Sometimes, when journalists and bloggers hear something that sounds like a scoop, they rush to publish the story before anyone else can get it. Unfortunately, that sometimes has repercussions.
Yesterday, I was talking to ZDNet's James Kendrick at the TeleNav Waypoint event in Cupertino when he mentioned that he had just posted a story about fragmentation in the iOS market. The story suggested strongly that there were changes between the AT&T and Verizon iPhones that would require some developers to create individualized versions of their apps for each carrier.
His conclusions were based on a question he had posed earlier in the day to TeleNav personnel, asking why the company had created a Verizon-only version of their iPhone navigation app instead of just re-branding the AT&T Navigator app. The answer from Telenav execs was that they believed it was due to hardware differences. I also overheard that comment and found it quite disturbing.
Shortly after Kendrick's post went live, TechCrunch's MG Siegler wrote a sharp-tongued but insightful response, iPhone App Fragmentation FUD Is Looming. In his post, Siegler decried Kendrick's story as "complete nonsense" based on his observation that all apps he had personally tested on the Verizon iPhone -- including a number of GPS-centric apps -- had worked fine.
This seemed like a story that could be rapidly resolved one way or another with a bit of targeted reporting. Our beat writer for the navigation app market, Mel Martin, quickly jumped in (at 10 at night) and emailed numerous contacts in the mobile nav sector to see if they had run into any issues with their apps working on the Verizon iPhone. The unanimous answer? No.
So, who was right in the midst of all of this confusion? I had heard verification of the same comment about the differentiation in Telenav's apps being due to the hardware from the same source -- a TeleNav exec who was sitting across from Kendrick and I at dinner. But the fact that no other iPhone apps had issues running on both the Verizon and AT&T iPhones was a nagging question.
[There are, of course, carrier-specific apps, but those are differentiated on purpose to handle billing, contact management, service issues and the like -- not because of hardware. There is actually a whole category of apps that readers report trouble with on Verizon iPhones, those that send emoji texts; that's also not really a hardware issue, but is likely related to Apple's non-Unicode handling of emoji that was intended for use only in the Japanese market and a wonky interaction with Verizon's SMS transmission approach. We're keeping an eye on the problem. –Ed.]
I know from many years of experience as an engineer, IT project manager and consultant that the higher you are placed in a project or company, the harder it is to keep track of the technical minutiae of every piece of a project. That's why you trust your engineers and QA personnel to make sure that everything is working OK. I was confused about what we had heard from the exec, so this morning Kendrick and I made a point of asking the question again to get a definitive answer from the TeleNav engineering staff.
Fortunately for anyone using an iOS device, the answer was what I expected -- there is no differentiation between the AT&T and Verizon versions of the TeleNav app other than the obvious changes that were made to product branding and a few new features. I was happy to see that TeleNav went out of their way to clarify the kerfuffle, and Kendrick has been able to update his post to reflect the new reality.
TeleNav's official word on the topic is that the changes were for three major reasons -- billing changes since the Verizon version is billed to the iTunes account as a subscription vs. AT&T Navigator charges going on an AT&T bill, branding differences since this is a TeleNav-branded app, and slightly different feature sets between the two apps. The app detects carrier IDs, so only Verizon iPhone users can use the new TeleNav app.
For Kendrick, this was a slightly embarrassing case of having published a post that was based on first-hand, but incorrect information. For TeleNav, it was an example of how innocent comments made in passing at a tech conference can be picked up by eager bloggers and turned into "news." For Siegler, it was a chance to show off the merciless snark that typifies our sister site (we're both owned by Aol), while not really doing anything to validate his gut feeling that the story was wrong. And for TUAW, it was a chance to put our team to work to see if we could figure out what the heck was really going on. We didn't get the story out first, but we were able to get validation from a number of sources to get the story right -- about a day behind the controversy.
Me? I'm just hoping that this serves as a cautionary tale to all of us in the tech blogging world that we often need to slow down our race to be first to publish a story (even when we have first-hand information) or criticize another's work, and pay more attention to the facts at hand. In the end, that is going to benefit everyone who reads tech news.
*Verizon is currently in the process of acquiring AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.