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New Year’s Resolutions for Tech Companies

·Tech Critic
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Lose weight. Get to the gym. Quit smoking.

Yeah, yeah. Sure you will.

New Year’s resolutions are great and all. But even if you manage to follow through with them, how many people will benefit? Just you? Maybe your family?

I’ll tell you what movement we should really start: corporate New Year’s resolutions. Entire companies should perform some soul searching at year’s end, and make vows to do better in the new year. Especially tech companies. Especially after the 2014 they’ve just had.

Here, if I may, are a few tech-company resolutions to get the ball rolling:

Apple

Apple had a fairly spectacular 2014. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (aka “the Cookie Sheets”) turned out to be the most popular models ever. The new iMac had the sharpest screen ever sold. The new Mac operating system, OS X Yosemite, rolled out smoothly and with brilliant new features.

But not everything hummed for Apple this year. The release of iOS 8, the new software for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, came with 200 new features — and a host of bugs, including Wi-Fi problems, rapid battery drain, and general sluggishness.

About a week after iOS’s release, therefore, Apple introduced the 8.0.1 bug-fix version. But it made things even worse for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners by disabling such minor features as recognizing your fingerprint and, you know, making calls.

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Apple yanked that version after only two hours until it could release a bug-fix version bug-fix version called 8.0.2. Even that version had a few glitches, and a lot of people’s faith in Apple’s software updates was shaken.

Apple’s 2015 resolution: We will offer public beta-test programs for our iPhone software, just like the one that worked so well for our Mac OS this year.

Uber

Uber, the service, lets you summon a chauffeured car to your location with a tap in an app. It’s one of the most disruptive new services in decades. The efficiency and convenience of Uber make hailing a taxi — by standing out on the street with your arm up — look like a relic of the 1800s. And UberX, the even less expensive fleet of ordinary cars driven by ordinary folks, is the ultimate win-win-win for passengers, drivers, and Uber itself.

But Uber, the company, shot itself in the foot with an AK-47 this year. If Google’s unofficial slogan is “Don’t be evil,” then Uber’s seems to be “Be obnoxious.”

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Uber has taken aggressive steps to interfere with Lyft, its rival — for example, sending undercover employees to take Lyft rides and try to convert its drivers, or ordering Lyft rides and then canceling them just to mess up the system.

Uber’s image got another black eye this month when terrorists took hostages in Sydney — and the company temporarily jacked up its rates to exploit the “surge pricing” opportunity. (After a public outcry, it issued refunds.) Uber executives have also been caught tracking the locations of journalists, or threatening to dig up dirt about writers who are critical of Uber.

The company is still raking in money and investments. But as its jerky behavior becomes public knowledge, the people who may count the most — potential riders — are getting turned off.

Uber’s 2015 resolution: We will think before we speak, think before we act, and hire an ethicist we actually listen to.

Samsung

Samsung’s year wasn’t so great. In the latest reported quarter, its profit dropped a gut-wrenching 74 percent from the previous year, thanks to crashing sales of its phones and tablets.

Make no mistake: Samsung still sells more phones than anyone else. But on the low end, Chinese companies like Huawei and Lenovo are eating away at Samsung’s dominance; on the high end, Apple’s new iPhone models offer shoppers a big screen, which used to be the Samsung Galaxy’s ace in the hole.

It’s not immediately clear what single solution is available to Samsung, but it’s easy to spot what drags down its product line. First, the company cranks out way too many models. Last year, it churned out six different smartwatches and more than 30 different phone and tablet models. This illustration of Samsung’s watches, phones, and tablets (from Britain’s Which? blog) makes it clear just how scattershot Samsung’s approach is:

Illustration of Samsung's many watch, phone, and tablet models
Illustration of Samsung's many watch, phone, and tablet models

Customer confusion is not a great marketing approach.

“Scattershot” also describes Samsung’s approach to new features. It slathers them on. Lots of them, like the S Translator app, are half-baked and not usable in the real world; they’re there, cluttering up your phone, without adding anything useful.

Samsung’s 2015 resolution: We will figure out what we stand for — and change our corporate goal from “buckshot” to “focus.”

Verizon Wireless

Verizon, man. It has the best cellular coverage in America, the most customers, and the highest profits. Why does it still feel the need to play dirty?

Its latest fiasco: The company was caught secretly injecting a code into every Web address your phone requests that helps advertisers track what you do online and build a profile of your browsing habits.

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There’s some debate about how serious this tracking is; Verizon, for example, insists that no such permanent profile is collected, that the tracking number assigned to you is frequently changed. But for goodness’ sake — hasn’t Verizon learned yet that perception is reality? When people catch you — or think they’ve caught you — playing creepy, you don’t get explainy and defensive. You change your tune, quickly and completely.

Verizon’s 2015 resolution: We will dismantle our ad-tracking feature completely, apologize, and learn from our mistakes.

Sony Pictures

Oh, boy. Boy, oh, boy. This huge movie company was hacked. Maybe by the North Korean government, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: The company’s data security wasn’t good enough. Sensitive files on its corporate network weren’t encrypted, weren’t protected by passwords — and one file of usernames and passwords was called, if you can believe it, “Usernames&Passwords.”

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And then there are the horrifyingly embarrassing contents of the movie executives’ emails: racist toward the president, deeply insulting about the movie stars they worked with, and revealing of the way Hollywood manipulates its audiences. Corporate email is always susceptible to being made public — not just by hackers, but also by lawyers who subpoena the messages in a lawsuit — so it’s worth considering what you write, even internally.

Sony Pictures’ 2015 resolution: Hacker intrusions are no longer freak, rare occurrences. We will accept that hacker infiltrations are a part of life, and we will make security and caution part of our daily routine.

That last resolution might also be worth consideration by Target, T.J. Maxx, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Sony (again), Evernote, and any other company whose systems have been hacked in recent years.

It’s a new era, people. Let’s be ready for it.

Oh — and happy New Year!

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