Apple Victimized by the Abilene Paradox

The Abilene Paradox is a groupthink phenomena in which a collection of people decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences, even an explicit decision, by any single member of the group. In other words, the group makes a decision not in the best interest of any individual and is not preferred by any individual. It happens more often than we might think.

This may have happened with Apple and the rollout of its new maps app. Afterwards, when the impact of the decision becomes clear, everyone involved claims that the group decision was a bad idea and they resisted it. Yet, as a whole, the group forged ahead anyway.

This phenomenon is well understood in accident investigations in which a team, a flight crew, a ship’s crew or a construction crew for example, suffers a catastrophic accident or failure. Could Apple have suffered this phenomena?

One could certainly claim that the rollout of Apple’s maps app in iOS 6 was catastrophic. Some developers gave Apple plenty of feedback, perhaps enough reason to delay the rollout in iOS 6. I am willing to bet that some Apple engineers told Scott Forstall that it wasn’t ready, but the considered response was that it was ready enough. Perhaps competitive pressure and schedules ruled, and we now know how that turned out. Here’s some background from the developers themselves: “Developers: We warned Apple about iOS maps quality.

The Abilene Paradox book explains this important groupthink concept and opportunity for massive failure, experienced over and over by companies and by governments. It’s something to watch out for in the future.

Tech News Debris

This week’s collection of technical news debris is on the esoteric side. We range from medicine to the Do Not Track kerfuffle to a long but informative explanation of Google and Microsoft’s privacy policy. (Of course, a privacy policy is a misnomer these days, and the browser setting Do Not Track is under attack, Big Time.)

We start with “Redefining Medicine With Apps and iPads.” The article is inspiring, but also makes one think about how we always want to see medical judgment guided by an smartphone or tablet, not dictated by it.

There are beautiful, fun-to-read articles and there are ugly articles that are gems. This one of those ugly but oh-so rewarding articles about how privacy policies are impacting us but also how, to some extent, irrelevant Microsoft has become. If you’re in a relaxed, intellectual mood (as I know you always are), follow this one to the end. Danny Sullivan is one of our best, most informed writers. “Microsoft To Make Same Privacy Change Google Was Attacked For; No One Seems To Care.

Steve Wozniak is always fun to listen to. In this audio interview with Talk Central, he talks about, amongst other things, Apple’s apparent arrogance. “TalkCentral: Ep 69 – ‘Steve Wozniak interview’.

We tend to forget about how times have changed when it comes to teaching computer science. Perhaps the idea of teaching computers by learning how to program is outmoded. Perhaps professors don’t want to be bothered by coding projects, preferring instead to tach theory. The result can be young, frustrated students who drop out, write a great iOS or Android app, and start a business.

In decades past, one could learn numerical analysis, algorithms, solid state physics, hardware architecture (binary representation, Big/Little Endian) and then start writing Fortran on a university computer or BASIC on an Apple II and take it from there. Today, the art of programming is so complex, even on a Mac, it’s hard to use that as a learning basis. (Buckling down with Python is good.) So just how does one go about designing a complete computer science curriculum that ends up also providing real-world skills? These are important questions. Not all answers are in this article, but it’s a great place to start. “Math Nerds vs. Code Monkeys: Should Computer Science Classes Be More Practical?”

Recent reports on the iPhone 5 and the the potential “purple haze” has made me wonder if the effect is due to the sapphire lens protector. The gist of the articles has been that the iPhone 5 suffers from the effect but the iPhone 4S not so much. Reports are all over the map, depending on how the picture is taken.

Consumer Reports has now weighed in and says, “The Apple iPhone 5, which our Ratings reveal is a standout camera, is no more prone to purple hazing on photos shot into a bright light source than its predecessor or than several Android phones with fine cameras, according to special Consumer Reports tests.”

The lesson here is most certainly a simple one. Smartphones are fine for casual photos, but if you’re going to take some serious photos, there’s no substitute for a digital SLR camera from, say, Canon or Nikon.

Nikon D7000, Image Credit: Nikon

Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the major browser developers are teaming up to launch Web Platform Docs. The goal is to have a single, standardized source for client-side development and design.

Even as the browser developers seem to want to work together, under the leadership of Mr. Berners-Lee, advertisers are being driven batty by this new Do Not Track concept. As we know, the Do Not Track option is ON by default in Microsoft’s IE10. So vehement is the industry objection to this user preference, protecting privacy, that “The Do Not Track standard has crossed into crazy territory.

Both these articles will help you understand how powerful the forces are that have changed the landscape of what the modern browser presents to us as, well, mere browsing. But what goes on under the hood is amazing. In essence, the advertising industry wants the W3C working group to provide an exemption to Do Not Track to include advertising. As a result, when you turn Do Not Track ON, nothing fundamentally changes. When that sinks in, it’ll be another CTTN moment.