Friday, July 9, 2010

Electronics - Too Many Updates



This is not usually my most popular topic but I didn’t want folks to think I just abandoned this blog.  At least not willingly.  J  This is what is on my mind and I thought I would jot it down somewhere.  Why not here?


My wife and I have had iPhone’s for some time now.  We like them.  They have really changed the way we do things and they have really benefited our lives positively.  From simple things like traffic detours to the unexpected like quickly and effortlessly splitting dinner bills and tips.  It really is this little applications that make the phone such a great tool.


Most of these applications are free.  After time however when these applications grow in popularity things quickly change.


Apple has enabled the developers to issue software updates to their applications.  As a user, this quickly became a double-edged sword.  The benefit is that the developers have a relatively easy way to push software updates to users.  If the application had a bug that cause it to fail, the developer simply had to submit an update to Apple and upon approval, the update would be offered to them once they sign into the App store or synchronize with iTunes.

Convenient isn’t it?  If only computers would do the same.  Unfortunately this delivery method is more often than not used for greed.  How can I make this outlandish claim?  Well, take a look at a screenshot I took from my iPhone just now.

What are the updates?


1.       A new icon.

2.       Updated advertisements.

3.       Added multi-tasking ability.

4.       Updated advertisements.


First let me explain what this application does.  It is a little app that lets you add tracking numbers of all items that are shipped to you.  You can add DHL, UPS, USPS etc.  Once added you can return to check on your packages and it pulls the data from the respective couriers website to display the packages current status.  It is important to note that all these very same couriers offer that service for free on their own websites which you can access through your phone’s browser.


Now let’s talk about these updates for a second shall we?  #1 adds absolutely nothing to the feature set of the application.  #2 updates ad cross promotion code that the developer mistakenly pushed out.  #3 adds multitasking.  Since packages do not move location every few seconds it is pointless to have this application constantly running in the background.  Even if it did, you would still have to request an update from the couriers website.  A cool but useless update.  Finally #4 adds yet another update to a new advertising format that pays money to the developer that made this data consolidation tool.


If you access these tracking websites often, I will assume if you installed this app then you do, then you can save them as favorite links.  That would save you both space on your phone and the trouble of updating every few weeks.


Ok, now I’m not suggesting that the developers don’t deserve payment for their work.  What I don’t like is that they continue to ask us to pay more for ours in the form of time spent downloading “patches” in the guise of superficial updates and advertisements.  Many developers consider software installation a form of contract.  These updates are a violation of that contract in my opinion of they keep changing the details.


There are other applications that are simply smaller versions of web based applications that are available for free.


Sometimes you even lose features originally given to you in these “updates.”  Pixelpipe is a great example.  That application previously let you upload multiple files at a time.  Convenient so you could continue doing other things and not being forced to wait for one file to complete before you started the upload of another.  In the update list it simply stated “Multi-upload update.”  What it really meant was “multi-upload function removed.”  A feature that was integral to what made the Pixelpipe application so useful was removed.  The developer later disclosed that it was a request from the service provider.  Whether the service provider requested that the developer use that vague and borderline deceptive description is still undecided.


Though consolidating these applications into one location seemed like a great idea in theory, in practice it has become more of a hassle.  My internet browser of choice, Firefox, for example can rarely start without reminding of one update or another for any number of add-ons I have.  If I get it on one device, I know I will have to look forward to it on all the computers I use.


So my advice?  If you use a computer or smart phone with applications that work fine there is no reason to update unless they offer some great new functionality that you can’t live without.  Or there is some severe security hole that must be patched.  Most importantly, NEVER update blindly.