Good Thinking

5 great u-turns in tech

5 great u-turns in tech
We all make mistakes … though they don't all cost $1.3 billion
We all make mistakes … though they don't all cost $1.3 billion
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Don't call it a stylus: the Apple Pencil
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Don't call it a stylus: the Apple Pencil
Microsoft initially announced that the Xbox would come bundled with Kinect as standard
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Microsoft initially announced that the Xbox would come bundled with Kinect as standard
We all make mistakes … though they don't all cost $1.3 billion
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We all make mistakes … though they don't all cost $1.3 billion
R. Kelly was among the artists affected by Spotify's decision
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R. Kelly was among the artists affected by Spotify's decision

Sony has announced that it will now allow cross-format multiplayer gaming on PlayStation 4, meaning that its customers will now be able to play online multiplayer with friends on other formats, including Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. The news comes just in time for the launch of Fortnite Season 6. Inspired by the news, let's look at five other examples of major tech-industry u-turns where companies either, like Sony, gave way to user demands, or read the writing on the wall…

The Apple Pencil

Steve Jobs' 2007 reveal of the original iPhone is a now an almost legendary piece of tech industry theatrics. Lambasting the state of the smartphone market, with devices covered in buttons, Jobs took particular aim at the stylus. "You have to get 'em, put 'em away. You lose them. Yuck," he opined, before literally pointing out that almost everyone carries a perfectly-honed pointing device or 10 attached to their hands.

Don't call it a stylus: the Apple Pencil
Don't call it a stylus: the Apple Pencil

Fast-forward a mere 8 and a half years and Apple rolls out the Apple Pencil alongside its iPad Pro range of souped up tablets. Among its core features are the facts that you can get it out, put it away, lose them and force-sensitivity. It's a decent stylus, but would Jobs have approved? In reality, it was probably a necessary move to eke the most from subsequent advances in both display and stylus technology, so he very possibly would. The iPad Pro is a very different device to the mass-market iPhone.

Needless to say, Apple's page on the Pencil doesn't mention the s-word.

Spotify audio-nasties

At face value, Spotify's decision in May of this year to remove artists from playlists if they had committed "harmful or hateful" acts seemed like a good one. Affected acts included R. Kelly and XXXTentacion. Their music wasn't being removed from the platform: merely its inclusion in Spotify's own curated and automated music selections.

R. Kelly was among the artists affected by Spotify's decision
R. Kelly was among the artists affected by Spotify's decision

But as was quickly pointed out, it's a difficult decision to enforce in the case of artists who may already have repented, rehabilitated, served time, or yet to be found guilty. Spotify made a u-turn on its decision after mere weeks.

Snapchat's costly redesign

In late 2017 and early 2018, popular messaging app Snapchat released a redesign that saw, among other updates, content from friends being silo'd away from other content in the app. A few months later, Snapchat's stock dropped a staggering US$1.3 billion following a tweet from Kylie Jenner which indicated she no longer used the app.

Meanwhile 1.2 million users signed a Change.org petition calling for changes to be reversed. By May the company had relented, updating the app to undo unpopular changes, including reunifying content from friends and elsewhere else in one place.

Facebook's retentive policies

In early 2009, Facebook altered its terms of service so that it could keep a copy of a user's entire message and action history, even if they deleted their account. There was an outcry from users, and a mere 24 hours after Mark Zuckerberg sought to defend the policy changes in a company blog post, the decision was reversed.

Almost everything about Xbox One

Xbox One's 2013 announcement was a borderline disaster, with Microsoft later backtracking on almost every announcement made. Digital rights management will prevent re-sale of games (we didn't mean it). You'll need to be permanently connected to the internet to play games (did we say that out loud?). It'll come bundled with a Kinect (lol kidding).

Microsoft initially announced that the Xbox would come bundled with Kinect as standard
Microsoft initially announced that the Xbox would come bundled with Kinect as standard

Initially Microsoft even said the Xbox One would come without a headset – a decision it also thankfully reversed. Gamers voiced their disapproval loud and clear and the company quickly saw sense, but the damage had arguably been done. Confusion around the console's features in comparison to the PlayStation 4's gamer-centric focus inevitably contributed to the latter machine's market dominance.

2 comments
zr2s10
I wish Microsoft would have handled the Kinect for X1 differently. It was very popular for the 360. They should have brought it out later, and always sold it separately. I loved the functionality of it in the 360, and the initial feature set on the One was even better. Then in subsequent updates they basically crippled it. Gesture recognition for navigation is gone, so voice commands are basically the only thing that remains, aside from certain games needing it. Big shame. I still use mine to start the Xbox and turn on the TV when I walk in the door with my hands full and screaming kids needing something to distract them while I try to get settled in. Then start Netflix/Hulu/Whatever. Pause/Play/Volume Up or Down. Use these all the time.
Gregg Eshelman
How soon do we get cross platform on Elite: Dangerous?