The Simple Shocking Failures of Microsoft Google Facebook Apple And Silicon Valley

on October 22, 2013
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Silicon Valley companies love to remind us they are on a mission to change the world. Perhaps, although I confess I’m slightly suspicious given their obvious relentless pursuit of funding, acquisitions, getting acquired, going public, and generating piles of cash.

And because so many things they offer us — things that really ought to work, every time, anytime, no questions asked — fail so miserably. This list, it seems, is endless.

Email gets a pass. Siri is so thoroughly ineffectual and so utterly counter to its advertising that I’m not even going to include it here. Wouldn’t be fair. Same with the industry’s tragic dependence upon advertising, which now litters nearly every real, physical, virtual and digital space any of us might occupy. But there’s far more than these, of course. My smartphone ought to know how I feel, right this moment. After all, what contains more data on me, about me, historical and present, than my smartphone? Know how I feel and play a song to match my mood, for example. That would be awesome. Only, that’s asking for too much, I suspect. I mean, has Apple’s “genius” service ever worked for anyone, ever? I’ve received better music and movie recommendations from my mother — and she neither listens to music nor watches movies.

There may be unknowable failures, of course. Perhaps with Google and Amazon giving us so much for free in return for using their service, we are creating a future America that believes everything should be offered at no price, or that profit is unnecessary to sustain a business, or that we are all entitled to something, anything, without ever paying for it. That’s a potential massive dependency failure. Only, I am merely concerned with the obvious failures. Those instances where some lone wolf at each of these companies should not have even had to point it out because it ought to have been so obvious to everyone involved.

Why is it that practically every single smartphone ever built can’t seem to recognize that the WiFi it is connected to isn’t actually connected to the Internet — so switch over to cellular, already! In a world where I can tweet from a jet 30,000 feet above the ground, this should not ever happen.

Any site that demands I first log-in using Facebook is a failure — and an affront to decency. Imagine any physical retail store doing the same.  Similarly, any site that allows us to log-in using our Facebook credentials should not ever receive more than confirmation of our identity. Our location, contacts, friendships and long history on Facebook should not ever be handed over without our explicit and ongoing consent.

Too often, Instagram videos fail to play on my iPhone. On my Mac, Twitter Vine videos fail more often than they work. I’ve stopped clicking on Vine links, in fact.

Printing from an iPhone or iPad is a joke.

Windows 8 — and I promise you, I am no Microsoft hater — is so inexplicably, almost painfully user-unfriendly that, and I am serious here, every other thing Microsoft has done right, and every other thing they have achieved, and despite all their money, and ignoring the ascendency of iOS and Android and the rise of iPad in the workplace, the breadth and scale of of the Windows 8 OS failure is such that it could literally take down the entire company.  Microsoft could absolutely afford to be years behind in the smartphone wars and could absolutely drop billions and billions more on online services and go through a succession of just terrible post-Ballmer CEOs and could be outright hostile to the consumer market — if such a thing exists — and  they could still dominate the enterprise for at least another generation. Except…Windows 8 is so shockingly hard to use, so determinedly strategy over function that I now believe it’s a very real possibility that Bing will be worth more than Windows before this decade is out. I say this absolutely as someone who wants this great American company to thrive — and as someone who fully believes that Microsoft’s singular UI strategy and flat “live tiles” design is still the right one. As someone who cares, I cannot emphasize this enough: fix it.

It’s a failure for my hometown that Amazon somehow gets away with selling billions of dollars of goods without charging its customers sales tax.

It’s a failure that I can’t have my “smartphone” ignore every single call that does not include the number and person (or business) calling.

Has Eddie Cue every actually used iMessages? Or Maps?

When Jony Ive flies from San Francisco to London, at what point does his iPhone batter fail him? For me, it’s much too soon.

In return for a never-ending wave of our most personal information, Google promises us instant, usable search results. Yet when I enter “Brian S Hall” I am instantly offered 286 million results. That is a stupid failure.

That the entire tech sector has done next to nothing to make it so we don’t all have to pay near-criminal prices to HP and Canon for printer ink is a massive failure.

Similarly, it remains far too hard to move the pictures from my smartphone onto my computer(s) and to the cloud, and back again, and share them with exactly who I want. Probably every single user on the planet wants this, deserves this, and still can’t have it. Fail.

How is all this possible? Is it because for too many of the indicted companies, they believe that historic marketshare is an excuse? Or that free equals just good enough? Or that they will eventually get to it? Yet Google thinks I might get inside their driverless car?

With all the data Google collects on us — who we are, where we go, what we search, what we buy, going back forever — how is it that the only predictive service they can offer is Google Now? Which is little more than the weather and local bus schedule.

Why does Facebook insist on curating my newsfeed despite my repeated requests to give me everything, most recent to least, in order, every single time? If Mark Zuckerberg can’t trust me with that gushing flow of information, perhaps I shouldn’t trust him with the drip drip drip of my personal data.

It’s the second decade of the twenty-first century and far too much that comes out of Silicon Valley is broken. This makes me suspect everything they say and do. Yes, obviously, I want world peace, an end to hunger, longevity, joy and prosperity. But until the industry can get the tiny features of our most popular technological products actually working properly, those will have to wait.