Friday, March 27, 2009

Attention to Detail

Apple has set an extremely high bar with respect to attention to detail in every aspect of the interface between the company and the customer. Yesterday I purchased an iPod for one of our beta testers, who was also a substantial contributors to iFlinger (an iPhone application that would let you toss a virtual cartoon shoe at a cartoon caricature of former U.S. President George W. Bush, if Apple had approved the application, which they did not.)

Today I was greeted in my email in-basket with a request to fill out a survey. The survey form was efficient and responsive, clear, concise, and contained places for me to elaborate or describe responses which varied from the options on the form. When I finished filling it out, I was greeted with this plain, simple, competently styled web page, which included a minimal set of links to places I might want to go, and a roughly standard footer with other such links, and a thank you.

200903270827.jpg The pleasant experience with Apple's feedback survey stands in marked contrast with other forms that I've filled out for other companies. Feedback forms always seem to receive the least attention in big companies. Very often they are not well organized, and contain exactly no way to deliver the kind of feedback the company needs to hear.

In these other companies, it's as if the committee in charge of the feedback form is somehow shackled, or has an incentive to gather only positive results, or more likely just doesn't have any experience with conducting surveys, doesn't know much about the company, or just doesn't care. Most of the other online feedback forms I've seen dump you to an oddly unstyled web page, which sometimes says "Thank You" but other times doesn't say anything meaningful at all. Usually they don't include a simple link back to vendor's main web site. I've even seen things like PHP core dumps which left me in no doubt that the vendor really didn't care one iota about my "feedback". Thank you for your feedback! We are promptly tossing it into the bit bucket! Have a nice day!   

This almost obsessive attention to detail at Apple, which results in seemingly minor things like the thank you page of the feedback form being considered as an important customer interface, is applied to every possible interaction between Apple and its customers.

Unfortunately, this corporate obsession is not applied to every interaction between Apple and its third party developers. As with similar stories from other vendors, when our iFlinger application was rejected, the reasons offered didn't really make much sense. There was no avenue to provide feedback or make an appeal, or engage in a discussion which might result in the application being modified in such a way as to get approved.

Despite Apple's recent declaration (in the iPhone OS 3.0 presentation) that everything is fine because most apps get approved within a week, now, the iPhone App Store process is hopelessly broken. Developers must guess at what might get approved or rejected, based on a lengthy document full of vague legalize which translates quite literally down to this phrase:

"Apple can reject your application for any reason, for reasons other than stated, to provide them with a fig leaf, or for no reason at all. If a summer intern at Apple rejects your application, tough luck."

To some extent, relations between Apple and their development community have always been rocky. Some tension between them is a natural and unavoidable outcome which arises from Apple's need to keep research and product plans secret. However, the iPhone App Store policies have been upside-down (build it first, we'll tell you later if you will be permitted to sell it) for too long. If it's too difficult to put a concept-approval process in place, then an appeals process needs to be created, and guidance on how to overcome app rejections should be available.

One might be tempted to suggest that Apple's rocky developer relations are their "perfect flaw" but somehow I don't think so. Perfectly flawed pottery doesn't leak water all over the floor.

No, a perfect flaw is more subtle. A perfect flaw is holding your iPhone upside-down, on your otherwise very stylin' iPhone consulting web site.

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