June 2009 Archives

Speaking of To Update or Not?

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The other day I came across a blog post from a non-developer at Microsoft complaining about the "fan" mentality of users (notable in this case users of Apple's iPhone) who feel the need to "upgrading every 20 seconds." Said poster goes on to note that, at least in the Windows world, upgraders are more cautious, "prefer[ing] to give a major upgrade a couple of months to bed down."

Naturally this post resulted in a bunch of comments around the theme of "well if initial releases of major Microsoft updates, such as Vista didn't suck, users won't have to wait months before updating"

My first thought, along the lines of the comments made by others, suggests that perhaps the two companies approach software development in different manners, resulting in software releases with different levels of stability and usability and thus resulting in the difference in why one set of users - Apple iPhone users - might differ in upgrade behavior from another set of users - Windows users.

Specifically, while the stages of software development are pretty straightforward; Planning, Design (specification and architecture), Implementation (coding, testing and documenting), Deployment and Maintenance the actual implementation of these stages varies. There are numinous methods for implementing these basic development stages.

However, as far as I know, there has been very little written, case studies or otherwise, about the adoption of any specific software development method at Microsoft for Windows or at Apple for OS X development or how the two compare to each other. And in any case, while stability and reliability are important when it comes to the adoption of software updates, any short comings that may or may not exist in Microsoft's (or Apple's) development methodologies are hardly to blame.

When considering a software update a user, consumer or business, is going to determine the cost incurred by the upgrade and the benefit from adopting the upgrade. Pretty straightforward right? All most too basic to even mention.

Now, a consumer considering the latest software has to consider the cost to purchase the upgrade in terms of time and money. What is the cost of purchasing the new software? Does the software upgrade require a hardware upgrade as well? All of which gets compared to the the benefit the update brings to the consumer's computing chores.

Same of a business, but in their case their cost includes having to pay for their IT staff to update numinous devices within the company and teach the users about the benefit of the update, thus adding an additional significant cost.

Now I break up users into consumer and business types because one might argue that the percentage of iPhone users falls heavily in favor of the customer-type of user, while there is a significant percentage of businesses dependent on Windows and a business might sit and wait to test an update to verify the update's stability and benefits1 once released. Hence the difference between Apple iPhone user's quickly adopting the latest 3.0 software release and Microsoft Windows users who wait.

However, in reality, even before the release is fully available businesses will already have a copy of the update in hand for testing2 since software companies such as Apple and Microsoft have developer programs which allow those dependent on their software insight to what's coming down the road, while also providing feedback about potential concerns and issues with adoption.

So then, why the difference?

In the case of the iPhone 3.0 update the cost is $0 and 30 minutes to apply the update to one phone. The update does not require an additional hardware upgrade and provides significant improvements to productivity compared to previous software versions.

Windows Vista however starts at around $130 per update copy and can require significant investment in new hardware parts as well. Add to that various issues Microsoft has had in communicating requirements and potential benefits of Vista against various complaints about stability and performance and it becomes clear why iPhone users are quickly adopting their latest update, while Microsoft Windows users are waiting for Windows 7.


1 Which, I suppose could also be considered an additional cost to upgrading for a business.

2 Which in my mind puts this cost of testing and revewing in terms of normal operation of the IT infrastructure, instead of the cost incurred by the adoption of a new IT project for updating

AT&T Service Questions

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As with others, after Apple announced the new iPhone 3GS last week at its World Wide Developer Conference, I considered my options on upgrading from my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. What follows in the post below is a review of my concerns about AT&T's service and why I was planning on staying with the iPhone 3G.

Between scheduling this post for publishing and now AT&T has release an open letter to their iPhone 3G customers addressing some of the same concerns I note below. Specific to my criticism about determining my upgrade eligibility and the pre 1 year service contract anniversary of the 3G's release, AT&T has clarified that while "customers who spend more than $99 a month per line with [AT&T] generally are eligible for an upgrade between 12 and 18 months into their contract ... and since many of our iPhone 3G customers are early adopters and literally weeks shy of being upgrade eligible ... we're extending the window of upgrade eligibility for a limited time."

As such, those, such as myself, who purchased the iPhone 3G within the first three months of its release can upgrade with the full upgrade discount on the first day of the iPhone 3GS release this week.

I still think AT&T could do better job communicating its upgrade policy online. Plus my MMS criticism still stands. None the less, nice job AT&T.

Original Post
One of my initial concerns about adopting the iPhone was was with AT&T Wireless and its customer and network service. As I noted when the iPhone was first introduced, "I'm quite happy with T-Mobile. I spent hell on earth for many years with Sprint [and] I don't want to switch providers [again]."

When the 3G iPhone came out a year later, I made the jump, despite my concerns about service. I felt the phone itself, with its adoption of faster voice and data service as well GPS was well worth the switch.

Since then one of my biggest issues has been with the iPhone's approach to Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). The lack of ability to send multimedia, such as a photo, as a text message from one phone to another is frustrating. With the latest version of the iPhone's OS the fundamental support of MMS will finally be added to the iPhone. Case close, right?

Nope, AT&T won't be supporting MMS on the iPhone with the new software release, at least not right away. Support will arrive "in late summer." Why the delay? Supposedly because AT&T has to manually enable all iPhone accounts for MMS service.

Wow, that's some service operation AT&T has there...

This might not be all AT&T's fault if the iPhone supported MMS from the start, but it has been suggested that both "Apple and AT&T had initially resisted support for MMS messaging as a protocol, calling it 'ugly'."

I'm not sure I quite buy that, if Apple can develop a new feature, Visual Voicemail, and work with AT&T and other provides on its adoption, why couldn't they do the same for a MMS protocol replacement if MMS was so "ugly?"

Well because the iPhone has built in email support. Why use MMS or build a whole new communication protocol when one can email an image as an attachment to anyone, Right?

If you're trying to send a photo to someone "on the go" that only works if they too can access their email account from their phone. More to my real frustration with how MMS has been handled, if someone elects to send me a MMS, I get a message from AT&T saying that I received an image and, using a randomly generated username and password, have to log into an AT&T website within a specific timeframe in order to see the image. Not exactly the most time efficient method of keeping in touch with people while "on-the-go", even with iPhone's Safari web browser. If AT&T and Apple felt email was the answer, why did AT&T just forward the MMS message to my email account? It's not like they don't already have that information on file.

AT&T also leaves the upgrade process a lot to be desired.

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand that AT&T is a business and is looking to turn a profit. I understand, that if AT&T offers a phone, any phone, at a subsidize price they need to recoup that loss some how. That is why they bind customers to a 2 year contract.

I also realize that the new iPhone 3GS is being released before the 1 year anniversary of the 3G release and while a customer's 1 year anniversary is not necessary the break even point for AT&T, AT&T certainly hasn't made their money back just yet on iPhone 3G customers such as myself.

So with the 3GS release, 3G customers have the option to what? Upgrade by paying the full price of the new phone? Upgrade with at a lower discount? No option at all?

Accessing my account online and using the "Check upgrade option" feature I am told that "as a valued AT&T customer" AT&T can offer me "a discounted iPhone upgrade at a higher price, along with a 2-year commitment and an $18 upgrade fee" and that if I wait, I "may qualify for a full discount on a standard iPhone upgrade on 12/13/2009."

A discounted iPhone upgrade at a higher price?" What is a high priced discount? Can't you just say a "lower discount?"

"I may qualify?" Are you not sure?

Come on AT&T, you know your break even point. You know what your discount rate is. You know what your qualifications for discount are. You can certainly build that logic into your online system, so that instead of some vaguely worded statement, the customer knows exactly what their options are and what it will cost them.

Oh and an $18 upgrade fee? I guess that's one way to make sure the customer service operation is cash flow positive for this financial quarter.

A Twitter Conversation

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A couple of pieces of news from the last few days has me thinking that Twitter might have reached its apogee. Last week I dugg an article about San Francisco's information center using Twitter to connect with residents, allowing them an alternative method for requesting government information and non-emergency services. At first glance the move sounds intriguing, it required no special setup or additional city funds, yet gives San Francisco and its mayor Gavin Newsom, additional tech creds.

Checking out the city's Twitter feed my second thought was how interesting the information might be to aggregate, in a mashup, or some other form. Providing in a quick glance an easy to read indicator on trends within various neighborhoods, what people are worrying about or have issue with.

Then I thought about using it, and here I realize a larger issue (besides the small fact that I no longer reside in San Francisco). Twitter is about conversations, but it is about many-to-many conversations. In the real world you can think of it as a group conversation at a party, people move in and out of the social group and the conversation ebbs and flows on that dynamic.

Well that's the theory at least. A recent Harvard Business School-based study indicates 90% of Twitter's content is generated by only by 10% of its users. The research team notes that "This implies that Twitter resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network".

From Harvard Business Publishing's Conversation Starter Blog, New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets

So Twitter isn't like a group conversation after all. It is more like a lecture. One person speaking to a collection of individuals, with a few participating in a ongoing question and answer session.

What does this have to do with our city information desk? Well if you have something specific to ask someone you'd probably take that person aside to have a direct conversation, callin on a city representative about a specific issue is a one-to-one conversation.

Unless I'm a community organizer, I don't really care to follow the city's Twitter feed. I have a question, I want an answer. Twitter might be my first place to gather information from other people, but it isn't going to be my first choice when directly engaging the question in search of a specific solution.

Overall this means Twitter and microblogging are useful, but only to a point. Which brings us to the crux of Twitter's problem. Unlike Facebook, where writing status updates is one aspect of the overall experience, microblogging is all Twitter is about.

Which might explain why Twitter's online traffic might have reached a plateau. According to Complete, Twitter's monthly traffic numbers increased only 1.47% from April to May of 2009. While one month's worth of data hardly indicates an overall static growth trend, from March to April Twitter experienced a 32.72% increase in traffic which itself was down from a 76.83% increase between February and March. That sure looks like the beginning of a plateau...

Twitter's Unique Visitors as Calulated by Complete

Al Franken's Political Future

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Earlier today the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments on that state's ongoing Senate recount debate. Of course it is too early for Al Franken to finally claim victory as we await for the court's ruling. But, I offer the following wisdom I shared with a few friends on the campaign trail in Minnesota while working on the Campaign for Change:

My Wife, in her infinite wisdom, has decided that after winning a Senate seat this November, Al Franken should position himself to run for the White House after Obama's two terms in office.

After all, with a Democratic President, Senator Franken will help bring real change to Health Care, Education and the Economy in his one and a third terms in office. He will also gain a national platform from which he will be able to showcase his natural skills in communication and leadership.

Of course Democratic presumptive nominee Franken, will need to defined against that old stand-by Republican charge of being a "tax and spend" liberal. As such, he will need to "balance the ticket" with a true fiscal conservative.

This running mate will need to understand the gritty details of financial policy, but will also need to be able to articulate them in "layman's terms" to the general public, someone who perhaps has authored popular books on the topic well also possessing solid conservative credentials.

As a popular writer on personal finances and a regular contributor to the conservative magazine The American Spectator, Ben Stein meets these initial requirements.

Moreover, as a speechwriter and lawyer for President Richard Nixon and later for President Gerald Ford, Mr. Stein has witnessed first-hand how our Executive Branch of government works. His experience and knowledge will provide useful in the initial days of the Franken Administration.

My Wife and I look forward to you joining our grassroots effort to elect this monstrous Franken/Stein ticket in 2016.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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