A letter to Apple part 1, iTunes Match

I have a smart playlist that is called “2012” and, as you might have guessed, contains songs released in 2012.

I have iTunes Match.

It appears as though I can simply download that playlist to my iPhone to have all the songs I own that were released in 2012 on my iPhone.

This action does not work. That’s because the playlist, when viewed through Music on my phone, contains 300 songs. Here are some questions:

Why? I don’t know.

Does it contain only songs released in 2012? No it does not.

What does it contain? A random sample of my library.

Random how? Random in that I can not figure out any thing those songs have in common.

Were they released in the same year? No they were not.

Are they by the same artist? No they are not.

Are the songs in the playlist on my iPhone the same as the songs in the playlist in iTunes on my Mac? No they are not.

What do we call this? An example of how poorly iTunes Match handles multiple devices.

What else might we call this? A broken service.

Broken how? Broken in that it does most emphatically *not* just work.

Why is that important? Because that’s what Apple is famous for.

Why is Apple famous for that? Because before attempting such complicated internet-related-things like Siri, Maps, and iTunes Match, Apple’s combination of software and hardware often “just worked” in a way that its competitors could not match.

Why was this good? Because it made people purchase Apple hardware.

What has happened in the interim? Well, much like my problem with iTunes Match, *no one knows*.

Why is this? Because there is no feedback to the user, no master control list, and no way to resolve the problem.

Why is this? No one knows. But it sucks.

Letters to the FCC part 1, AT&T and T-Mobile

The purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T would be bad for consumers in the US for the following reasons.

Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier that sells and supports unlocked phones.  This means that any GSM phone, which is most of the phones world-wide, will work on T-Mobile’s network. AT&T uses a software lock in their phones, like the iPhone, so that they can not be used on another network despite being GSM phones. This choice can be seen in only one light: an attempt to restrict consumer choice, and is an example of the kind of anti-consumer, anti-competitive behavior AT&T already exhibits, and a reason why they should not be allowed greater power in the US wireless market.

Also, T-Mobile is the only US cell provider that charges a lower fee for a contract that does not come with a phone. AT&T has incredibly high pricing (in line with Verizon, but higher than any other country in the world) which suggests collusion among the 2 largest US carriers and another reason to maintain several consumer options. In addition, AT&T’s high pricing is defended by the company as hardware subsidies for consumers, allowing them to purchase new phones at a fraction of the true cost through a subsidy repaid during the life of the contract.  However, AT&T’s contracts that do not include hardware cost, on a minute by minute and text message by text message, the same as their subsidy containing counterparts.  T-Mobile, as of this writing, offers a package for $70/month that includes a phone and the same package, sans phone, for $50/month, leaving the consumer with a clear idea of the cost of the hardware subsidy ($20/month).

The fact that AT&T offers no plan including data at under $75/month indicates that they are not only colluding with Verizon to maintain pricing but that giving AT&T more leverage by removing T-Mobile, one of their few true competitors, would be horrible for the US consumer. Note that, because the phones are not interoperable, Sprint and Verizon are not true competitors with AT&T, as the consumer must buy new hardware. In other countries around the world, where all wireless providers are based on the GSM standard, switching providers is a very low cost proposition, requiring only a new SIM card and agreement, not new hardware.  This drives prices down and improves service.  In the US the differing wireless standards act as a brake on competition, hindering subscriber movement, and ultimately leading to higher prices because companies like AT&T and Verizon do not have adequate competition.  The purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T would only worsen the situation, and I urge you, even in the event that it recieves your approval, to constrain AT&T with the following requirements.

1. All phones must be sold unlocked. With no remaining GSM competitor in the US, there is no need for AT&T to lock the phones to their wireless network.  The only reason they do this is to enable them to charge exorbitant overseas roaming fees, because the user can not simply install a local SIM card in their AT&T-provided phone.

2. AT&T must offer “bring your own phone” plans that are cheaper for daily use than the “subsidy including” plans. The fact that they do not do this now is simply disgusting, because it means they believe their customers are too stupid to notice the dishonest pricing of non-subsidy plans.

3. AT&T must remove the false charges they currently apply for incoming text messaging.  Currently AT&T charges both the sender and the reciever of a text message, a practice that has been found illegal in other countries and does not apply to any other of their services, such as phone calls or email. Text messaging has a near-zero delivery cost, and their current policies represent nothing more than rampant profiteering.

4. AT&T should institute pay-per-use options for voice minutes, rather than requiring the user to pre-pay for a block that may or may not be used and will expire if unused. This billing practice helps no one outside of AT&T, and the fact that it is the default US (but not global) standard speaks only to how poorly our wireless carriers are regulated and how poor a job competition has done to improve pricing options.

In their current position as one of the two largest US wireless carriers, AT&T has done a horrible job supporting their customers, with high pricing and mediocre service. The acquisition of T-Mobile does not indicate a change of heart on their parts, and simply improves their pricing leverage over the US consumer.  As their chief regulator, their behavior is a reflection on your willingness to defend the US consumer.  Please, do not give them the power they seek and instead fight for broader choice and lower prices, two things that US consumers are currently at the bottom of global rankings on in the wireless provider category.

Thank you.

Letters to companies part 1, Palm

Dear Palm,

As someone who has never owned a single Palm device, but who would like to, I have some facts that I would like to bring to your attention. Currently there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscribers on the planet. Four point six billion.

Currently your phones are available in the US as carrier-locked CDMA devices, or in a few non-English keyboard configurations on select carriers in other nations.

This decision is destroying your business. Verizon, as of September 2009, had 89 million subscribers. Sprint had 48.3 million. As a total then, Palm phones are primarily targeted at 137.3 million people.

Basic math reveals Palm’s problem. 137.3m/4.6b = 0.029. That’s right. Palm is targeting 2.9% of the global market by delivering carrier-locked CDMA devices. Suddenly Palm’s 0.7% of the global market does not seem low at all, considering Palm’s devices must compete with RIM, HTC, LG, Samsung, and Motorola for that same 2.9% (those being the other major handset makers supported by Sprint and Verizon).

Now that we have the facts out of the way, let me suggest a solution. It is simple and guaranteed to improve Palm’s sales.

Release unlocked GSM versions of your hardware for sale world wide.

To increase sales, target more people. Both in the US and out, there are a huge number of people, including myself, who have never had the opportunity to try WebOS. Give us that chance. Palm is making great software, but the decision to restrict it to 2.9% of the total phone market is, as we’ve seen from your recent guidance changes, not wise. Palm is a small company, and makes few devices (two, as of this writing). Distribute them as widely as possible.

Thank you.

Letters to Mayors part 1, the N

Dear Mayor,

As someone who has recently moved to this city, I am writing you out of concern. The public transportation I was promised upon arrival is broken.  This is a bold statement, when millions of dollars are invested in it.  Yet I have an offer for you.

Please come ride the N with me for a few days.

We will be late to our meetings, yes, but we will be late together. We will be frustrated as the train we are on is taken out of service half way to our destination, the final Giants home game of the season.  Yet we will have company in this as well, said game being a popular public event scheduled long in advance.

We may watch as the train passes us at the station, empty and headed where we have promised to be, without stopping, despite NextBus’ assurances, but we will have our cell phones, and be able to explain to our colleagues, clients, friends, and, in your case, constituents that it is not our fault, that the Muni is again unreliable.

And they will understand, because they warned us about the N, and because they too live in San Francisco.