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  • Is Something Wrong with Apple?

    July 29th, 2008

    All right, I hear the excuses raging through my mind. Apple was overwhelmed with the unprecedented response to the introduction of the iPhone 3G in over 20 countries, release of the iPhone 2.0 software and the debut of the Apps Store. Add to that came the major transition of .Mac to MobileMe, and they were asking for trouble.

    Well, so far as I can see, the App Store seems to be running all right, although some developers are complaining that they can’t get their updates posted quickly enough. Another group wants the NDA removed, so they can share information and code with their fellow travelers and create a better community that can deliver superior, more bug-free products.

    The early activation issues with the iPhone were understandable, since it involves a complicated interaction between Apple’s servers and those of AT&T or other carriers to perform the proper configuration. In addition, Apple Store employees had little time to master the skills that are used on a regular basis by folks who work in mobile phone stores. However, by the time I got my iPhone 3G on the afternoon of its introduction, the process, for me at least, was relatively seamless. Yes, the sales associate had to restart his point-of-sale computer for it to recognize the UPC purchase code on the box, but that was quickly resolved, and the rest of the transaction went through without a hitch.

    Apple’s biggest ongoing problem in that arena is, of course, keeping up with the demand for the new iPhone. Many stores are still out of stock, but Apple’s financial people claim they are satisfied with the production ramp, and will not alter their plans to continue to roll out their hot-selling gadget in additional countries.

    And that takes us to the MobileMe debacle.

    Now understand I was never a super booster of .Mac. I originally acquired my membership as a member of the press, at least for the first two years, and then had it converted to a standard account. So I’ve been there since 2000, partly due to inertia, and partly due to the fact that I do appreciate the sync capabilities, when it works of course. It so happens I have settled on Apple’s Mail and Safari apps, which makes it easier to keep my stuff up to date on my Macs and the iPhone.

    Also, with a few glitches, Microsoft Office 2004 and 2008 both support .Mac — make that MobileMe — sync capabilities.

    While I can understand the early teething pains, I’m doubly concerned over the length of time they’ve taken to fix the problems. For days on end, some 1% of MobileMe members, according to Apple, were unable to retrieve their email. Worse came the admission about the “approximately 10% of mail received between July 16 and July 18 which may have been lost.”

    Now I realize nasty things happen in the cloud, and that it’s really your responsibility to back up your data so you don’t suffer from situations of this sort, regardless of the cause. However, if you are part of that 1%, you have a perfect right to feel betrayed. Many of you believe that Apple is a different sort of company, and that they’d take appropriate measures to preserve your data, including regular backups, just in case of a software or server failure.

    Despite Apple’s admissions about MobileMe’s persistent issues, it still speaks of poor preparation on their part for a fairly major data translation and migration. It could be, of course, that they simply ran late in the process and had no alternative but to enter release mode somewhat unprepared. For a company that usually keeps close tags on such matters, Apple’s public pronouncements just ring flat.

    Of course, there is doubtless a lot of proprietary technology involved, and Apple is under no obligation to explain all the nasty details of this huge failure. Maybe it was all just one of those things, and Apple plans to do what they can to avoid such happenstances in the future, although some obstacles just can’t be predicted.

    On the long haul, of course, all these teething pains will probably be forgotten a few months from now. That, however, is a poor excuse for the people who not only lost access to their email, but also some of their messages. While MobileMe is a consumer-friendly service, I know some small business people embraced .Mac early on as a way to make files available to their clients, and to use a prestigious address for all of their correspondence. I also suppose they can send a message to their contacts and explain that some messages have been lost, and ask they send them again.

    If you happen to lose business as a result, of course, Apple will not be held responsible. I’m sure their legal service terms have accounted for such happenstances. What’s more, I’m quite sure other services of this sort have lost messages from time to time. The system isn’t perfect, and you should never entrust a single source with all of your data.

    I could, of course, remind you about backups. Apple Mail, Entourage and other email clients can store IMAP messages offline. POP messages are stored offline by default. You should also put your backup methods in place now, and not wait until after something gets lost.

    Sure, maybe Apple screwed up big time here. Sometimes you forget that the company is just a collection of human beings who make the same mistakes as the rest of us. Even Steve Jobs gets it wrong, witness the Cube, no doubt a personal indulgence, but largely a failure in the marketplace.

    I also hope Apple’s executive and marketing teams has learned their lesson and that, as the company continues to expand, they’ll either try to stagger rollouts of this scope in the future, or make better preparations in case things go wrong. And you can bet that something will almost always go wrong regardless.

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