Applying transformations to your bugs

July 16, 2010

Today there was this presentation from Apple to talk about the famous iPhone4 antenna problem. I’ll represent this problem (bug) with the picture below made by one of INdT’s designers (Patricia Montenegro) some time ago:

The Bug

The Bug - watch out the way it looks to you!

To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything “technical” in the sense that I wasn’t expecting a technical explanation to the problem itself (you can find it in numerous places on the web) or for a possible solution, but I wanted to watch how Jobs would deal with with the situation.

Being honest again, he did what he does best! At first, he acknowledged the problem as it couldn’t be denied. Then he said that actually they did a favor to the smartphone’s industry because there were other phones with the same problem (showed pictures of other phones having the same issue – what doesn’t prove much, but…) but instead of “hiding” the antenna and hiding the problem, they actually put a big “X” on the problem (see picture below).

iPhone4 antenna

iPhone4 antenna

From my point of view it was just what we would call a “n00b” mistake :). I mean, Apple is doing phones since not so many time ago. It’s their 4th device (iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone4 now), and they just didn’t face this problem before and had the brilliant idea. The problem may show up on other phones? Sure, but I’m sure that the other manufacturers know about the problem and try to “fix” it, being that hiding the antenna inside the case or whatever.

The next steps were just the table’s “turn over” (not sure if this expression exists in English, but it works pretty well in Portuguese :P): some (small) numbers about the how many people were actually affected by the bug. It was less than 1 in a 100 users (a beautiful way of saying less than 1% hehe). They get these numbers from the people that actually complained at Apple Care about the issue so those out there that just reading Engadget and Gizmodo about the issue were not counted of course.

But besides the number being so small, Apple does care about it’s users. All of them. See the kind of words used here? This is the place to do the magic trick. This is the place where you say that you’re not evil or bad but you actually care. Just after stating that you human enough to make mistakes, you ensure your “human position” showing that you care about others. Genious! It’s a statement that just makes the others stronger ;).

In order to take care of those 1% Apple will give for free cases for the iPhones, what prevents the bug and users will even be able to choose colors! And if they do not want the case, then a refund is offered. In Brazil this would be something that they would need to do because of the law: if you sell something that doesn’t work, you need to refund. I’m not sure how this works out on US but anyway, he transformed the user’s “right” into a company’s “feature”. Points again for Apple and Jobs for playing nice with the words.

After that, it was just more slides about all the nice features of iPhone4, why you should have one and more and more statements that Apple loves it’s users (yes, the word love is used in all the slides).

Apple and Love

Apple and Love

Summary: from the technical point of view it was just “we don’t have a way to fix this as this is a hardware problem and it’s a huge problem then.”. But saying so is the same as pushing the picture of our fellow bug in every user’s face.

Instead of doing that, they will solve the issue by giving the users a rubber case that costs less than 1 dollar and then create a link between the users and the company that is: “we are all humans. have you ever made a mistake? this is our first mistake. sorry. take this gift. ah, by the way we love you.”. This creates compassion (every human did something wrong once in his life) and then people stop bashing the company and it’s product. This “love history” also reinforces that they are humans, enabling them to screw things eventually. So with a few minutes, Jobs got our fellow and dressed him properly transforming The Bug in a Feature:

The feature - not so ugly anymore!

The feature - not so ugly anymore!

From my point of view, the truth is that Apple is a company with a product that costs you some money and just like any other company in any other industry, the products should be properly tested and should not have this kind of problems that are not solvable (what if they didn’t have the luck of the case solving the issue?). The good about open source products is that at least from the software side we can fix stuff as quick as possible. So please vendors: pay attention to the hardware you manufacture and leave them as open as possible to software that we want to put into that! :D

17 Responses to “Applying transformations to your bugs”

  1. The statement “Apple loves you” make me remember an old episode of Futurama in which Mom said “I love each and every robot most of all”. Indeed Mom holds the copyright of the word “love”.
    lol :D

  2. I was held in suspension of disbelief until that part about open source which is a complete non-sequitur. It would do no harm if you pruned it off.

    Now, you raise an interesting question and leave it unanswered… Companies must strive for hardware as flawless as possible. If however a serious defect slips into production, as was the case with Apple, what should the company do?

  3. @André: What do you mean by “non-sequitur”? My point about dealing with software is that it’s much easier than dealing with hardware, and with open source even easier as we do not have all the bureaucracy that a big company has (just remember the release of the N900 PR1.2 firmware: it took a long time to be released).

    About the solution of the slippery of problems into production: if that happens then there is not much to do besides what Apple did. Apple managed that in the best way that it could be managed. That’s why I admire Jobs: he turns bugs into features very easily and with his speech, people just believe. That’s the only thing you can do to contain damage and Apple does that very well. Now, the real solution is that you just don’t let this kind of problem slip into production. You spent a lot of money and the project exists for at *least* 2 years before being released: come on, for big companies it just can’t happen in today’s world (and it happens regularly – just look at the automotive industry. but there they can change parts of a car ;) ).

    Cheers,

  4. Easy: Recall it, take the costs of doing so, repair it or exchange it, and everyones happy. Thats how other industries deal with such problems. A company like Apple, making a few BILLIONS clear net profit per quarter, should be able to deal with that.

  5. @Andre: Recalling would be an option. The thing is that today Apple mostly relies on iPhone’s sells. It would open a *huge* hole on their wallet doing a recall. That’s one of the the bad sides of having your entire profit relying on ~ just 1 product. So for them it was just not an option. Much cheaper to give a one dollar rubber case and marketing that as a good thing than breaking your wallet ;) That was their trick.

  6. I’m pretty sure the English version of the table turning line is “turn the tables” – a reversal of fortunes, from unfavorable to favorable, usually with your opponents fortunes going from favorable to unfavorable. Jobs does have the sort of charisma used car salesmen and politicians would kill for.

  7. @morpheuz

    Sorry, I misread what you wrote. Mea maxima culpa.

  8. Digg is a must, holy words. Apple sucks: closed and now also broken.

    http://digg.com/apple/Apple_Bug_transformation_iPhone_4_antenna_problem

    BTW I’ve used the MacBook of my brother (with Ubuntu) for ~1 month because I had a problem and it is *really* an annoying laptop, I don’t understand how people spend so much money in these products, my Asus UL30 is far better (weight, battery life, keyboard, touchpad, price, comfort) and I spent 300 € less for it!

  9. There’s no a single reason to buy a messed up iphone. It doesn’t support real multitasking and we’ve got 2010! Linux supports it since ages… Android kill this crap.

  10. “The good about open source products is that at least from the software side we can fix stuff as quick as possible.”

    It’s not completely true to my point if view. No matter what type of project, it need some management, and some care for bugs to be fixed quickly and efficiently.

    KDE4 is a good exemple… of bad management. KDE4 is a monster, plenty of people and apps, everyone wanting to make THE feature. But in the meantime, some bugs are here and confirmed for more than a year. Some bug reports have no answer at all…
    What are the devs doing? Working on 4.6 new shiny features in trunk… But 4.5 is far from being stable, and will be released soon. On the other side, Windows7 is much more stable than any other Windows… and than any KDE4 version.

    So it’s not a problem of open or closed sources, it’s a problem of management.

    But that’s only my point of view as someone who was trying to test KDE4 dev versions and report bugs when I saw them. But I gave up since nobody cares ;).

  11. Nice Deconstruction, I also do it any and everytime I have to listen to a politician.

  12. Yep, it has problems with antenna, but the media made the problem very big, as you mentioned, almost all phones have also problem. But those guys at Apple where smart talking about the problem.

    I won’t buy an iPhone, better an Android based one, but if someone gives me and free iPhone I will have no problems :)

    P.D. What has this to do you with… KDE?

  13. Great article!

  14. @Loacoon what you write is completely wrong imo.

    First of all you generalize like hell, go to bko.org and look at the bug-closing-stats. You see plenty people caring about bugs. And second you generalize even more, it is not all about features, not for everyone.

    On answering bug reports. Well would it be useful if I wrote “have no time for it atm., but it is on my plate for the future” to any bug that is not high on my TODO list? Same is true for wishes. In some occations the bugs aren’t that “bad” yet fixing them would take huge amounts of time, so those are low on my list as well.

    In fact I appreciate that there are people reporting bugs and I answer asap on important bugs that have to do with my code. Yet I do that in my free time and bko is for managing bugs not for constant communication with the bug reporters.

  15. Just must share a comment I just heard at good news show on a channel of a brazilian stupid company … Apple’ve cheated, copying one of Brazil’s measures on carnaval (the worst, BTW, but that’s a different story): they’re distributing condoms! (please, no — obvious — jokes about consumers’ situation, ok?)

  16. @mat69 : I don’t care much about answering to bug reports if they are fixed. But they are not. And I’m not talking about the hidden little bug on an obscure app.
    For example, Konqueror has plenty of ugly bugs, reported for monthes, confirmed by many people, and never worked on.
    Dolphin became a hell recently, crashing really often, freezing and all. Peter Penz used to care much about this, but since a few monthes, bug reports are ignored.

    These are main KDE apps. They HAVE to be stable.

    In fact I sometimes wonder if KDE devs are actually using their product….

  17. @Loacoon “In fact I sometimes wonder if KDE devs are actually using their product…”

    Products?! AHHAHA, are you Mr. Jobs :P? KDE, GNU/Linux and free software in general is *not a product*, is a community, a family, an idea, not just a stupid product you can buy.

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