Memo to Microsoft: stop reading the comments

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This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of CRN magazine.

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Memo to Microsoft: stop reading the comments

In the tech pundit business — particularly in the online tech pundit business — we have a rule: don’t read the comments. Once you’ve published something, it’s out there and you’ll be judged on it fairly or unfairly. Reading the comments is just a path to madness.

Oh sure, you might read the first few comments on a given article. These will be written by the keenest readers with the freshest perspective. They may contain important insights or even point out flaws in your reasoning that can inform future articles. That sort of reader feedback is why we have comments in the first place. 

But beyond the first few, you just don’t look. Because after a while, the crazies come out. After about the tenth comment — if your article is lucky enough to attract ten comments — someone is near-certain to have mentioned the Nazi party, at least obliquely. The longer the discussion goes on, the crazier it will get, and whatever point you were trying to make in the original article will be quite lost in trying to prove that you personally didn’t fake the moon landings.

(Naturally I’m not referring to CRN readers here — you guys are the best! Please don’t hurt me.)

Which brings me to Microsoft. Earlier this year Microsoft announced the successor to the XBox 360, dubbed XBox One. It announced various aspects of the device, including the obligatory “cloud” features that every technological thing must include nowadays. Of course “cloud” means online, so the thing wants to be connected as often as possible.

That’s actually pretty fair — in an era when most folks who might be interested in an XBox One carry an always-connected phone with them everywhere they go, what could be the problem?

Oh, it was a problem. As was the requirement for the Kinect thingummybob to be plugged into it, whether the game you were playing required it or not. That was supposed to encourage developers to think of the Kinect as integral, not as a bonus, enabling a new paradigm of interaction. But apparently it turns Microsoft into Big Brother, monitoring and controlling every aspect of our lives. With a game machine.

Or something.

The internet went, if you will excuse my language, ape-poop over these enhancements to Microsoft’s gaming console, demanding the removal of a requirement that the device be constantly online. Microsoft demurred, and said the device only needed to “check in” once every 24 hours, but that wasn’t good enough. More simian excreta later, the XBox One no longer requires an internet connection at all. Victory! 

Of course, the “cloud” features, including the ability to login to an account on any XBox One to play your games, are gone along with it. And that new control paradigm will have to wait for some future XBox, since Redmond backflipped on the Kinect requirement too.

Here’s the thing: Microsoft knows — or should know — much more about its strategy for its products than online commenters do. Microsoft is struggling at the moment with the perception that it has no clear strategy — not just for XBox, but for mobile products and even Windows. In order to erase that perception it needs to follow through on its plans, not keep changing them with the whimsy of the masses.

Maybe its plans will not succeed, and maybe they will. But surely it’s better to be wrong than to look like you just don’t know.

Matthew JC. Powell can be contacted on mjcp@me.com. Be gentle.


Apple readies new iPhone

Leaked images in advance of Apple’s iPhone launch event in early September have indicated that rumours of a low-cost iPhone with a plastic casing appear to be well-founded. Whether the device will be sold in all markets to try and shore up Apple’s market share against low-end Android devices, or whether it will be targeted at emerging markets where high-end devices including the iPhone haven’t taken hold, we’ll find out after Apple’s announcement.

There will also be a high-end version of the iPhone (rumours call it the iPhone 5S — we’ll find out) but it’s not known in advance of the announcement how different the two devices will be beyond the materials used. If they are similarly-capable but it’s a choice between aluminium and plastic, the cheaper device may cannibalise sales of the more profitable version. If the capabilities of the devices are too dissimilar, it may open Apple up to the same argument of “fragmentation” that has dogged Android’s development.

The launch should also see the final release of iOS 7, which was shown to developers in June. — M.JC.P.

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