We're entering the tech doldrums—that time after Apple, Google, and Microsoft have held their big conferences and Samsung, Nokia, and the rest have done their big product reveals. In a few months, we'll be speculating about what will be the hot holiday products.
But right now is when I like to take stock of those things that still irritate me as a technology user. Rather than shove more products down our throats, why can't they just make the current ones we have work right? In an era when so much is done in software rather than hardware, and updates flow over high-speed networks, there's just no reason why giant tech companies can't fix these problems.
I'm not a complainer by disposition: I try to balance the list of things that drive me up the wall with the feeling of wonder that I get from the some of the new great things that I have found. It gives me a little perspective and puts a smile on my face when I push away from my desk and head out for a beach walk. But I thought it would be helpful to share what's bothered me—maybe these oversights, errors, or bad decisions bother you, too.
Here's my summer 2013 list of tech misdeeds.
People still send me full-sized pictures by email. It is by far the worst offense and has held that spot for years. With all the options out there for viewing and sharing pictures on the Web, no one needs multimegabyte copies of photos.
Who should fix this: Apple, Microsoft, and Google all make email clients and have file-sharing services. They should mash them up and make file-sharing links, not raw file attachments, the default behavior. Now, Google does allow Google Drive as a sharing option; Microsoft does likewise with SkyDrive. But Apple is AWOL on this issue, and neither Google nor Microsoft does enough to educate users about this option.
Should the services themselves not step up, I'd love to see file-sharing service Dropbox and its recent Mailbox acquisition to swoop in and fix the problem.
Following closely with large images in my inbox is expecting me to respond to a Facebook message in a timely fashion. It just makes no sense. I have no shortage of real email addresses. There is absolutely no Facebook link on my real emails, and unless Facebook is the only way you do electronic messaging, you can be certain that you have never gotten a Facebook message from me. There are a lot of ways to get my attention. Facebook just isn’t one of them.
Who should fix this: This one's on Mark Zuckerberg & Co. He keeps promising to reinvent and simplify email. How about a simple way to opt out of Facebook messaging altogether and redirect any messages people try to send via Facebook to my inbox?
In November 2010, I decided to upgrade my Adobe Dreamweaver Web-authoring software. I had lost my most recent serial number, but I had an online chat with an Adobe representative who assured me that everything would work. As soon as I bought the product and downloaded it, I found it wouldn’t work. The rep dropped the chat and told me I would have to talk to support. That was the wrong answer. Adobe eventually fixed the problem with a new copy of Dreamweaver. In a box. Sent by FedEx to my house.
Who should fix this: Hopefully this problem's in the past, as Adobe's now pushing its online Creative Cloud as a replacement for old-fashioned desktop software installs. But moving software to the cloud means you can't mess around with activation codes, logins, and permissions.
Clouds That Go Poof
Another cloud conundrum: Telling me that my data is safe with you and then pulling the rug out from under me. Apple, are you listening? I have lived through .Mac and MobileMe. I will not be taken in by iCloud. I am pretty sure that I still have links out there which go to now non-existent things that were once hosted by Apple.
Who should fix this: Maybe consumers should vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere when companies drop cloud services. Or maybe we need some kind of regulation. At the very least, we should more actively shame companies like Apple when they do this. The creator of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has declared that it's not cool to change links or make them disappear. More people should listen to him.
Companies keep trying to slip in an unwanted product with a product that I wanted until you tried to trick me. I gave up on Java just because I hated having to wait to tell Oracle that I did not want whatever toolbar they were peddling. ZDNet's Ed Bott calls this "foistware"—software that's foisted on unsuspecting users. I call it "sneakware."
Who should fix this: Oracle seems to be the main holdout, with past offenders like Skype mending their ways. (I started to give Adobe props for doing likewise, but just this morning found it trying to foist an unwanted toolbar on me while I was upgrading Flash. Bah.)
In the age of app stores, there's no reason why carriers and handset makers should be installing apps for us. Yet they do—and worse, it seems to work to help them sell phones. I don't get it. All I see are apps that I do not want and will never use. Trust me—if the app has “NFL” in its name, I do not need it.
But what are my alternatives? Apple does a great job stopping carriers from installing software on the iPhone, but I don't want to go the iPhone route. In the Android world, there's the Nexus, with just Google's basic Android setup—but when I tried to buy it through Verizon, I couldn't.
Who should fix this: For consumers like me, carriers and handset makers should at least offer a no-apps option. I might even pay a little extra not to get them.
Upgrades That Force Updates
Why do computer makers force me to move to a new version of my desktop applications—often, one that requires buying a paid upgrade or a new version—just because I got a new version of an operating system preinstalled on a new computer? I have lost count of the times this has happened to me. Of course this is the way our tech industry operates, but it feels like extortion. That is why I spend more and more time using Linux.
Who should fix this: There's no reason why desktop apps shouldn't just update over the network automatically, like mobile apps do. Fortunately, Apple and Microsoft seem to be learning from the mobile world, moving to app-store models of automatic updates on the desktop, too.
Remember my "iLemon" experience with my iMac? Telling me you are going to solve my problem and explaining you cannot fix the exact problem which I told you I had in the first place is just unacceptable. And you shouldn't need a fancy extended warranty to get problems rooted in manufacturing fixed.
Who should fix this: Apple and other PC makers should expand the kinds of problems they'll fix under a basic warranty, and extend the warranty periods—without extra charges.
The Dreaded Reboot
Rebooting my computer without my permission just should not happen. Microsoft loves to do this.
Almost as bad: Windows tells me that I cannot turn my computer off at the most inopportune time because it has to install updates.
Who should fix this: This one's entirely on Redmond.
Yes, I get that computer companies want to make money by selling new hardware. But a lot of organizations get by with old, donated equipment—like schools, churches, and nonprofits. I tried to set up my son's old Apple AirPort Express Wi-Fi router at our church. The AirPort utility on my Mac didn't work to set it up. Apple's support forums referenced "Apple's non-existent solution" to the problem. I found a workaround: Apple's version of the AirPort software for Windows 7 still worked. Apple isn’t the only one guilty of this type of stuff, but they are a very good poster child.
Who should fix this: This seems like a basic fairness issue, since it's the people and organizations with the least resources who are often stuck using older gear. Every tech company should support old hardware and software as long as it can.
It's Not All Bad
I thought I'd have more complaints, but this list isn't nearly as long as I thought it would be. Most of this stuff has been happening to me for so long that it's like water off a duck’s back.
Still, it would be nice if tech companies focused on fixing these everyday grievances of ordinary users, rather than rushing out a bunch of new gadgets and services—all of which will likely have their own bugs, defects, and annoyances—before the summer break.
Even so, I haven't lost my appreciation for what new technology brings. One small example: I was able to watch and comment the other night in real time on Google Docs as my editor worked on one of my submissions. For me, the wonder still outweighs the irritants. But I sure feel better getting these complaints off my chest.
Images via the film "Office Space"