November 21, 2008 Leave a comment
In an incendiary post at GIZMODO, Jesus Diaz lashes out against the appalling creep of “beta” across the technology world.
“Beta” used to mean a product was still being tested behind the scenes, and not yet ready for release. Nowadays, though, it basically just means that the manufacturer is continuing to tinker with it.
Yet given that reputable companies have ALWAYS been committed to upgrading and further developing their quality products, “beta” essentially now means “not obsolete.”
For instance, Gmail is still in beta – just check the logo above. This is a little silly since the webmail product was launched YEARS ago. In fact, Esquire asked “Why is Gmail still in Beta?” almost a year and a half ago!
The answer from Google:
Jason Freidenfelds, a spokesperson for Google, offered the following public relations spin: “‘Beta,’ for us,” he said, “is more of an internal set of requirements and an indication that we continue to work on the product to make it better and better. Google has very high internal metrics that products have to meet before coming out of beta….”
Blah, blah, blah. It seems to us that it’s pretty darn convenient to use “beta” as a catch-all defense against any bugs that might spring up in the product. Love Gmail though we do, it’s kind of absurd to claim that the web’s preeminent webmail program is still in its nascent debugging stages.
Anyway, this is just one instance of the beta creep that has spread across software and now into hardware. Jesus Diaz is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. As he points out, technology used to be built to last. Today’s beta-love is actually translating into screwing over customers…
I’m tired of this. This sense of permanent discomfort with the technology around me. The bugs. The compromises. The firmware upgrades. The “This will work in the next version.” The “It’s in our roadmap.” The “Buy now and upgrade later.” The patches. The new low development standards that make technology fail because it wasn’t tested enough before reaching our hands. The feeling now extends to hardware: Everything is built to end up in the trash a year later, still half-baked, to make room for the next hardware revision. I’m tired of this beta culture that has spread like metastatic cancer in the last few years, starting with software from Google and others and ending up in almost every gadget and computer system around. We need a change.
Take the iPhone, for example, one of the most successful products in the history of consumer electronics. We like it, I love mine, but the fact is that the first generation was rushed out, lacking basic features that were added in later releases or are not here yet. Worse: The iPhone 3G was really broken. For real. Bad signal, dropped calls, frozen apps. This would have been unthinkable in cellphones just five years ago. They were simpler, for sure, but they were failure proof. Today’s engineering and testing is a lot more sophisticated. In theory, products can’t go out into distribution with such glaring problems undetected.
From that to the now-universally-accepted Blue Screen of Death, from buggy Blu-ray players to the Xbox 360’s red ring of death and PS3’s bugs, even from kitchen ovens to faulty DSLR cameras, the list of troubled products is endless. Just this week, the eagerly anticipated BlackBerry Storm launched to mixed reviews, in part because of its crashy, apparently unfinished software.
On the other side, my parents have a Telefunken CRT TV and a Braun radio from the ’70s which are still in working condition. They were first generation. They never failed. Compare that to my first plasma TV from Philips, which broke after less than a year of use. Mine wasn’t the only one. The technology was too young to be released; it was still in beta state. Philips wanted to be the first in the world with a flat TV and beat the competition, so they released it. This probably wasn’t a good move: Today, Philips’ TV business is struggling, and is nonexistent in the US. Meanwhile, my Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Apple IIe from the 1980s still work like they did from day one, perfectly.
Who’s to blame? Google and their web apps? Apple and their iPhone 3G problems? Microsoft and their countless buggy versions of operating systems and the Xbox 360’s RROD? Philips? Sony? Samsung? LG? We all are. The manufacturers, who are driven by a thirst to expand and satisfy their shareholders at all costs. The consumers, who are so thirsty to drink in the shiniest, newest technology that they are willing to sacrifice stability. And the press too, who pours more gasoline onto the consumerism bonfire by writing glowing reviews and often minimizing things that are simply not acceptable.
Personally, I’m tired of all this. But I’m mostly tired about the fact that it seems that we all have given up. Tired because now we see “upgrades” as an opportunity to protect our investment, but in reality, it’s laziness and a poor job on the manufacturer part that we have accepted without questioning. Instead of calling foul play and refusing to participate, we keep buying.
That’s the key: We have surrendered in the name of progress and marketing and product cycles and consumerism. Maybe those are good reasons, I don’t know, but looking at the past, it feels like we are being conned. Deceived because the manufacturers of electronic products have taken our desire to progress faster and even embrace the web beta culture as an excuse to rush things to market, to blatantly admit bugs and the rushed features sets and sell the patches as upgrades.
Stop the insanity!!! Stop selling us products and claiming they’re in beta!
At least the pseudo-beta Gmail is free.
(And don’t get us wrong, Google. We love Gmail more than we love most of the people we know. So, ya know, don’t get mad at us or anything. Hey now, we didn’t really mean it. Don’t get mad!!! PLEASE don’t take our Gmail accounts away!!!)