For Apple, shipping can be as simple deciding to remove a feature

Back in the good old days I had a rule that you never took the dot oh version of anything from Apple. Nothing. Not the first MacMini, iBook, iMac, PowerBook, iTunes or any OSX “major” release. Applying the “kitchen hands don’t eat at their own restaurant” rule, it was probably partly because I worked there and partly because first releases of anything from Apple were often undercooked and overpriced.

Recently I’ve been ignoring that advice. That’s because these days the hardware isn’t quite so undercooked at launch and I can certainly afford it should I want to. Recently I bought an iPad Mini (first edition), installed iOS 6 on my iPhone as soon as it came out and, as I’ve noted recently, suffered for iTunes 11. The iPad Mini has been great to date and while iOS6 had some hiccoughs, mainly it had a hell of lot of great improvements in usability and functionality.

Aside from the well known hiccoughs, the fancy new UI in the iOS 6 Music app removed the ability to download individual tracks. As one those of iTunes Match users who, while on a cellular connection, from time to time wished to download the odd track, as opposed to the 3G Data Plan usage conundrum of getting an entire album, the removal of that feature was a bit of pain. Not pain as in “I just had my leg crushed by a falling tree”, more like pain caused by being bitten by the ubiquitous Aussie Mozzie. Annoying for a few hours or days, but nothing to see here, move along now after that.

This weeks iOS 6.1 release added back the single track download functionality I enjoyed in previous iterations of the iOS. Which got me to thinking; what’s the logic between removing features which existed in previous versions of software only to add them back in future releases?

As a lot of larger software companies are now using Agile Methodologies to develop their software, it’s likely they’ve also added practices like Building Epics and other classical terms to describe what’s possible and what’s not in each release. And as people who’ve worked using Agile practices in startups move into larger companies when, for example like me, they’ve gotten old and boring or just need some more certainty in their work life, ideas like actually releasing ontime or just at all become more important than continuing to add layers of desired features to already massively complicated software.

As Fred Wilson once wrote:

(In) …most success stories, the answer was simplifying the service. Taking features out. Reducing the value proposition to a clear and simple use case. This was not done in a vacuum. This was done by releasing a less than perfect product to the market, finding a few customers who wanted a less than perfect product, and then listening carefully to those customers to get to the ideal product.

So sometimes in order to ship you have to remove features, especially edge case features, and depending on the response to their exclusion, you might add them back in future releases. And, in an era where everything is connected, and most accept the defaults around sending data home to the mothership, you can bet Apple have a lot of data about how their customers are actually using the software to help them make the right decisions. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt by speculating that in order to ship iOS 6 on time and support other improvements, they dropped the individual downloads feature because the quality wasn’t good enough.

So while I’m still annoyed by the removal of my edge case in iTunes 11, the reintroduction of the single song downloads feature in iOS 6.1 makes me hope that problem will be solved. Other issues in that software might just have needed someone to speak up before launch, however.

And what I’ve learned from this is that I will go back to my prior, well trusted, method of avoiding the new shiny’s – at least the software. Ignoring the hardware is possibly a bridge too far these days.

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A Shark Net for the Insecure

You couldn’t help but read Andrew Auernheimer’s Statement Of Responsibility for his crime of breaking into unsecured API’s on the AT&T website – the iPad Hack – and wonder in what world do we think it is okay for someone to go to jail for potentially many years because they exposed such shoddy security on a Public Internet Site?

Because the article indicates he instead contacted a news publisher, I wondered why Auernheimer didn’t contact AT&T first to show them the flaw but until he responds, can only assume he was simply concerned the security team there would threaten exactly what has since happened to him. Something seen recently in Australia to security researcher Patrick Webster for example.

It’s possible the CFAA law which was used both against Auernheimer and Aaron Swartz formed part of his consideration. For those unfamiliar with what appears to be nothing more than hastily strung barbed wire around badly dug moats, here’s a couple of articles describing what it tries to cover and what it doesn’t.

It seems to me that what we have here is a law which is being used like a shark net on a beach. Fostering a false sense of security and allowing businesses to avoid taking responsibility for their own failures when it becomes clear they have failed to invest adequately in securing critical and personal data.

Just as the shark net does, instead of simply preventing the threat from breaking through it catches everything which falls into it, threat or not. But unlike the shark net, sometimes the collateral damage from someone else to blame when the shortcomings are found out aren’t acceptable to the public.

Over iTunes 11

Aside

I’m sorry iTunes 11, despite my inital distaste, I tried to like you, but tonight was the last straw. The detail was unimportant, the method to get back to the stable and, most importantly, a usable iTunes 10.7 was found, installed and allowed me to see my Music in the iCloud on my laptop again.

Thanks to JDog Tutorial, AppZapper and Pacifist for making the downgrade go so smoothly.

As for Apple, perhaps you should do as I have many times suggested – rip it up and start again. You know, like you did with Mobile Computing and Mobile Phones?

Let me know when you do, in the meantime I’ll stick with a version that works as I need it to.