Rumors of the Sidekick’s death are not exaggerated

Have you heard of the T-Mobile Sidekick?

The Sidekick is now dead.

From what I’m reading, everyone– yes, everyone– who uses a Sidekick was affected by a network outage that began on October 2nd.

Some people reset their devices or removed the batteries, and this causes them to lose all their data.

That’s horrendous right there. But even worse is the fact that Microsoft, who now owns Danger, the company that makes the Sidekick, claims to back up all of users’ data in the cloud.

Not only did the network die, but Microsoft’s backup of user data did, too. (Engadget: we probably lost all your Sidekick data.)

So all the people who removed their batteries or reset their devices due to the apparent network failure? They lost their data– permanently (AppleInsider: comparisons with the iPhone).

And they’re furious, which they have every right to be.

Back in 2001, I bought a Cybiko handheld computer. It was a neat little device with a full QWERTY keyboard, a 4-shades-of-gray non-backlit display, 160×160 resolution, and 900 MHz wireless communications capabilities.

I programmed it for a couple years. That’s where my prior mobile app development experience comes from.

When the company died off around 2004, I heard that most of the former employees of Cybiko moved over to the Sidekick, a device very similar to the Cybiko.

They clearly carried over some of the Cybiko’s DNA to the new Sidekick.

For that reason, I’ve always had a fondness for the Sidekick, even though I’ve never owned one. I’ve never used one for more than a couple minutes. But because its roots can be traced back to the Cybiko heldheld computer of my childhood, I always figured they were doing good work.

Unbeknownst to me, Microsoft acquired Danger in February 2008. An interesting acquisition. But now it seems that most acquisitions quickly turn sour. And the recent data loss has lots of implications that are sure to shake the mobile and cloud computing industry.

Note that there are differing definitions of the “cloud”, though, and there’s not much to worry about if you’re on a fully redundant cloud that’s spread across lots of servers in geographically dispersed locations. Microsoft/Danger most likely used a simple hosted solution, with a single point-of-failure. Some people wouldn’t call this much of a “cloud”, but you could consider to be one because it’s processing and storage done off in the “Internet” somewhere.

Anyway, who’s going to trust Windows Mobile after this debacle?

On the other hand, perhaps Hitachi is to blame.

Despite plenty of user complaints about iTunes, there’s no denying that Apple has the best mobile phone sync software available today. It backs up user data. And users still get to keep their data on their devices, even after a hard reset. Data on the iPhone is stored in flash memory, which is non-volatile (meaning it doesn’t go poof when the power goes out).

For each thing Apple does wrong, there’s a hundred things they do absolutely right. And in the mobile phone industry, I have yet to see anyone else come even close. There’s a reason there are more iPhone apps than apps for all other mobile devices combined. And it’s not just marketing and hype. There’s real substance there. A real focus on good user experience.

And that’s what it’s all about: providing value for the customer.

Permanently losing all customer data? Not so valuable.

What are they going to do about it? I don’t know, but they haven’t done much so far. I’ve read that some users got a free My Touch phone. Others are getting a credit for 1 month’s cost of the data plan, or about $20. Just the data plan– no credit for the voice service they paid up for. I guess that makes sense, because there were no problems with the voice service. On the other hand, it feels more like this:

stephenzerotwo @ Oct 10th 2009 11:06PM
If tmobile thinks that they can buy me off with a 19.99 credit after losing every phone # contact i gathered for the last 3-5 years of my life they are sorely mistaken. Class actions here we come. Goodbye tmobile, goodbye sidekick. This is more than unacceptable. Other then this post i am absolutely speechless from rage.

If tmobile thinks that they can buy me off with a 19.99 credit after losing every phone # contact i gathered for the last 3-5 years of my life they are sorely mistaken. Class actions here we come. Goodbye tmobile, goodbye sidekick. This is more than unacceptable. Other then this post i am absolutely speechless from rage.

stephenzerotwo @ Oct 10th 2009 11:06PM

Lots of people lost 350 contacts or even more.

This is the most shocking case of data loss in recent memory. But it’s not hard to find plenty of problems with other online services. In fact, it’s much harder to think of an online service that hasn’t been plagued by problems.

MobileMe? Lots of downtime and slowness when it first launched. Gmail? Had significant downtime just last month. Twitter? Outages have made the failwhale famous. Facebook? My newsfeed stopped updating for nearly an hour last week.

As someone who used to run an online service (Invision Plus), I can vouch for the fact that it’s very hard. Extremely, ridiculously hard. Reliable web hosting that can scale to millions (billions?) of users is still an unsolved problem.

Even Google moves very cautiously in this space. That’s way Google Wave invites are so limited. I received a Google Wave invite on Friday, and I’ve been playing with it ever since. It’s interesting, but too slow.

There’s still a long way to go.

And that’s why I’m in this industry. There is tremendous work to be done, and certainly more than enough work to go around. There are not nearly enough programmers. And a good programmer is far more valuable than even solid gold.

Software on mobile phones still plain sucks. There’s a long way to go, and the only thing holding us back is a lack of good programmers.

For those Sidekick users who still have data on their phones (because they didn’t do a reset), the “best” way for them to save their data is to manually save their contacts one-by-one, a 12-step process.

Um, yeah. Try doing that 950 times (for 950 contacts).

Absolutely ridiculous.

One Response to “Rumors of the Sidekick’s death are not exaggerated”

  1. Marc Liu says:

    Hey Elliot,

    I think I’ve met you before a few years back in TCF. Just wanted to give you props on what was not only a fun read, but also a very informative one.

    Funny thing is, I can’t think of a single person I know with a Sidekick now- when it comes to “smart” phones, everyone seems to be using either iPhones or Blackberries. And to think that the Sidekick used to be the text message device of choice for jocks and popular kids back in high school!

    How the mighty have fallen…


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