Follow-up: TripIt confirmed bug

Just a quick update on the whole TripIt debacle.

The TripIt support team were very good in responding to the problem. While I didn’t get any money back, they didn’t throw me any legalese/boilerplate response, and took the issue seriously. Kudos to Ruth, the support rep who was my primary contact, for handling this well.

They responded by offering me an upgrade (worth $49 in $$ terms, but pretty useless to me in the context of what has happened, as the primary issue is the fact I no longer feel like I can trust the application) and looked into the matter.

The first suggestion was this was a daylight savings issue with my phone, (as a few folks have suggested to me personally or via Twitter) but I pointed out this didn’t seem to make sense because:

  1. The earlier flight on the same day is also displayed as AEDT and this is displaying correctly as 6:15am (as per the web-based application).
  2. The support team asserted that “in Australia and on April 3, 2011, Daylight Savings Time ended and I believe because the last flight (Virgin Blue 885) coincided with that date”, which was incorrect. The flight was for April 2 at 7:15pm and flight time was 1 hr and 15 mins, meaning I would have arrived in Sydney before 9pm on April 2. DST didn’t end here in Australia until 2am on April 3, well outside the range of that particular flight.
  3. Even if the flight did cross timezones, the departure time should reflect the timezone of departure, not the destination, so this still should not have happened.
  4. I confirmed the bug in both Melbourne under daylight savings (when the error occurred) and in Sydney (upon arrival the following day) outside of daylight savings — which suggests that it was not an issue with the settings on the phone, as the problem should not have exhibited before or after the timezone change, according to this explanation, but it clearly occurred in both timezones.

After this response, the team looked into it further and found:

It appears that in our system, for Melbourne, Australia, our system had the April 2 date listed as the end of Daylight Savings Time for EST.

I’ve immediately filed a ticket with our engineers to make sure that daylight savings time is properly picked up for Melbourne to fix this issue going forward. I’m also having our engineers double-check all timezones in Australia.

So the issue was confirmed as a daylight savings issue, but not related to my phone or setup.

While I still don’t think that particular finding fully explains the issue (if it clicked over on April 2 instead of 3, why was the first flight time on the same day correct?). But at least I’m glad that identifying the issue may avoid future issues for other TripIt users.

Warning: how TripIt cost me $300

NOTE: an update on TripIt’s confirmation of the bug and response.

A word to the wise — don’t rely on TripIt for your travel details.

Up until yesterday I was a big fan of TripIt. Their sign-up process was awesome, and it’s been a great way to keep track of my flight and accommodation details. It syncs with LinkedIn, which helps me keep in touch with my network. I know a number of people that use this service regularly.

Last night I was due to return from Melbourne (another uni trip). I was all set — I’d checked in prior, selected my seat, and was about to head off from one of my fave cafes when I checked the details of my flight in TripIt on my iPhone and realised that I actually had an hour to spare. So I dropped into Degraves for a lovely dinner and wine before heading out to the airport.

I only had to print my boarding pass and jump on the plane to get home. Or so I thought. Upon arriving I went to the mobile check-in and was informed I had to see the service desk. I’ve had seats reshuffled before, and assumed that there was some small thing like that. Alas, I found out that I was an hour late for my flight.

I rechecked the details and went back to my original itinerary only to find that I had, in fact, missed my flight. The first available flight was first thing this morning, so I had to arrange last minute overnight accommodation as well. Total cost: just over $300.

Thinking that I’d incorrectly entered the details, or that TripIt’s famous auto-entry feature had got the details wrong, I checked into the TripIt website. Going to the main TripIt website, my flight details are shown correctly:

TripIt website displaying correct details for my flight

So then, looking into it further, I rechecked the iPhone app and confirmed the time was incorrectly stated (note that the morning flight displays the correct time):

TripIt iPhone app displaying the incorrect flight tim

I acknowledge that perhaps I missed something to do with timezones and the like, but the only conclusion that I can come to is that it’s a bug there…

In hindsight there are a number of things I could’ve done to avoid this problem. If I’d checked my itinerary when I noticed the discrepancy. If I’d looked into my booking details on the airline website, or checked flight delays, perhaps I would have picked up the problem. But the whole point of using TripIt, and especially the iPhone app, is to have one trusted location for travel information. That trust has well and truly been broken.

I’ve reported this bug to TripIt and have asked them to clarify their position with regards to errors like this. I don’t expect to get much of a response (something along the lines of “our terms and conditions state that you use this at your own risk). But needless to say, I won’t be using TripIt in future.

I just hope this can serve as a warning for anyone else that’s using the app to avoid the same scenario.

How to make your customers feel the fool

In response to my last post, Damian points out via Twitter that, despite all my whining, I still want one (that’s my words, not his).

My response initially was: “yes, but I want to not want one. I really would like to boycott the damn thing in disgust, but noone can match the integration. I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I’ll be cheering on any credible competitor that can challenge their arrogance.”

This is the thing – Apple’s balls-up makes me feel the fool for wanting their product. I stopped wanting to feel the fool some time ago, and will jump to a credible competitor as soon as one appears.

(I think that’s a testament to Apple’s brand – that I would take such a thing personally. But I digress…

I don’t purchase music from iTunes as there is a credible alternative without the lock-in – they’re called CDs. And I recently switched to use my Sony Ericcson W880i instead of my iPod, only to switch back due to the lack of integration. I want to avoid using the App Store as well due to the lock-in there – I simply don’t want to support it.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way – I’ve mentioned my gripes more than a few times on this blog. But every time it happens, I want more and more for a competitor to step up and provide me with a decent alternative. I know I’m not alone.

And that’s something Apple’s current market success with the iPod and iPhone currently masks, and thus Apple’s arrogance continues unabated. This hubris (among other things) is what led them to become a minority player early in the PC industry (a position they’ve yet to escape in the personal computer market). I dearly hope they get slapped upside the head sometime soon by a competitor so they pull their head in and start serving their customers. Not that I’m holding my breath…

Update: Hugh posted the following cartoon on a slightly different front, but appropriate all the same:

The Traumatic Life of Bernard L. Cummings

iRate (or “Apple doesn’t want my money”)

I’m wondering if someone can tell me how I might be able to buy an iPhone in Australia? Seems Apple doesn’t want to sell me one. Telstra are playing extortionist, and Optus are plain out of stock.

Note to Apple Australia: I have $850 to give to you in exchange for the 16GB black iPhone you’re advertising everywhere. If you’d like to collect, feel free to let me know…

The long version

Apple still don’t sell phones outright – only on 24 month plans with Optus and Vodafone. Their advice, roughly, is call Optus, find out where they have stock, then go and get one from whatever store happens to have one on that day. Yeh… whatever. Perhaps Apple should pull down their advertising until they can actually sell the device to interested customers?!

Telstra still have some 16GB stock, but little wonder why – they won’t sell an iPhone outright (despite their claims to the contrary) – certainly not to my interpretation of “outright”. You have to a) be an existing Telstra customer (prepaid is ok, as long as you only want an 8GB unit) and b) have to then (reportedly) pay $150 to unlock the phone to work on other networks.

Optus are clear out of stock. And the city store is no longer taking orders – the exasperated sales staffer informed me that they’d taken 4 calls for very irate customers still waiting for their phones, 3 of which apparently canceling their accounts.

In another city store I asked about the prepaid and they simply responded “we don’t know” – they’ve sent a list of interested people but have no word on when they will receive stock, let alone be able to sell it outright. I’m now on that list that’s seemingly being ignored.

I have to admit, I’m used to Apple not having stock when launching a product. But I have never seen a balls-up like this. I’m sure that Optus aren’t all that impressed with Apple’s supply issues – I wonder if they’ve ever been out of stock of a new Nokia or Sony Ericcson handset? And whoever agreed to the contract terms that limits Apple’s ability to sell the iPhone outright needs to be fired – what a stupid, stupid thing to do.

This is the second attempt to buy an iPhone in the past 3 weeks without success. If Apple thinks this is “creating desire” for the device through scarcity, they are sorely mistaken. It’s just pissing people off – their partners, their customers (existing and potential).

Anyways, I am kinda serious about my initial question. If anyone has some real advice (unlike the kind I got at the Apple store) on how I can pick up a 16GB black iPhone, I’m all ears…

P.S. The reason for my renewed interest is the announcement that Virgin are entering the fray with reasonable data-plans, and 3 have announced their options for those of us that have been able to buy a phone outright (even though they can’t sell the phone, yet), which are even better.

iPhone launch thoughts

Some time ago, when it was first announced the iPhone 3G would be coming to Australia, I quietly (and sometimes publicly) hoped that the 3 network would be the network to launch the iPhone. I thought the only way we’d get decent data charges was if 3 had the phone – given how tremendously awful those charges on other networks are.

As the launch approached, I watched as telco after telco announced that they would be stocking the iPhone: first Vodafone, then Optus, then Telstra.

It’s worse than it appears

As expected, all of them have awful data plans. Optus is by far the most reasonable. Chatting with a friend the other day, they asked “isn’t 500MB enough?” in reference to the Optus plan. Given the pitiful data plans offered by carriers to date, the 500MB option from Optus seems like a good step forward, but I think that for the iPhone this is not enough for all except casual users on a device like the iPhone.

Mark Pesce in a post for the Future of Media blog: iPhail, writes:

“My guesstimate is that the average iPhone user would use somewhere between 2GB and 5GB of mobile data a month – a figure that’s bound to rise as 3G/HSDPA units reach the field.”

Before Mark published his post, I’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the new features of the 3G iPhone is “Mobile Me”, which pushes calendar, contacts and other data to the phone. That will chew up a significant amount of bandwidth. And as Mark points out, that 500MB could pretty easily be chewed up by an avid reader of the SMH.

But I think what has been missed by the telcos is the fact that the iPhone interface, especially the browser and applications (the Apple iPhone App Store also launched yesterda), changes the way iPhone users will use the phone for browsing – increasing it’s use as a truly mobile internet device.

Think about it – using Google Maps on my Sony Ericsson W880i is a “last resort” because of how small the screen is and how difficult it is to input addresses and navigate the maps (I do dig my phone, but that aspect of it is crapful). On the iPhone, I suspect Google Maps will be a “first resort” application – and it will take a fair chunk of data to support that kind of use.

Could Apple have done better?

With the launch of iTunes – which took an enormously long time only to result in a reduced catalogue at higher prices than our U.S. counterparts – Apple Australia demonstrated they had difficulty negotiating the kind of deals that their U.S. compadres could manage.

The inability of Apple to select an exclusive partner (due to legislation restricting the practice) in Australia no doubt didn’t help their cause. But the deals (especially Telstra’s pitiful efforts) are really, really poor – even compared with existing mobile broadband offerings from the same providers. Mark Pesce calls this discrepancy an “Apple tax” – and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

So what about 3?

Of course, the glaring omission on that list of telcos is 3. On their blog, 3 claim that Apple are not allowing 3 to carry the iPhone. I find that hard to believe – and I wonder what 3 are asking for that’s holding things up.

But, according to the SMH blogs, word is that Apple and 3 will come to an agreement by August. The general gist of the blog post is “wait” – see what 3 offers. One expects 3’s deal will be stronger than competitors to make up for the fact they missed out on the launch hype. And that, in turn, might apply pressure on other providers to rethink their offerings.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Suckered by the hype

With all this in mind, I’ve been saying to friends for the past few weeks “I’m going to wait a few weeks after the iPhone is launched before I buy one – just to see if there are any issues and to see what 3’s offer is.”

But walking past the lines at the Apple store, Optus and Telstra stores, I got sucked in and decided to at least find out if I could buy an iPhone outright and use it with my current carrier (which is 3).

I went to the Apple store, expecting that as the maker of the device they would be selling the iPhone outright. I waited until the line was a reasonable length and joined in. A friendly Apple staffer was walking the line and asked me “You’re here for the phone?”. Umm, yes. “Do you have 100 points of ID?”. Check. Yep. “OK, so you know we’re not selling the phone outright?”. Umm. No.

I find it quite incredible that Apple are only selling iPhones on plans. But the friendly staffer suggested I try Telstra (across the road) as they were selling it outright.

So across I went, into another line. I get to the (clearly exasperated) staffer. “So what are your plans?”, I ask. He silently hands me a bit of paper (clearly exhausted). Same crap plans. No mention of outright purchase. “So can I buy this outright?” Yes, I’m informed. “But the phone is locked to the Telstra network and we can’t unlock it.” What do you mean, you can’t unlock it? “I don’t know. ‘They’ just said we can’t unlock it. I think it’s something to do with the demand.”

At this point I’d spent enough time in lines to decide I should stick to my original plan and wait for 3’s offering, so I didn’t bother going to Optus and press the issue.

So on the launch day of the iPhone, I was unable to buy one outright… Seems like an odd sales strategy to me. But perhaps, in the end, I’ll be better off being made to wait. One can only hope…

Bad for industry

As an aside, John Allsopp on the Web Directions blog talks about how this affects the web development industry more broadly in iPhone in Australia – now for the bad news.

OK, in the scheme of things, this is not really a huge deal. World hunger is a big deal. But, this is not just the lament of some yuppie who wants a cheaper phone deal. To me this will actually have a huge impact on Australia’s capacity to become a serious player in the next wave of web innovation – mobile web applications and services. People simply won’t use mobile web services (except the “free” access to carriers own services – my bet is that this will come soon enough). Which means little if any incentive for local companies to innovate in this, a space with almost limitless potential. In markets with inexpensive data charges, all the innovation will take place, and when affordable mobile arrives here, those innovators will be ready to swoop on our market, with local companies in no place to play catchup.

I have to agree.