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

Brian S Hall / October 22nd, 2013

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.

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • jfutral

    Amen, and amen.

    Now for the doxology.

    Joe

    • steve_wildstrom

      As it was in the beginning so it will be in the end. Now you kids get off of my lawn.

      I actually agree with nearly everything Brian said in this rant and describing Windows 8 as “determinedly strategy over function” is a wonderful, succinct description of everything that’s wrong with it.

      • jfutral

        I agree as well. I think he hit the nail on the head with every point.

        Joe

  • Glaurung-Quena

    “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!”

    Not just smartphones — why is it that my laptop complains instantly if the network cable is unplugged, but leaves it to me to figure out that our (occasionally flaky) internet has gone down and the modem needs to be rebooted?

    “When Jony Ive flies from San Francisco to London, at what point does his iPhone batter fail him?”

    Apple has been pursuing the holy grail of smaller, thinner, lighter and lost sight of the even more important grail of “doesn’t need to be charged so freaking often” Sadly I do not expect this to change any time soon, and even more sadly, there is no company out there providing a credible alternative to Apple’s products except for Google, whose products are so smeared in ads and marketing optimization and privacy violations that I will not touch them with a 3 meter pole.

  • regexp

    And yet so much works out of Silicon Valley. I shudder to think of what our lives would be like without most of these products you rant about.

    • James King

      Probably much simpler. Tech is becoming overwhelming. We want to use it everywhere instead of strategically. A massive EMF event would cripple our society. That type of dependency is dangerous.

    • That is a fair point.

  • 20,000

    Windows 8 is a faulty product but it’s a small thing compared to what the company has done to itself. Microsoft is trying to put their people through a major reorg, find a new CEO, and integrate their culture with a different culture in another country, all at the same time. They were confused before those changes but now they’ve multiplied their confusion by an order of magnitude. It’s possible they will never completely recover.

  • When I enter “Brian S Hall”, I get About 80 results

    • Try it without the quotes. Though, good to know.

  • pxlated

    Hey Brian – Sorry to see you’re off your meds…You’re meds are probably in a small, orange/brown bottle with a white label on it – Try looking in your medicine cabinet first, if not there, you can get more at your local pharmacy.

  • seventhson74

    You are strong with the dark side….

  • Walt French

    Hi, Brian. All good points and a fair Andy Rooney imitation, to boot.

    It’d be great if you went the next step: how are these things going to be fixed?

    I’d take the Deep Throat tack: follow the money. Windows8 is the primary product you mentioned that we actually pay for and Microsoft’s working like mad to fix it so we’ll all keep paying for it. Facebook and Google? Not so much; their job is to keep the economics right for the advertisers who pay for the right to plaster their logos on the information you’re unable to pay cash for even if you’re sick of the ads.

    • Good point. For many of these services, we users are not the customer and thus have limited influence.

  • Herding_sheep

    I imagine if you were an actual engineer or programmer, you might be able to answer some of your “questions.” Turns out, its not as easy as just shouting “I want this to work exactly how I want, dammit.”

    I know how you feel though. When I’m cooking something on the stove and sometimes burn things, I always yell at my stove “you stupid idiot, you were supposed to cook this not BURN IT”

    No but seriously, a lot of the things that you think don’t “work” actually work pretty miraculously. These things are like magic, its amazing what they CAN do. Not unforgiveable that they aren’t PERFECT creatures which defy the laws of physics.

Protected by Gerben Law