The Man Who Broke Phones

Apple Inc. had a difficult week, last week. First, some people bent their newer, huger phones. Then, the first update to iOS 8 caused the phone functionality on the recently introduced iPhone 6 not to work. Although, sometimes it seems as though people don’t use their iPhones a lot for voice calls, phone is still a major part of the product name. Not to mention, as Nick Arnott points out, in his piece about hugs not bugs, the voice call part of the phone can be a pretty critical function.

People rely on their phones for emergencies. On a worse day, 8.0.1 could have contributed to somebody being unable to get help in a dangerous situation. Now, that’s an extreme example, but it’s a realistic one.

Apple is pretty nimble, though, and they quickly pulled the patch had an update out within about a day. Regardless of the short life of the 8.0.1 update that caused the issue, Bloomberg determined they had a pretty big story on their hands. They decided the real narrative involved figuratively throwing the mid-level QA Manager, working in the iOS software group at Apple, under the bus. Quoting “people familiar with Apple’s management” and “one person”, the authors of the piece out the QA Manager as also having been in charge of Apple Maps during its ill-fated launch. Not only do they name the manager, but they list his hobbies, achievements as a youth and the university he attended. It’s a pretty sad place we’ve gotten to in web journalism when we are castigating mid-level managers for the sake of driving traffic.

In the interest of conveying the appearance of fairness, Bloomberg emailed the manager for a comment. This manager, of course, did not respond. Apple would never have permitted him to respond to such requests. It’s almost amusing that people who write for publications, like Bloomberg, routinely still pretend like the object of their witch hunts, within giant corporations, could actually comment on the charges made against them. If the manager had been able to comment, perhaps he would have quoted the classic Lindsey Lohan song and asked Bloomberg, “why can’t you back up off me, why can’t you let me be?”

Once the manager was outed as the potential source of the cellular reception problem within the update, (fake) outrage poured forth.


What somewhat redeems the Bloomberg piece is that they actually go into the many factors that could have caused this flawed update to get out of the door.

  1. The team of Quality Engineers in the iOS software department is huge and very distributed.
  2. The team actually probably caught a lot of defects that never saw the light of day (which usually means there are more defects to be found).
  3. Product Owners prioritize defects during bug triage and are often driven by getting things to market as quickly as possible (this update came out unusually soon after the initial release of iOS 8).
  4. Sometimes, the QA team doesn’t even get the latest handsets until the customers have them.

In short, it wasn’t the totally, if at all, the fault of the QA Manager named at the beginning of the story.

However, the story was picked up by a lot of other sites. A Google search shows how many publications were willing to jump on the bandwagon and shame this one guy for the sake of page views. Some of the stories that cited Bloomberg even have the unfortunate manager’s name in the URL. Predictably, some of these hastily composed pieces don’t contain the same qualifiers about the other factors (besides a single, fallible human being), that might have led to the defect leakage. For instance, the Mashable article about the incident, says, “both issues stem from the same person who was supposed to catch the issues before the updates launched.” The verb stem is defined as “originate in or be caused by.” I think most reasonable people (especially those who know how software development works) would agree there is no way this person caused the aforementioned issues.

Without more information, it’s impossible to know why the iOS software QA team didn’t catch the voice calls defect on the iPhone 6. However, targeting one person, who could possibly be partially responsible, is bad journalism. It is a model example of how, for many websites currently covering technology, getting the most eyeballs, the fastest, is more important than revealing truth through investigation. Perhaps worse, it reveals what lengths these sites are willing to go to, at the cost of the personal reputation of others, to get people to their pages.

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