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MobileMe Status Page Promises Updates, But Tone Rings Flat

Apple has finally responded to the criticism of their lack of disclosure about MobileMe problems in the last two weeks by providing a more detailed status page that they promise to update “every other day or so.” The messages there as of 27-Jul-08 explain how the broken parts of MobileMe are still being fixed.

The most vexing issues for an apparently small number of MobileMe users – Apple consistently says it’s 1 percent – was an inability to access email via or an email client, as well as to send email, starting on 18-Jul-08.

The first status message says that a temporary solution has been put in place that will let those affected users retrieve email sent since that date, receive new email, as well as send email. The message “regret[s] to report the loss” of about 10 percent of messages received between July 16th and 18th, too. (Apple could have offered to forward people’s email as soon as the problem stretched more than a day, or helped people set up accounts at Gmail, for crying out loud.)

The target is now August 1st for full access to mail stored or received before July 18th. The message implies that this is a rolling solution, with an ever-increasing number of affected users gaining access to their older mail before August 1st.

There’s not much of an apology in there; an attitude of passivity pervades the regrets, as in “One issue we encountered.” That’s not quite passive voice – “an issue was encountered by us” – but it’s not in the spirit of acknowledging faults, either. This isn’t an island previously unknown by humanity: it’s a system you developed, Apple, and you didn’t encounter the issue, it’s an epiphenomenon of your design and transition choices.

The message notes that the team “has fixed over 70 bugs,” which confirms most users’ impressions that MobileMe launched as an unofficial beta. We don’t know the severity of all these bugs – Apple provides no transparency on these kinds of issues – so it’s hard to evaluate fully and fairly.

In Macworld, TidBITS editor Jeff Carlson reviewed the MobileMe service, and its synchronized integration with the iPhone and Mac OS X desktop. He gave the service a 3.5 mouse rating, and received oceans of criticism in the comments from folks for whom the service isn’t working well, or who fall into the supposed 1 percent who had no MobileMe email.

Macworld editorial director Jason Snell responded in comments to critics of the review, who accuse him, Jeff, and Macworld of accepting compensation from Apple in exchange for a “positive” review, which Jeff’s hardly was. It’s tricky to review a service that works perfectly fine for the vast majority of users, when the reviewer doesn’t experience the problems other people report.

(For the record, despite my indignation, MobileMe now works perfectly for me, except an inability to upgrade my account to a Family Pack, which Apple is aware of as a problem. Apple is overwhelmed with support requests, and after waiting 30 minutes to start a text chat via their support Web site, and another 15 or 20 minutes to work through it with the rep, I was told that while it would be fixed, there was no way for Apple to notify me that a problem I’d reported was resolved. Which is, frankly, absurd; it’s as if they don’t track requests and resolutions.)

The initial status message galls me somewhat because it’s a pretense to accept responsibility for a problem without actually doing so. The tone of regret is flat and off-key. It’s the tone of a restaurant server who doesn’t actually care that they lost your order trying to pretend that he or she is sorry in order to not lose the tip.

Even the introduction noting “Steve Jobs has asked me” rings flat: the note isn’t signed. Who are you, anonymous MobileMe product manager? Suck it up, and own up! The second posting is signed “David G.,” which is at least a step in the right direction, although not much of one, since signing the note “Zaphod Beeblebrox” would be equally as informative (or more so, since we’d at least know that the signer wasn’t going to use his real name).

Apple’s level of secrecy around new products and services appears increasingly unwise, because the firm is losing the valuable services of private and public betas. As a reviewer, I’ve found numerous bugs in the shipping versions of nearly every Apple product I’ve tested, including show-stopping ones. Time Capsule was a notable case, shipping with widely experienced problems.

Beta testing outside a company is a key step in most product development, and it prevents embarrassing omissions – things a company’s employees don’t think of testing, or perhaps even try to slide by as an edge case. I’ve found many of those problems, as I’m Mr. Edge Case; with MobileMe, many users found these problems.

MobileMe is a special case in that it’s hard to predict how applications will scale (although there are tools to test that). However, it’s time to tell Apple that the wall of silence doesn’t benefit you or your users. Mr. Jobs, tear down this wall.

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