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Perspicacity of Worms

'If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.'


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Apple's iPhone 3G was tainted by a server disaster. The company went on to sell a zillion gajillion in a single weekend but things were far from smooth.

The new MobileMe service was part of the iPhone 3G programme. MobileMe was to replace Apple's earlier (and oft flawed) .Mac service. And this by 9 July - two days before the iPhone went on sale.

But already on 9 July things weren't working.

Announced on 9 June this year, MobileMe replaced and expanded on the .Mac concept, offering 'push e-mail, calendars, and contacts for users, keeping that information up-to-date whether they're viewing it at a computer or an iPhone. The web-based MobileMe works with the iPhone's mail, calendar, and contacts applications in addition to working with Mail, iCal, and Address book on the Mac and Outlook on the PC'.

MobileMess™ started when existing .Mac users who'd been notified earlier the system would be down for transition on 9 July from 18:00 to 24:00 still couldn't access their accounts by the afternoon of the day after (10 July).

Yet Apple put the dysfunctional MobileMe service up for sale to others beginning on Friday 11 July.

[One of the big complaints was Apple promised instantaneous syncing ('push') but the syncs were taking up to fifteen minutes to take effect. This 'issue' continues to this day.]

On 16 July Apple issued an apology for MobileMess™ and offered a month free service added to the contracts of affected subscribers. Said Apple in their email to customers:

We have recently completed the transition from .Mac to MobileMe. Unfortunately, it was a lot rockier than we had hoped. Although core services such as Mail, iDisk, Sync, Back to My Mac, and Gallery went relatively smoothly, the new MobileMe web applications had lots of problems initially. Fortunately we have worked through those problems and the web apps are now up and running.

They also decided to stop using the catchphrase 'push' to mean instant syncing until such time [if ever] they can deliver.

It Does Not Just Work

Yet as one user said on 17 July:

What gets me about Apple's letter to .mac members is that it makes it sound like everything is now working. This couldn't be further from the truth. Currently the iDisk for many (maybe most) people is not working from OSX. I can't currently access my photo backups, photo galleries, web pages, etc... Apple has yet to acknowledge any problems with iDisk. The Apple support discussion groups are riddled with people complaining about it. The iDisk is at the core of .mac and most of its apps. It looks to me that Apple is sacrificing it's Mac based .mac customers so they can try to give "push" to the iPhone. Apple blew the whole thing.

'Not Apple's Best Moment'

In a chat session with Apple support posted on 21 July Bill Dozier says he's not been able to access his mail since the previous Friday and that of the 11 days since the 'transition' he's been unable to access his mail five full days. Tech support read verbatim the message sent out 5 days earlier and say they're hoping the problem won't persist for more than 24 hours - but will not commit to any kind of timeframe for a fix other than to say 'gee we hope it's soon yeah this sucks'.

info: queue_cmd:23:14:37
info: queue_cmd:21:12:49
info: queue_cmd:18:8:48
info: queue_cmd:15:7:27
info: queue_cmd:15:6:37
info: queue_cmd:14:6:11
info: queue_cmd:9:5:56
info: queue_cmd:6:3:49
info: queue_cmd:3:1:19
info: Hi, my name is Amy. Welcome to Apple!
Me: Hi Amy.
Amy: Hi Dr. Dozier
Amy: How may I assist you today?
Me: My last access to my primary email was 9:57AM PDT last Friday.
Amy: Unfortunately, you are being affected by a current outage that isn't allowing some customers to access their mail. Our maintenance team is working on fixing this issue as soon as possible.
Amy: You can check the system status at:
Me: This is all the information Apple can provide after a 3 day outage?
Amy: http://www.apple.com/support/mobileme
Amy: (left hand pane)
Amy: I am so sorry, I do not have a time to provide. I can assure you that we are working to complete this maintenance as quickly as possible with the immediate intent to restore your services.I am unable to answer that with certainty. I can provide that it is not our intent to have this maintenance prolong past 24 hours.
Amy: I am so sorry I don't have any estimated time. I understand how crucial it is to access your email.
Amy: I wish there was more I could do for you from my end.
Me: Since the MobileMess 'upgrade' I have been without email about 5 of the 11 days.
Me: It also broke our calendar synching as subscribed calendars no longer work.
Me: Some transparency and communication would help. It feels like getting info about the Soviet space program
Amy: I truly apologize about that.
Amy: We have recently completed the transition from .Mac to MobileMe. Unfortunately, it was a lot rockier than we had hoped.
Amy: We want to apologize to our loyal customers and express our appreciation for their patience by giving all current subscribers an automatic 30-day extension to their MobileMe subscription free of charge. Your extension will be reflected in your account settings within the next few weeks.
Me: I got that email. Don't bother repeating it.
Me: I have been a .Mac subscriber since it was free. I've continued the service for years, waiting for it to be worth the $. I'm still waiting.
Amy: I really apologize.
Me: I already have to use 3rd party solutions because the so-called 'Family Pack' doesn't really include and 'family' functionality (shared read/write calendars, for instance). If we can't depend onthe webservices being reliable, we'll have to just go all-3rd party.
Me: The terse and uninformative (and never-changing) blurbs on support/mobileme are totally insufficient.
Me: Even an airline gives more info than this.
Me: Do you have an ETA?
Me: Do you even have an ETA for when you will have an ETA?
Me: That kind of information is needed.
Me: At this point, further apologies are useless
Me: If you have no more to offer than that, I won't take more of your time
Amy: I'm sorry for the delay. I'll be right with you.
Amy: I'm sorry - I don't have an ETA at this time.
Amy: You can submit feedback at:
Amy: http://www.apple.com/feedback/mac/tm.html
Me: Thanks. This has not been Apple's best moment.
Amy: I agree.

They Keep On Coming

But the trouble didn't stop there. TUAW reported 22 July trial MobileMe users in the UK expected to be charged a token fee via credit card but somehow were instead charged £121 - and if they signed up using a debit card the money was instantly withdrawn from their accounts. Apple will of course request a reversal - knock on wood - but it can take up to a month for this to show up in real cash. This affected customers in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, and Canada as well. Apple gave them a free month too.

Stop Digging!

Somewhere the Apple 'organisation' crumbled. Ignominiously.

  1. As with the iPhone issues, one must assume they tested their systems before rolling them out to the public and the tests worked. So their issues might be one of scale: they're not used to working with such masses at a go and haven't tested to see if their systems will endure the strain of that sort of scale.

  2. They had no backup plan. They had no idea what to do if everything went to shit. As it has.

  3. They don't have the good sense Mother Nature gave the worm. If the system not only doesn't work after the six hours projected but still doesn't work TWENTY FOUR HOURS LATER, then still doesn't work A WEEK AFTER THAT...

  4. The sensible thing to do is to roll back and retest. As the worms themselves say: 'if you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging'. When on Thursday your existing customers are still unable to use the new system, revert to the old system and definitely do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES roll the new borked system out to the public at large.

Why persist in going forward? Go back, retest, and fix the damn thing, then put it back out. Everybody sees that. Even worms know it.

So what slave driver refused to accept the setback and whipped the company to persist?

-SP

See Also
Virtual Fret Noise: More MobileMess
Pittsburg Tribune-Review: Apple's MobileMess
Apple trademark filing points to cellular offering
BusinessWeek: More More MORE Speculation On The iPhone
Good Morning Silicon Valley: Apple apologizes for MobileMess
TUAW: Apple adds another month free for some MobileMe trials
Macworld: MobileMe replaces .Mac, adds iPhone-friendly features

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