Apple and Sony: It's All About the Community!

I’m no prophet, but I called the ball on two things that have come to light in the past day or so: (1) Apple’s decision to bundle Safari with iTunes for Windows, as I predicted would happen when the first Safari beta for Windows was available – and (2) Sony charging extra to ship systems without the software bloat, with my well-established concerns that PC OEMs have been lost at sea longer than Oceanic 815.

To their credit, Sony didn’t return fire to those who attacked this shortsighted decision – instead, the company reversed its decision quickly. Good for you, Sony – but you’re not out of the woods yet. You’re just beginning to learn a tough, but extremely valuable, lesson:

THE COMMUNITY IS ALWAYS RIGHT.

Stop listening to your marketers, stop paying attention to the numbers on your spreadsheets, and stop erecting barriers between your products and the rest of us. We’ll tell you what to do, and if you listen… you just might win a few more friends in the field. I’m not a multi-billion dollar corporation, so I can’t pretend to understand what politics are at play. I can, however, speak as someone who is quite aware of what users have to deal with… YOUR users. We care enough to complain, if only to warn people that this practice should not be tolerated. We still care – we’ll always care.

It’s when we stop complaining that you should really worry.

I don’t have massive amounts of resources on hand, so I have to make due with what’s on the table – putting pieces of the puzzle together to accomplish my own goals as an independent consultant and private business owner. “If I ran the zoo,” I’m sure things would be different – because the “end user” label would die and be replaced with something along the lines of “user beginning.”

Now, Apple’s move to insert Safari into the Apple Software Update application for Windows… are you people telling me you that didn’t see this coming from a mile away? So many software update / installation routines have upsells and cross-sells and extra “experience” software for users to try. I’ve installed registered commercial applications that come bundled with junk I didn’t (nor would ever want to) buy. What happens when iTunes needs Safari to run (imagine an iTunes experience within a Web browser, for seamless local and/or remote experiences)? We’re not there yet, but… I’m saying it’s possible. Users have a choice to buy an iPod or not, install iTunes or not, and install Safari or not. It’s called Apple Software Update, not Apple iTunes Update.

I was pretty happy when I installed Windows XP in a Boot Camp partition not only because it didn’t come with unnecessary software – but I made specific mention that Apple’s own Software Update tool allowed me to opt-in to both QuickTime and iTunes installations (which I did not do).

I’d guess that a fair amount of people who unwittingly install Safari don’t have anything other than Internet Explorer on their system, anyway – and if they happen to try to use any JavaScript-intensive site with Safari, they might find that their “Internet” moves much faster (perish the thought). I have some people complaining that my site(s) don’t work in IE6 – a browser I thought had been abandoned years ago! Of course, they’re also likely the same people who have 6 toolbars running at one time. Sound familiar? But this isn’t about Web browsers.

I’m not saying that Apple wasn’t right to include Safari as an optional app install, but they’re most certainly not wrong to have done it. Apple, much like Google and Microsoft, are using that tool to market another one – this isn’t out of the ordinary. I, for one, was happy when Microsoft pushed their Live tools a single installer – there’s no easier way of discovering what’s available to me. Google has a similar application, albeit a poorly designed one (the best Google desktop apps were the ones acquired).

Sometimes users don’t know what they want – but expecting them to find options on their own is equally as ridiculous as bundling questionably-useful software and then charging for its removal. There’s a very fine line, here – and I think it ends at showing someone what’s available, then letting ’em move on with their lives if they don’t want to hear about it again. Give people a clear option, and don’t make them pay for the privilege of not padding your bottom line.

In either of these situations – Apple’s or Sony’s – the user is at the center of the controversy. Oh, I understand there’s market share at stake! Still, it’s all about the user community – those of us out here who will tell you and everyone we know precisely what we think (and if we’re off-base, others will chime in and further the discussion). We’re your market share, after all – aren’t we?

Rinse and repeat.