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On the iSync fiasco that didn't have to happen

Apple's paranoia is inhibiting Quality

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Steve Jobs should pause for thought before carrying out one of the ritual executions that follow a public humiliation. The fiasco over the release of the iSync software update - which lost real data central to users' lives - could have been easily avoided.

iSync brought 20 new devices under the umbrella, from several different handset manufacturers. Bluetooth has always been dogged with compatibility issues, and this was a disaster waiting to happen. But it didn't have to be this way, had Apple abandoned its traditional secrecy policy a smidgen, and undergone a real beta program with real users. This need not even have been a public beta. However the most catastrophic bugs could have found within hours.

For example, Rendezvous needs to a punch a hole through the OS X Firewall. So does the new iSync update. Ideally iSync would have opened port 3004 itself, just like all the other software that needs to get through the firewall. But the word didn't get out: it simply wasn't documented.

Apple chose to create a marketing event, a 'big bang' instead. The iSync release led the Apple website on Tuesday, with a smart graphic of raining phones. Then our troubles began.

A reader, Richard Phillips, says this attitude is endemic.

"Apple do seem to be releasing stuff that should really still be in beta at the moment," he writes. "Take a look at the Apple site discussion groups regarding the new iPod (which I have) it's so bug prone it's next to useless.

"And this time it's not just Apple users asking for the Lilly to be gilted, there seems to be a whole raft of problems with it - most of which should never have got past the QA stage."

We understand - and we hope it's not true - that Apple failed to contact the handset vendors for technical data which would have guaranteed better interoperability. To some extent, everyone does Bluetooth their own way, hence the need for plug-fests.

Instead of a plug-fest, we got a bug-fest.

While Apple's secrecy is understandable in advance of the introduction of major new products, it's unforgivable for potentially catastrophic software releases.

We must ask Apple to stop experimenting on humans as live guinea pigs, and allow the QA guys to introduce a form of vivisection we know in the software business as a "Beta Program".

Apple's leadership in Bluetooth is impressive, especially compared to the horrific user experience of Bluetooth on Windows. Let's hope it learns the lessons and gets back on track. ®

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