Is Every Tech Product a Paid Public Beta?

February 10th, 2016

As I read the list of new features for tvOS, which is designed for the fourth-generation Apple TV, I really wondered what Apple has been selling up till now. According to published reports, the latest tvOS 9.2 beta adds support for dictation and Bluetooth keyboards. It should be released soon.

In December, a tvOS 9.1 update added the ability to use Siri to search Apple Music, and support for the return of Remote from iOS, along with similar support from your Apple Watch.

Before we even got to the pending enhancements to text input, you had to wait until just two weeks before Christmas to have a new Apple TV gain support for the Remote app and Bluetooth keyboards, two features available in previous models. In short, you had to take two steps back to get the other new features that may or may not have any advantages for you.

Is it fair to suggest that the long-awaited fourth-generation Apple TV may have hit the market not quite ready for prime time, although that may be going a little overboard?

Certainly the reviews indicate a typically well-designed Apple product. But hardly the living room game changer you might have once expected. But it’s also clear Apple is quickly fixing things and adding new features, so maybe there’s hope.

The issue on the table is whether Apple rushed the thing out, expecting you to be tolerate the situation as missing features were added and the user experience was smoothed.

It reminds me of the Apple Watch. When it first hit the streets last spring, reviewers by and large praised its sexy looks. Apple clearly wanted to make a fashion statement, and few dispute that it’s first effort at jewelry was successful. But the gadget’s performance was somewhat ragged, and apps launched slowly, The reason for the latter was that they were loading from your iPhone and the data was beamed to your Apple Watch via Bluetooth. Native app launching arrived with watchOS 2, which arrived six months later.

Obviously, Apple didn’t hold back on adding features and making things run better over time, but buying a product with a price tag that can run as high as $17,000, only to wait weeks or months for everything to work, might have left some customers feeling a little let down. They paid a bundle for a product that should have been mostly perfect out of the starting gate.

Imagine a corollary in the car business. You spend $17,000 for a brand new compact. But why isn’t the cruise control working? No matter, it will be activated with the first over-the-air software update in a few months.

In passing, some buyers of new cars may also have to wait months for CarPlay and Android Auto to be supported, but at least the cruise control, brakes and the onboard systems are fully functional when it leaves your dealer’s showroom.

Now I understand that new operating system features on a tech device might require a revision or two to bake in, or that a new computer or other gadget might require a firmware update or two to repair some glitches. This is a regrettable condition that has long existed, but you understand that what may seem perfect when it begins production may fail in unexpected ways in regular use.

Obviously, if you look at the millions of car and truck recalls, you’ll realize that things often have to be repaired or replaced months or years after they leave the factories. Except for a few cases of outright neglect or brazen attempts to escape government regulations, and we know about such situations, perfection is just not possible. You have to accept that, whatever vehicle you buy, there’s always a chance that a defect will appear that will require further work beyond routine maintenance.

But in the tech world, we have been asked to take clearly unfinished products and tolerate incomplete, imperfect or missing features on the promise that a future update may set things right. In the meantime, you just — cope. Now maybe not having the ability to use a Bluetooth keyboard with an Apple TV isn’t such a big deal. Sure, you endure an annoying process when you have to enter text, which usually occurs when setting up a new in-app account. It’s just a few minutes after all, and once it’s over, you can use it normally.

In the scheme of things, the inability to use the Remote app is just a matter of extra convenience. The Apple TV comes with its own remote that’s supposed to be just wonderful.

It comes across, however, as a matter of marketing outvoting engineering when it’s determined whether a product is ready for production. Marketing says October, production says give it until March of the following year. Guess who wins?

The customer? Well, even though you paid hard-earned money to buy that gadget, clearly Apple — and other companies — are more concerned with getting the product into your hands and collecting your payment than making 100% certain everything worked properly.

At least new cars should — and usually do — receive a redelivery shakedown from the dealer that ought to require more than just removing the shipping materials and sending it through the wash. With a tech gadget, open the box, set it up, turn it on and hope for the best.

Maybe that’s another reason people are reluctant to replace their tech gear. They’ve already endured the bugs, the missing features, and the maintenance updates. They don’t need anymore aggravation.

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