‘First to Do It’ vs. ‘First to Do It Right’

MG Siegler, last week at TechCrunch:

During his keynote address on Monday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs noted that while Apple may not be the first to release features, they do so in a way that’s the best implementation.

Many people view this as absolute bullshit. But what that implies is that they think Apple simply cannot get features done in time — or that they will not do them for some reason. I have a hard time believing either of those is the case.

Jobs cited the iPhone’s cut, copy, and paste functionality as one example of Apple getting a feature right. I have to agree. For two years, everyone complained (myself included) that Apple didn’t have this functionality. Could Apple have done it sooner? Of course. But would it have been half-baked? Probably. Just look at how it works on other devices — or maybe I should say: look at how poorly it works on other devices compared to the iPhone.

This is the heart of the disconnect. Those who see these claims as “absolute bullshit” are only going to see Apple as getting worse over the next few years. I got a few objections from readers after writing the following last week, regarding iOS 4 and iPhone 4 as “catching up” to Android:

The existence of a front-facing camera may fairly be considered a “catch up” feature on iPhone 4. But the ability to use the front-facing camera to actually make video calls is first on the iPhone. That’s one difference between Apple and HTC. Apple isn’t going to include a hardware feature just for the sake of having it. They only include hardware for which they have compelling software to complete the experience.

The objections were based on Qik and Fring. But here’s David Pogue on the front-facing-camera-equipped HTC Evo:

After two days of fiddling, downloading and uninstalling apps, manually force-quitting programs and waiting for servers to be upgraded, I finally got video calling to work — sort of. Sometimes there was only audio and a black screen, sometimes only a freeze-frame; at best, the video was blocky and the audio delay absurd.

To make video calling work, you have to install an app yourself: either Fring or Qik. But we never did get Fring to work, and Qik requires people you call to press a Talk button when they want to speak. The whole thing is confusing and, to use the technical term, iffy.

Here’s the test. Take some normal people, where by “normal” I mean people who have never heard of TechCrunch or Daring Fireball. Give them brand new still-in-the-box iPhone 4’s and HTC Evos. Now ask them to make a video call to one another. With the iPhone 4, they’re going to be able to do it. The only thing that’s technically confusing about FaceTime is that it only works via Wi-Fi (I think many people have little understanding of the difference between Wi-Fi and 3G data — at least insofar as why a feature would work over one but not the other). Otherwise, FaceTime is as easy to use as making a regular voice call. There is no such thing as a “FaceTime account” you need to create or log in to. It doesn’t require the installation of any third-party apps. All you need to know is that the iPhone 4 can make video calls, and that the feature is called “FaceTime”. And I’ll bet the little instructional card inside the iPhone 4 box will make that perfectly clear.

How many normal people even know that Qik and Fring exist? Are Android users supposed to install both apps, so they can make video calls to people who’ve only installed one or the other?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Qik or Fring in and of themselves. Nor is it to say that Android doesn’t have its own first-to-do-right features, like, say, the ability to dictate speech-to-text in any text field. It’s about the mindset of the companies that made the phones. Do you include the half-baked stuff, or hold it until it’s fully-baked? Apple wasn’t going to include a front-facing camera until they had software that made it useful in an iPhone-caliber way. HTC is happy to include a front-facing camera and leave its utility (and user experience) in the hands of third-party developers.

Android and iPhone fans will read the preceding paragraph very differently. Android fans will read it and say, “Exactly — give us the hardware and let developers figure out what to do with it.” iPhone fans will read it and say, “I can’t wait to get an iPhone 4.

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