is unmatched by any other smartphone, and I can’t bear to think how much windows mobile crashes if the iPhone crashes as much as people say.

  5. I agree completely. The whole state of the iPhone application ecosystem is sad. The App Store is stocked with poorly-written or simply unnecessary apps, some companies are still waiting for their SDK certificates with no explanation for the delay, and the NDA is making it next to impossible for a community and published information to begin remedying these issues. Let’s hope it improves in the coming months. For what it’s worth, I’m sure Apple isn’t completely satisfied with the situation either.

    And you’re right — it’s not just the downloaded apps that are crashing. Safari is still responsible for a large portion of my iPhone’s embarrassing downtime, too.

  6. @ Mat

    That’s so funny, cuz my girlfriend said the exact same thing!!! That whole cracked Apple bit is too funny.

  7. I’ve still got the original iPhone and I’ve upgraded to version 2.0 of the software. I’ve also got 31 apps installed and my iPhone is as stable as ever. I rarely reboot it. I’m talking like once a month or so, if that.

    I haven’t heard any other people with older iPhone complain about their phones crashing.

    I have heard people complain about the instability of their 3G iPhones and it makes me wonder. Is it the phone? Is it just a few apps that are prone to crashing the phone? Apps that I haven’t installed?


  8. I can’t say that I have had one crash on my phone since I bought it over a year ago, faithfully upgrading along the way. I’m sorry that you are having a tough time of it, and I hope that Apple makes your experience better. They couldn’t make my experience any better.

    Best wishes.

  9. Still, Apple’s own applications like SMS, Contacts, Maps, Safari and the phone itself are now in my experience highly error-prone. Whether or not that can be blamed on still maturing third-party applications is a bit of a red herring. The fact is, eighteen months ago Steve Jobs foresaw the situation and still couldn’t stave it off. I’m disappointed.

    2.0 is unstable due to laziness with the OS, not due to unforeseen consequences of third-party apps. The third-party apps can’t run in the background and can’t affect the stability of other apps. Apple’s own apps are crashing simply because they didn’t spend enough time making the new OS stable.

  10. is it possible to get a refund, exchange, rebate on our iPhones? If my car kept on stalling or clonking out, i’d return it for a new one. Or did I sign my life away in small print somewhere forbidding me to hold anyone responsible?

  11. I was in the Calgary airport a few days ago, heading back to Montreal. My flight confirmation number safely stored on my iPod Touch (an email in Once I was at the automated check-in terminal, I brought it up so I could enter it on the screen, but only seconds after my iPod crashed — and rebooted itself at least two times.

    Really quite frustrating, though it seems it had something to do with trying to find a WiFi connection — since once I disabled that, I had no further problems.

    Other than that, I’ve been satisfied. There’s definitely more crashing than before, but I guess I assume either the app or the iPod will iron out the kinks in future releases.

  12. Khoi, not sure what you’re doing buddy but my iPhone almost never crashes. Something is up. I would try restoring it and see it that fixes anything. I’ve read that backups from the previous OS could be causing issues. Try restoring using no backup.

  13. For anyone who DOESN’T think there are serious problems.

    I’ve had my phone crash like this 3 times now, and from my own experience, and that of nearly everyone in this thread, it’s all related to installing multiple Apps.

    Apple so badly needs to make it so that these dodgy Apps or App installs do NOT render the phone unusable. Something is really wrong when a bad application install takes down an entire OS! Could you imagine if this happened on MAC OS X?

    Well, I guess it’s even WORSE when it’s a phone because when you can’t use your phone for hours, that could easily mean lost sales, and lost customers, in the business world. In an emergency situation, maybe something even worse 🙁

    Bring on 2.1!

  14. For the numerous times that my two-stroke EDGE iphone has made contact with mother Earth I am surprised that it doesn’t crash on hardware problems alone. Thankfully the software is running fine and I haven’t had a forced-energy-saving-shutdown ever since installing 2.0 and a dozen or so apps. I suppose I should thank the Gas man for not having the extra money to enjoy the new found features of the 3G.

  15. I thought that by purchasing the ‘new and improved’ iphone the issues I’ve been having with third party software would end. No such luck, my iphone has now taken to rebooting itself randomly throughout my day. It’s a guessing game.

  16. 2.0.1 sounds good – hit update and wait. A long time unless you have a speedy connection that can chow down 250 megs.

    Less bugginess (if that’s a word), quicker contacts loading, quicker syncing with itunes.

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