Memo to Steve Jobs: Don’t Stop with MobileMe!

August 6th, 2008

All right, we all know that Apple’s internal memo to employees admitting the MobileMe launch failure has been quoted extensively. So much for such documents being regarded as confidential, although I doubt if Apple is going to go after the employees who leaked that letter, in which Steve Jobs promised MobileMe would become “a service we are all proud of by the end of this year.” I’m sure they knew it would be publicized; that was part of the plan.

As a long time .Mac subscriber, I, for one, hope he’s right. As I patiently wait for the promised 30-day membership extension, I’m starting to wonder whether it should be extended to 90 or even 120 days, so I will only pay for a service that Apple can be “proud of.” Why should I accept something inferior? After all, I put up with that sort of thing from far too many vendors already.

By the way, there’s an unconfirmed report that the 1% of MobileMe users who encountered full outages and the loss of some of their newly-received email are being offered a full year’s extension to their subscriptions.

Moreover, now that Apple has gone so far as to admit its fault in handling Internet services, and even put a new executive, Eddy Cue, in charge of the whole thing, what about other recent shaky rollouts? Do you really think that the initial release of the iPhone 2.0 software was flawless or even close?

How many of you encountered slow keyboards and frequent crashes? Or even the failure to properly transfer upgraded iPhone software from iPhone to iTunes? Sure, iTunes 7.7.1 fixed some of that, and no doubt the iPhone 2.0.1 software addressed a fair number of ills too, although we only have unofficial information as to what was fixed.

But if Apple wants to play the mea culpa game in the proper fashion, how should they address the highly-flawed iPhone 2.0 rollout?

I suppose they could sacrifice their 30% cut from App Store sales for a month or two. That would show how serious they are about the problems millions of iPhone users encountered with the new software. Yes, it might have a small impact on their bottom line for a quarter or two, but not significant enough to hurt the stock price any more than it has been impacted in recent weeks. I do grant, though, that recent positive analyst comments about Apple may have contributed to the fact that the price is back on an upward swing.

Now I’m concentrating largely on the software component of Apple’s products here. When it comes to hardware, Apple is pretty good about extending warranties to address persistent defects, such as bad batteries and failing logic boards. True, they sometimes take a few months to sort things out, but that’s understandable when you consider that they have to not only isolate a problem, but confirm it’s actually a product defect, and devise a production change that will effect the appropriate repair.

For software, however, other than the initial support period, you’re pretty much on your own. It’s not as if you can send your copy of Leopard back to Apple after a failed update or two and demand your money back. Other than a few third-party products, you’re stuck. Plain and simple.

But there are things Apple might be able to do in order to address early release bugs, which seem to inflict more and more of their products and services these days. I could say just do better, but that’s hardly practical or logical. After all, I have no idea if these issues are the result of poor engineering, bad quality control, rushed release schedules, some combination of these three or other factors that we don’t know anything about.

Or just being human.

So how can Apple make things right?

Well, as I said in yesterday’s article, providing full details about a bug fix is essential. As one of you readers pointed out, businesses are going to require a lot more than a “bug fixes” phrase when deciding whether or not to deploy an update. Here Microsoft has it right. Take a look at the release notes for the various Office for Mac 2008 updates. There’s a good amount of information to consider, and while it may not reflect all the changes, it’s far more descriptive than most of what Apple generally provides.

While I can understand why Apple might want to keep things simple for home and small business users, there are professionals in many fields who will demand exquisite detail for every little change Apple makes. You can’t depend on power users to ferret out the information, because there’s no way to ensure all the details are fully accurate. At best, you might only get a general picture of what’s going on.

But when Apple really screws up with a software release, how can they make it right for customers, other than getting a fix released as soon as possible? Well, perhaps one way is to provide free CDs of that upgrade. Even the iPhone 2.0.1 update weighed in at nearly 225MB, and we still live on a planet where not everyone has a broadband connection and can download this stuff in a few minutes.

If your current address is in Apple’s registration database, they should send you, free of charge, the critical updates. If the bugs may cause you to lose data, or unduly slow down production, maybe even give you a discount on the next feature upgrade.

Through it all, Apple’s customers should be able to consult an online blog for all the relevant information, a one-stop information center. Apple made a good start with its MobileMe status reports, but the last promised update is days behind schedule. That does not leave a good impression.

Even better, maybe Steve Jobs should issue weekly or monthly updates to Apple customers. He’s already done a few blogs, notably with his criticisms about DRM requirements for music downloads, and the offer of a $100 credit for early iPhone adopters when the price was cut by several hundred dollars last fall. Clearly he — or his ghost writers — have a knack for such expression. I’d like to see more of it.

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One Response to “Memo to Steve Jobs: Don’t Stop with MobileMe!”

  1. Ilgaz says:

    Sad thing is, they could stop hurrying, give users choice whether to use “mac” or “me” and it could be a huge prestige gaining advertising opportunity Leopard edition of XServe.
    Right now, the issue with XServe is pretty same as FreeBSD in early 90s. Once Yahoo adopted it and publicised it, companies didn’t question.
    Of course if it crashed this way while Leopard is advertised, it would be horrible 🙂

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