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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6 Responses to “Is Something Wrong with Apple?”

  1. Bill in NC says:

    .mac was a huge joke for many years, even for something as basic as reliable email.

    No surprise MobileMe is just as bad, at least so far.

    I hope people realize they currently can’t rely on it for anything critical, and given Apple’s track record, probably never will be able to count on it being “up”.

  2. Yacko says:

    Perfect example of why cloud computing will not be for everybody. Do you trust somebody else to be up 24/7, not corrupt or lose data and not be a bottleneck? Sometimes the cloud is actually dense fog.

  3. Perfect example of why cloud computing will not be for everybody. Do you trust somebody else to be up 24/7, not corrupt or lose data and not be a bottleneck? Sometimes the cloud is actually dense fog.

    I see Amazon has run into problems with its S3 service.

    For our sites, we have double backups. One at the datacenter in Dallas, on a secondary drive, and another offsite in New York State. And a lot of that stuff is also backed up on my own computers. Call me paranoid, but I don’t trust any storage system that depends on mechanical gear.


  4. Steve W says:

    I read on another site that NetNewsWire was complaining that the App Store does not update fast enough for them. They are up to version 1.0.7 after less than three weeks. That’s a new release every 3 days. I think Apple Update is on a once a week schedule.

    IMHO, any application that requires 7 updates in three weeks should be labeled alpha software, and given a designation of 0.0.7 rather than 1.0.7

    I don’t think you should be asking if something is wrong with Apple in this case. Clearly something is wrong with NetNewsWire.

  5. John says:

    I’m mixed on this.

    I agree that things could have been better. Apple should not have released 2.0 firmware for old iPhones the same day that they introduced new iPhones. I think it was the pulse of existing users upgrading that swamped the servers.

    The .Mac and Mobile Me (hate that name) thing is harder to understand. Is it that hard for a large, tech savvy corporation to set this up?

    BTW, I believe I read that in the end no files were lost.

    On the other hand I wonder if our expectations aren’t too high? Apple hits a few home runs then we begin to expect a home run every time a new product comes out. Also, as you point out, the iPhone server delays were cleared up in a day and though it took a while the MM problems were fixed as well.

    On the topic of expectations, my favorite Joy of Tech cartoon was the picture of the Mac fan by the water cooler looking despondent. Two friends are talking about him. (from memory)
    Friend 1: “What’s the matter with him? A great new product just came out at MacWorld.”
    Friend 2: “It wasn’t a Phaser.”

  6. javaholic says:

    I had read where many developers are currently frustrated with the process of getting their iPhone apps online, particularly when updates are necessary. Considering Apple were desperate to get developers on board for the MacOS, the transition to OSX, then to Intel processors, you’d think they’d bring down the walled garden with the iPhone to help grow the platform instead of using barbed wire where they deem necessary. Its also ironic Apple are ‘reviewing’ the quality of these apps, yet we’ve seen some lousy quality control with company’s own software over the years – no more evident than their latest quest to wow everyone with a multi faceted product launch that in part went off like a lead balloon. Looking back perhaps MobileMe(ss) should have been advertised and released as a public beta. So why didn’t they do that? What are they afraid of? Maybe they’re just stretched too thin internally to meet unrealistic product launch dates? Whatever, it’s unfortunate because things like this quickly unravel Apples rep for quality that.

    Personally I see Apples desire for control and secrecy as a double edged sword that can work for and against them. This issue over Jobs’ health could have been avoided if they were a little more open and human – like the appealing company brand they’ve created. Instead the robotic PR answer we got just fuelled the fire. Controlling the ‘whole widget’ may work okay when it comes to product launches and the Mac market, but now they’re nibbling on markets like telecommunications, perhaps they may need to learn from, and learn to play with others, rather than trying to dominate everything. In fact, when I recently read Steve’s ‘we never do market research’ comment that really surprised me at first, but may explain why products like AppleTV didn’t catch on. Quick tip: Apple – don’t be afraid to do extensive research on the markets your spending your R&D money on – the success of the product may depend on it. Still I’m pleased they’re taking time with the development of Snow Leopard. Hopefully it’s the first sign of thinking a little different.

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