Google, Apple, and the Permanent Beta

One of the most interesting features of Apple’s new iPhone 4GS is Siri, a voice-recognition “assistant” that is able to take colloquial spoken English commands. For example you can tell Siri to “book and appointment with John tomorrow” and “she” will check your calendar for available times. There are plenty of reviews of this feature, and that’s not the crux of this article. What is however is that Apple has introduced Siri as “beta” software: a product that the manufacturer believes is complete, but hasn’t been fully vetted and tested on a large scale.

This is nothing new in the technology world, and the preponderance of Google’s free online offerings also fall into this category despite widespread usage. Many other companies in the technology world generate consumer angst when they release what’s perceived as poorly-tested “beta” software to meet a release deadline, co-opting users as involuntary testers in the process and fixing the problems later, however they are usually selling what is billed as “complete” software rather than clearly denoting its beta status.

There’s no harm in a corporate setting to launching some “beta” initiatives, as long as the beta status is clearly spelled out to the user community, and not used as an excuse to release half-baked work for business-critical functions. No one has the resources to pursue every initiative to the fullest, but beta initiatives can test new technologies, or get you 60% of the way there on a problem that needed to be solved yesterday, bridging the gap to a more prefect solution. In short, if you’re not experimenting with a handful of beta initiatives, preferring to do everything “perfectly”, you are probably missing opportunities.

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