Marketing over Matter

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I keep asking the question over and over again in this blog – why won’t tech companies take the time and get it right before getting it out?

The latest case of a major software bug causing a technical and PR nightmare for its maker comes from an unlikely source. Apple, which under its founder, Steve Jobs, usually displayed a synergy of Marketing and Technology, on Wednesday admitted that a serious battery drain issue with its iPhone 4S handset is, in fact, the direct result of a bug in iOS-5 operating system.

According to the Computerworld article on the bug:

Apple spokesperson Natalie Harrison said, "A small number of customers have reported lower than expected battery life on iOS 5 devices. We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life, and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks."

Some may ask why, since the iOS 5 devices only came out a few weeks ago, Apple didn’t simply wait a few weeks to get it right. That of course would assume they actually knew about the problem when the devices were rolled out.

So I’m back to the same question – why didn’t they perform the appropriate structural analysis of the iOS 5 software to identify potential issues during the build process and fix them before completing the product for deployment?

The answer is likely the same one I have seen, heard and experienced firsthand far too many times in my 17 years in this business.

Same Old Story

Today’s Apple admission reminded me of the very first laser printer I ever used. The owner of the company I was working for back in 1995 had just won the printer at a trade show and when it was delivered, he was quite excited to plug it in and start printing out, in his words, “uber sharp documents.”

The printer, made by a company known best by a three-letter acronym that could also stand for “I’d Be Mortified,” did in fact offer up “uber sharp” print on documents. The documents it produced were far sharper than the dot matrix and ink jet printers we had been using in the office up to that point…unless you had to print a letter that spanned more than 80% of the page. The last few lines on each page seemed to suffer from the printer overheating, causing the paper to pucker at the end of the page. This in turn caused the last few lines to appear slightly skewed to the right and the letters would get more and more “squished” as they reached the right margin.

Although we never got a full explanation, my boss, who understood the intersection of Marketing and Technology quite well, had a plausible theory. He theorized that in the Marketing Department’s zeal to push out a product that could produce more pages per minute than previous models it had not afforded the tech folks enough time to perfect the heating element that seared the laser jet toner to the page. The result was a printer that produced pages really fast and clear until the last few lines.

On the bright side, the printer actually exceeded the number of pages per minute that it advertised and in the end, we learned just to include a company information “footer” on every page we sent out so we had an excuse to set the bottom margin higher; that was our Marketing Department’s “solution” to this tech issue.

Same Old Song and Dance

The stories of Apple and “that other tech giant” are far from isolated incidents – heck, Apple’s iOS 5 issues aren’t even the only bug issue with a potentially marketing background that we’ve seen this week!

In addition to Apple’s own iOS issues, Google also announced on Wednesday that it is pulling its iOS Gmail app from iPhone App Stores due to a bug that causes a “notification error.” The Gmail app for iOS didn’t last long on the app stores “shelves” as the bug was discovered soon after its launch this week.

Not long after having touted the "triumphant debut," the official Gmail Blog updated its launch post with the following note:

Earlier today we launched a new Gmail app for iOS. Unfortunately, it contained a bug which broke notifications and caused users to see an error message when first opening the app. We’ve removed the app while we correct the problem, and we’re working to bring you a new version soon. Everyone who’s already installed the app can continue to use it.

If you continue to read down the blog, we get some insight into why, perhaps, the new app went “out the door” before it was bug free. In looking at the features of the new Gmail app for iPhone, the first and most spelled-out list of features come under the heading, “Speed.”

Since speed is something that is invariably being pushed for by the Marketing folks, I can be pretty sure this was another case of Marketing pushing the development team and the developers responding by delivering a product that it had not fully checked for issues.

I’ll say it again, companies across the globe want speed, but they should not sacrifice quality for speed. In the end, there is speed in diligence because performing the due diligence of assessing the structural quality of application software leads to an optimal quality product being made available sooner.

Besides, it would be nice to get back to a time when quality mattered more than marketing!

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Jonathan Bloom
Jonathan Bloom Technology Writer & Consultant
Jonathan Bloom has been a technology writer and consultant for over 20 years. During his career, Jon has written thousands of journal and magazine articles, blogs and other materials addressing various topics within the IT sector, including software development, enterprise software, mobile, database, security, BI, SaaS/cloud, Health Care IT and Sustainable Technology.
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