ARE WE ALL PART OF AN ENDLESS OPEN-ENDED BETA TEST?

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There was a time in the not so distant past when developers and programmers were tasked with designing products to work on the largest universe of platforms and operating systems possible. This was universally accepted practice, except perhaps at Apple, and it was good for consumers. But now, your Google invite won’t populate an Outlook calendar (this is progress?), and Google has a phone, so they’re not going to cooperate with Apple anymore, it’s easy to see that coming.  Cars are the new device frontier, but that means that car makers will start to favor one operating system over another, which is going to be inconvenient, and they’ve already figured out how to put advertising on the NAV in your car (and this is being hyped as a positive development?). Everyone has a music streaming service, but the songwriters hate all of them because of the rights issues, and that’s not even addressing the quality problems with digital compression of music files. Machine learning has become a giant snowball rolling down a mountain at breakneck speed and we’ve already seen some of the funny and not so funny byproducts of that (remember the Cortana introduction?). Everyone is developing a driverless car, although who decides the threshold for safety standards is anyone’s guess when driverless capability is just another software update. It’s one thing for an app to have bugs, or even a phone, but a car? You can get a 4K TV (actually now that’s all you can get) but no one has figured out how to get good sound out of a paper-thin speaker so the picture is great but you can’t understand the dialogue without spending more money buying a speaker system for your TV.

Exactly how is all this serving you, the consumer?

Apple used to have a really nice functionality in Iphoto which you could use to make photo albums and have them printed and delivered. Now Iphoto is gone, it’s just “photos” and it looks suspiciously like an app designed to store photos in an iphone. Oh, and Facebook has “moments”, another picture storage app with an icon that looks almost exactly the same as “photos”. Even worse, there is now a function in “photos” that chooses pictures for you and creates an album using some sort of algorithm. Who in the world wants an algorithm to choose their photos for them? Did they do any customer research whatsoever before they did this? And it’s impossible to figure out how to disable it and arrange your pictures manually.

Lately, we have been having some trouble with our high speed internet service from (you guessed it) Time Warner Cable (I know, it’s now Spectrum). After replacing the modum three times, and buying a new router, the problem still hasn’t gone away, so I decided to get someone from tech support on the phone. It turns out the problem is a recent update that inadvertently cuts the connection to the Ethernet ports randomly for no reason. I’m told there will soon be another update that will correct the problem, and it, of course, will download automatically onto our modum, just like the last one. That’s right, the one that created the problem in the first place.

And let’s talk about location accuracy on your phone, specifically these little messages reminding you that perhaps it’s time to leave for that appointment, or letting you know once you’re there what the traffic is like, and how long it’s going to take you to get home. Did you opt in for those, or sign up? And there’s a new one, now. When you park your car, it tells you that it’s marked your location so you can find your car later if you lose it. Is this Google, or Apple, or Waze? Which map do I go to if I actually want to use the thing? When I clicked on it to test it, it showed me half of the west side of LA. How is that going to help me find my car?

Remember when everyone used to make fun of Microsoft because they always rushed their products to market and they were always full of bugs? In retrospect, it seems quaint, since now it’s the norm, and guess who is the guinea pig – you, the consumer.

In between all the hype and the emotive TV commercials about the wonderful world of technology is another reality - altogether too many updates that create problems just as often as they solve them, and “improvements” that don’t improve anything, and new functionality that’s just a partial step in a process designed to get you used to something you’ll get in the next update whether you want it or not.

It’s like Westworld, but you don’t know if you’re a visitor, or you’re reliving another version of the same reality every day. You’re living in an endless beta test.  

Someone please tell me, are we customers, or hostages?

T. Alex Blum