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.


2 thoughts on “For Apple, shipping can be as simple deciding to remove a feature

  1. Interested in why you purchased a mini as opposed to a standard iPad. Unless I had a handbag, I can’t see why you would want a smaller device than the iPad. It is super light and extremely portable.

    • I use a Mac Book Air. It’s light, powerful and does what I need. The iPad never resonated with me. It actually feels heavier and more awkward to use than the MBA. The Mini is the perfect size for what I use a device like that for – reading, gaming, tweeting and taking notes in Drafts and Evernote etc. I get the iPad is beneficial as a computer replacement for those who never really needed a computer, but for someone like me who does, the Mini is ideal.

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