Why the "beta culture" will have to change

Summary:Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo voices a concern that many tech enthusiasts are already bound to be aware of - that companies are too willing to push unfinished products out of the door, and that customers are too willing to pay for them!

Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo voices a concern that many tech enthusiasts are already bound to be aware of - that companies are too willing to push unfinished products out of the door, and that customers are too willing to pay for them!

I'm tired of this. This sense of permanent discomfort with the technology around me. The bugs. The compromises. The firmware upgrades. The "This will work in the next version." The "It's in our roadmap." The "Buy now and upgrade later." The patches. The new low development standards that make technology fail because it wasn't tested enough before reaching our hands. The feeling now extends to hardware: Everything is built to end up in the trash a year later, still half-baked, to make room for the next hardware revision.

You know, as much as I love being surrounded by (and sometimes immersed in) technology, I feel a lot like Diaz does. I'm not expecting perfection, but more and more I'm seeing products that are sold that are bordering on unacceptable (and some that are totally unacceptable and really unfit for purpose). I've handled products where, all jokes aside, the box they came in was the most useful and long-lived item.

There is, undoubtedly, an attitude of "ship now, fix later" among both hardware and software manufacturers. In fact, the attitude has become so prevalent that it's hard for a company to compete if it doesn't adopt the same shoddy attitude, even if it goes against the DNA of the company. Over the past ten years or so I've seen companies that used to be well known for shipping robust, solid products enthusiastically embrace the "ship now, fix later" and have taken it to the point where they're shipping products nowadays that they would once have been too embarrassed to do. Which companies do this? Diaz's piece lists many of the biggest culprits.

At the top of Diaz's hit-list is the iPhone:

Take the iPhone, for example, one of the most successful products in the history of consumer electronics. We like it, I love mine, but the fact is that the first generation was rushed out, lacking basic features that were added in later releases or are not here yet. Worse: The iPhone 3G was really broken. For real. Bad signal, dropped calls, frozen apps. This would have been unthinkable in cellphones just five years ago.

I agree. But to exclusively paint a bull's eye on the iPhone is somewhat unfair. that said, it's a good example of how bad things have become.

So, what's going to fix this attitude? Diaz touches on the economy and how the downturn might help improve things:

Maybe the recession will put some order in this thirst of new stuff and change the product cycles. As the economy slows down, people will think twice before buying the latest and greatest; they'll keep older hardware for longer.

Darn right. In fact, the boom-time that we experience for the past few years is partly responsible for "ship now, fix later." To put it simply, people have had too much money (or too easy access to credit) and this has meant that people are willing to put their cash down for things that don't fully fill their needs. If I stick with the iPhone example that Diaz bought up, I'm convinced that if this product had been released during tough economic times, it wouldn't have been lacking in basic features such as cut-and-paste and MMS messaging. The fact that the iPhone was released without supporting basic functionality, and the fact that despite these glaring it became the the successful product that it did, says an awful lot about both the company selling it, and the people buying it.

As money (or more specifically, credit, because people don't feel like they are spending their own money when spending credit) tightens up, people will demand better products, longer lifespans and more features for their money. Who says there aren't upsides to a rocky economy!

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility


Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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