File a bug (or at least a feature request)

After reading Marco Arment and Daniel Jalkut’s posts on filing bugs with Apple using Radar, here’s my take:

Bug Reports — the boring sort

So there you are, cheerfully typing away at your Mac, coding your next great app. And then you find a bug in Apple’s frameworks. "This is maddening! How dare this bug be here?” So as a good developer you toddle off to Radar, and file an issue. Time passes, and nothing happens. Or your bug is closed as a dupe, and again nothing seems to happen. Frustrating isn’t it?

But let’s take a step back. What did you hope might happen in an ideal world? Perhaps within a couple of hours of filing the bug, someone at Apple would acknowledge the truly terrible mistake they’ve made and get a fix released as quickly as possible. iOS 7.1.2 here we come!

Clearly that’s not the way things work. Even if your bug were the only thing to be fixed, and super high priority, it’ll still take some time for Apple’s full machinery of putting out a new release to spin up (presumably there’s time to be spent on some QA, making the build, distributing it, etc.). Even then, it’ll take up to a week or so for your app’s potential audience to be notified an OS update is available. And how long will many of them tend to put off actually installing the thing?

Besides, if every single bug filed got this ultra red carpet treatment, we’d already be on something like iOS 7.1.26. I don’t believe anybody (developers, Apple, or regular users) could keep up! iOS releases are kept infrequent to save work for customers, bunching up bug fixes for those releases.

Instead, once Apple has shipped a bug in the frameworks, you’re going to have to live with it. Your potential customers already have the buggy version, and will likely do so for some time. You’ve got to find some sort of workaround and go with that.

And consider that this bites both ways; there may well be more apps out there accidentally relying on the bug, leaving Apple effectively unable to fix it until a more serious OS update.

I still encourage people to file such bug reports, but consider them to be about the least useful thing you can do with Radar.

Oh, and if the bug is so insidious that you really do need to get it fixed or find a workaround, that’s when you turn to a DTS incident. Having the radar already filed for handing to them is important, but it’s important to take this step up when you need a human response. (Yes, I agree it would be nice if Radar were able to give us workaround information in a more automated fashion for when someone else has already raised the same issue)

Bug Reports — the more interesting sort

Having established then that I don’t think bug reports are terribly useful most of the time, what is this section about?

Each year, there’s an important window of opportunity where bug reports are particularly useful to Apple, and you’re much more likely to get them fixed. Once the first seeds of the next major iOS or OS X update become available, you’ve got a couple of months to report any regressions, or bugs in the new features. During this slot, Apple’s engineers are in a good position to act on such reports and fix the issues before anything ships to the public.

Of course it’s annoying (and difficult!) that this means trying to match your schedule to Apple’s, but if you can pull it off, it can pay dividends. You may even find yourself a personal thank you note from the engineer involved :-)

Feature Requests

The rest of the time, where I think we developers should be focusing the most of our energy with radar is feature/enhancement requests.

Again, don’t expect a quick turnaround, but it’s the best way we’ve got to let Apple know what we’d really appreciate being there in future releases of the frameworks. Internally, it’s easy for them to see which are the most popular requests and — ideally — focus on that.

Generally feature requests are a lot quicker to file, too, just requiring dashing off a couple of sentences stating what you’d like; no need for a sample project here! Apple can always come back and ask for more information if they need it.

So please, file ‘em if you get a chance.

(Of course I may be entirely misguided in my belief about feature requests. Let’s see how many of my wishes — if any — get granted this week at WWDC.)

© Mike Abdullah 2007-2015