Bad Week for New Telephony

It’s been a rough week for some of the high-tech telephony solutions that I use every day. Namely, Google Voice on the iPhone and Skype. I use both of these at work most everyday: my “office” number is a Google Voice line and Skype is great of overseas calls and chatting with colleagues.

This past week, news has arrived that Apple has rejected Google’s official Google Voice app in addition to pulling the third-party Google Voice apps from their iTunes App Store. Apple has faced a slew of complaints from developers over their “brick-wall” tactics when rejecting an app from their store (which, by the way, is the only official means of putting an application on your purchased phone). But this appears to be the last straw on the developers’ backs on which Apple has made a mint selling iPhones1. At least one high-profile developer has had enough and is going to switch to developing to the Palm Pre, the iPhone’s most recent would-be contender.

Yesterday I also read that Skype owner eBay and Skype creators are in a legal battle over the core technology and its future is in question. I’ve been a fan of Skype for some years now and have been impressed with the ease of use and quality of features they continue to add and improve upon in this multi-platform application (I use it on my iPhone, my home OS X desktop, and my work Windows laptop). It really has risen to the top of a fairly large heap of VOIP and chat programs in terms of quality. I was pleasantly surprised that a number of my colleagues at Bentley use Skype for their international calls, as well. Finding another replacement for all those zero-cost international phone calls would be tough2.

And here’s the real kicker: none of this comes down to an issue of engineering or really even cost3. These are solely profit-driven decisions. Is profit important? Of course it is. But these scorched-Earth tactics are really ridiculous. Denying consumers high-quality products for the sole purpose that they may reduce your profits doesn’t actually help anyone. It just drives customers away to someone who is willing to be a bit more open.

As for me? I’m not jumping ship just yet, but I should point out that of my requirements for a smart phone, none of them stated that it had to come from Cupertino. Practicality will out-weight brand loyalty anyday.

  1. Including the two in our house. You’ll recall that Angela and I only purchased ours after the announcement of third party applications. Given Apple’s There’s and App for that ads, I’m assuming they know this sells phones. []
  2. Though Microsoft Communicator may have some VOIP-like options, I tend to loath using it myself and it appears many of my colleagues agree. []
  3. I swear I’m reading Chris Anderson’s Free as fast as I have time to and will write an extensive review ASAP. This issue will surely come up. []

Gladwell Dash Anderson

There’s been a lot to do about Malcolm Gladwell’s criticism (somewhat heated given Gladwell’s usually calm writing and demeanor) of Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price 1. I’m a fan of both Gladwell and Anderson, though I think Anderson’s The Long Tail was a much more down-to-earth book when it comes to business. I think that Gladwell’s books have something of a spiritual feel to them, with little to provide in terms of guidance on business.

But after reading into Gladwell’s criticism of Free, it rang very hollow to me. I think Anil Dash explains it perfectly (emphasis his):

The core of Gladwell’s argument is simple: “Free” fails to provide data to support its claims about the future of pricing, using anecdote and confident assertion in place of actual evidence. In his objection to this methodology, Gladwell seems uncharacteristically strident, compared to his usual measured tones. Whenever I see somebody getting their dander up, I think of one of the first things I ever blogged about ten year ago: We hate most in others that which we fail to see in ourselves. Ah hah!

Anecdotes are just that. Maybe both of them will be vindicated as having brilliant insight into how mass markets work. But just mentioning a couple of examples that support a guy feeling are only enough get folks’ attention, not prove anything

Of course, I’ll continue to read just about everything both author’s write in the New Yorker, Wired, or in long-form print.

Update: I made a small editorial change to the article regarding using quotation marks versus italics for titles.

  1. You can read Anderson’s initial article on Free-conomics at Wired and I’ll be writing my review here as soon as I get my hands on a copy to read. []