Google Looks Like Super Grinch by Omitting December from People App

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-11-26

Google Looks Like Super Grinch by Omitting December from People App

You’re a mean one, Mr. Google. You really are a heel. You’re cuddly as a cactus. You’re charming as an eel, Mr. Google.

Yes, I know those aren’t the actual words to the song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas as sung by Thurl Ravenscroft.

On the other hand, when Theodor Geisel wrote the original words, Google didn’t exist, and he likely never thought that anyone could actually steal Christmas.

But someone has. Or more specifically, a giant faceless corporation has disappeared the entire month of December. Fortunately, Google has promised to bring back December, 2012, perhaps by the end of the year. This means that Android 4.2 users who want to book important dates in December using the People app will once again be able to schedule holiday parties, birthdays, anniversaries or even New Year’s Eve parties.

Of course, this isn’t the only really stupid smartphone error that’s cropped up lately. I’m sure you remember the Apple Maps fiasco in which the iOS 6 mapping program dropped the bridge over the Colorado River into the river just below Hoover Dam, or moved the Washington Monument to the banks of the Potomac River. It would seem that if you wanted to go to a friend’s birthday party in December, you’d navigate there using your Android device, but have to look on your iOS device to actually know when and where the party was.

So how could such a colossal mistake happen in the first place? This isn’t quite like the Apple’s mapping error in which the mapping database had a number of errors out of millions of database entries. Google People is missing an entire month in the current year. How could this be overlooked?

Of course there are some who will say that Google, which has all of the world’s information somewhere in storage, actually knew that the Mayan Apocalypse would arrive on schedule and as a result didn’t see any point in including December 2012. Or maybe it was that Google decided to outdo the Grinch and not only steal Christmas, but the entire month of December.

But this is probably giving Google too much credit. Just as the navigation mistakes in Apple Maps probably wasn’t an attempt by Tim Cook to cause people (probably journalists) to drive off the edge of the Colorado River Canyon on their way to CES in January. For one thing, errors aren’t unique to Apple Maps.

I’ve tested most of the navigation software out there since the first days of aviation mapping programs and they’ve all had errors.

Google Looks Like Super Grinch by Omitting December from People App

Most of the time they were minor and didn’t affect the safety of navigation, but there are plenty of reports of people following their GPS units into oblivion. As navigation software gets more complex and offers more features, the errors also increase. Apple’s problem was that the errors were egregious and obvious.

Google’s errors on its People app were even more egregious and even more obvious. But they are related to Apple’s errors in one significant way. Both companies clearly rushed their respective apps to market with insufficient testing. Even fairly minimal testing would have revealed the lack of December in the People app. Finding the mapping errors in Apple Maps would have taken more testing, but not so much as to be unreasonable. After all the errors were noticed by users on the first day the app was released to the public.

The cause for this rush to market and this lack of testing, especially in the mobile software arena should be fairly clear. These apps are given away for free. Testing adds cost to something that will realize no direct offsetting revenue. Even the apps that carry a purchase price are very inexpensive for the most part. The cost of detailed testing is a powerful disincentive to high-level quality control. Because of the relationship between costs and revenue, app distributors have little incentive to focus on quality. They just check to make sure they run, but don’t take the time to make sure they run correctly in all cases.

Unfortunately for both Apple and Google, the lack of quality in these apps does reflect on the companies behind the apps. Nobody is likely to trust either company without question. We now know that ultimately, mobile device companies that give away apps may have feet of clay. We should probably adopt Ronald Reagan’s admonition to “Trust, but verify.”

On a broader scale, we also know that we shouldn’t adopt these apps as being part of our business without thorough testing. Yes, it’s nice to get great apps for free, but we need to make sure that they’re great apps.

Suppose your company had to depend on Apple Maps to work properly, only to find that the app would send you to the center of the main runway at Dulles International Airport instead of to the terminal. Yes, you can figure out how to get to the airport without the navigation software because there are signs, but in that case, why buy the device—especially if it’s also going to steal Christmas?

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