While everyone is freaking out about headphone jacks on phones, the news this week musicians should really care about is that a badly needed OS update is on its away. Apple quietly set Tuesday, the 20th of September as the release date for the next major Mac revision – macOS Sierra (10.12). (It’s no longer called “OS X,” so as with Hillary Clinton and techno and Crystal Pepsi in stores, it’s the 90s all over again.)
Here’s where I get to do something unprecedented. For the first time in … eesh, almost 12 years of writing things on this site … I may actually get to tell people to run out and install a major OS update the day it comes out.
Wait — why?
Because the current release, 10.11 El Capitan, has had serious audio issues for a wide variety of users since it came out last fall. While not universal, it frequently has audio dropouts and playback problems with external audio interfaces. Native Instruments, for one, has suffered issues — impacting in particular DJs, who notice crackles and pops when playing on longer sessions. An example thread:
El Capitan 10.11.1 & Traktor 2.10 Audio Dropouts – Help please!
In the case of NI, there’s already a public beta and a set of fixes, but it does require Sierra.
And NI isn’t alone; I’ve seen audio issues and major performance problems across the board since updating and heard support complaints from other vendors.
I think this is grossly unacceptable, frankly. It’s not cute any more. macOS is today a mature operating system; we shouldn’t see these kind of regressions if there’s adequate QA and product management. Even more so with iOS and iPad Pro, the whole point of the Mac is that it’s the stable, powerful cousin of the mobile operating system.
And, if anything, you should be able to trust desktop OS updates the way people have come to trust mobile updates.
It’s not just this particular OS issue that has me concerned. This is an important inflection point for Apple. Apple’s flagship desktop OS has serious quality issues at the same time that its desktop computer offerings lag the industry in price/performance ratio and processor and graphics architecture. (Graphics architecture is a particular worry, one that has made PCs as ubiquitous among media artists, VJs, and visualists as the Mac has in audio.) The Mac Pro never saw an update, but even the MacBook Pro – traditionally the machine that drives Apple hardware sales – is badly behind.
That hurts the whole music ecosystem, because even if you’re devoted to Eurorack or Elektron drum machines, you almost certainly rely on your computer for recording, arrangement, and more. It’s doubly embarrassing for the computer company most associated with musicians and visual artists, the one that makes Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, when that company’s software and hardware offerings run counter to the needs of people at the cutting edge of expression.
So, does Apple have their eye on the ball, or are years of complaints that the company had lost their way actually proving right? We should know more once Sierra ships later this month, and expected computer revisions show up hopefully not long after.
And yeah, meanwhile, it really does mean that the experience of El Capitan support did wind up being like this:
Please, can I just be dead wrong next time? I ask so little.