Witch-hunts and Wizardry: On Community Reactions to Blunders and Shortcomings

Witch-hunts and Wizardry: On Community Reactions to Blunders and Shortcomings

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When was the last time a company, app or product that you have praised left and right in conversation – and online – did a full 180 and set spark to your wrath?

There might have been a small oversight at heart that caused the outrage, but with enormous consequences in the end, warranting an all-out boycott. It might have been a crucial design flaw from the very start that should, by all means, have been caught and changed before ever hitting release. Or it might be somewhere in the middle, the result of a component not in your control that underperforms.

Pitchforks have seemingly become the go-to response to any error

What I’m gingerly getting at here are the witchhunts of the past few years that have been started by massive errors and minor bugs alike. By no means am I myself innocent in this, but perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the go-to response.

Surely there’s an intermediate step between singing the praises and vehemently vowing never to purchase anything from the company ever again to anyone who listens?

You probably remember the Pushbullet controversy. In case this is news to you, the short version is that after years of being a free app that lets you easily send (or “push”) links, files, and SMS to and from your computer and phone, they introduced a premium subscription service. To much anger in the community, it introduced limits to features that had previously been unlimited and free, unless you had a subscription. The outrage was nearly instant — some took issue with paying in the first place. Others disliked the price. Most, however, came form reneging on a promise that, should a paid premium service be introduced, it wouldn’t limit existing features, but rather apply to new and future ones.

Of course, that is not the only controversy of late. Seeing as you’re reading XDA, I’m sure you’ve heard at least one overheating joke regarding Snapdragon 810 devices. Probably more. At the core of the issue, Qualcomm released an SoC that would require throttling of perfomance after ongoing use, with the devices having a tendency to heat up, leading to a heated (sorry) debate. Questions were raised whether or not the race to release a major update every year was compromising the quality of products, yet most of the outrage was aimed towards the devices utilizing the SoC. Little regard was given to the fact that many decisions involved in creating a new flagship are made several months ahead of when all components are completed. Meaning, devices using the 810 were designed with the 810 in mind, with SoC’s ordered already, before the heating issues were fully explored — and couldn’t be reversed without a massive financial hit.

Then came the Nexus 6P “bendgate.” A video surfaced in which the 6P bent under a surprisingly small amount of pressure. In the original video, the screen was already cracked, compromising the structural integrity of the phone — this was seen as an arguing point for deniers. Then, before the bend-test went underway, it was also heated beforehand, further stressing the already damaged frame. Surely at this point we were all ready to calm down, lean back and not freak out, right? Wrong. In response to the ones pointing out the flaws of the first test, JerryRigEverything published another video, in which it bent straight out of the box, and the game was back on again. Of course, as the creator of the video said, this doesn’t diminish the things the device gets right, but rather just means that it requires a bit extra carefulness.

One must wonder how – or indeed if – these situations can be handled better by OEMs

The issue I take with how quickly we’re ready to pick up our pitchforks is that it now seems to have become the go-to response to any error. By no means do I think designing a stylus pen that, when inserted incorrectly, can get stuck is good design. It should absolutely have been rectified before release, but does that justify a full boycott of that OEM? Similarly I’d argue that going back on an explicit promise never to lock existing features behind a paywall is a really bad move, and it understandably made people angry, but the outrage seemed to come on reflex alone rather than after considering the situation fully.

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“Stick it in the right way.” – Samsung

Then there is the issue of how – or indeed if – these situations could have been handled better. Should Snapdragon 810 devices have been pulled in favor of other chipsets? And if so, which ones? The likeliest contender would have been Mediatek chips, but even so one cannot just swap out the intended SoC halfway through production. Other chips like Samsung’s Exynos are much harder for OEMs to get their hands on. Similarly, the situation for Qualcomm themselves evolved to a point where they simply had to deal with the limitations and try to work around them, because fully stopping development or delaying would have huge implications. Reworking millions of styli because inserting it backwards caused it to get stuck isn’t necessarily an option either, with fairly slim mark-up on the devices in the first place.

So perhaps then it’s how the companies responded to the concerns that matter. In the case of Samsung and the Note 5, this was especially bad. Sure, once the handsets are sold and out of your hands there’s not much you can do about a design flaw, but telling users to simply “stop using it wrong” is just a plain bad PR move. When there’s only two ways it could possibly be inserted, there’s bound to be an accident or a thousand. Even if it’s just a small percentage, that’s still thousands of paying customers essentially being told to just deal with and stop being stupid. That is not okay.

In the case of Pushbullet, they themselves claimed that it got to the point where it was a question of monetize it now, or shut down the service completely. I understand that people took issue with how the prices are set, but then again, nobody is forcing you to pay. I’d rather hit an abrupt paywall than, say, have a company that handles my personal files and information be sold to an infamously shady company, as has happened before.

Ultimately, the point is that sometimes there are reasons we don’t stop to think about before opening the barn doors and grabbing our lynching tool of choice. Those reasons might be clear at times, and if so that’s more of a reason to have a civilized discussion rather than grilling the company at the next Big Android Barbecue. Surely we can find a middle-ground between simply voting with your wallet when you disagree, instead of sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches?

No, we haven’t been sued by Fine Bros over this title.