Is A Slavish Devotion to Simplicity and Easy Everything a Good Thing?

There are two things that have been circling around in my head the last few months –

1) This Quote from Graham Greene (or was it Orson Welles?) –

In Italy, for thirty years, under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder  and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the  Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, and they had five hundred  years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Courtesy Dictionary.com.

2) A Video of a Cat playing with an iPhone and the user absolutely impressed that the iPhone is so easy to use a cat can use it.

Here’s my question – If everything in life is super simple, when do we get to develop our cognitive abilities? What do we do when persistence and perseverance and patience are needed to accomplish something?

The Rising Cult of Simplicity and Political Correctness

There are two trends that are getting stronger and stronger –

  1. The first is a Slavish Devotion to the notion that EVERYTHING in life should be simple and easy.
  2. The second is the concept of Political Correctness in everything – no one should ever feel bad if they suck at something. We should just applaud them for sucking – at least they tried.

The combination results in a world where we’re painting a beautiful and intricate illusion –

  1. Everything in life is simple. If something is hard then it’s wrong and unfair – it should be made easy.
  2. You are entitled to whatever you want without effort on your part.
  3. Losing is OK. If you lose, then instead of focusing on how to win you should take refuge in the political correctness of ‘trying’ and ‘participating’.
  4. The difference between winning and losing isn’t huge. Everything in life shows us it’s huge – Just compare the profits of Apple and HTC or the profits of Google and Yahoo. Yet, we keep pretending that there’s little to no difference.
  5. It’s OK to be mediocre. This is the strangest thing – suddenly, you’re supposed to be happy if you’re mediocre in what you do.
  6. It’s OK to be unskilled and unaware of how things really work.
  7. If someone is bad at something you should still encourage them. That them just doing something badly is them winning.

Of course, it’s the extreme that is the problem. We aren’t saying – Things shouldn’t be easy. Just that there shouldn’t be an expectation built up that everything in life is easy and simple.

Simplicity where it is needed Versus Simplicity Everywhere

We aren’t saying – Simplicity is Bad OR Everything should be complex.

Quite the opposite – That things should be simple. However, we shouldn’t pretend that complex things are simple. We also shouldn’t pretend that everything can and should be made simple.

For example, take the concept of becoming good at something – It’s never simple.

If you want to create something beautiful, or you want to become very skilled at some skill, it takes an inordinate amount of time and effort.

If we create an intricate illusion that everything in life is simple, and if we let everyone exist in that fantasy world, we are going to have some very interesting results –

  1. People will be used to a lot of things being very simple.
  2. People will believe that everything should be simple.
  3. People won’t have enough experiences of overcoming adversity.
  4. People will get used to ‘easy everything’.
  5. People will run into an area they really love and start on learning real skills and creating valuable things. They will then hit an incredibly painful wall of ‘REAL LIFE’. That things are not simple. That sometimes you have to give everything and work really, really hard.

Here’s an article that talks about this exact thing – How Karate Kid ruined the world for everyone.

We are taking the concept of ‘things should be made simple when possible’ and trying to extend it to everything. That leaves us in a very confusing situation –

  1. We’d like to believe that there’s an Easy Button for everything.
  2. Everything and Everyone around us is busy convincing us that there really is an Easy Button for everything.
  3. Reality is shaking its head and hitting us with painful lessons that not everything is simple.

Is Life always simple? Is everything in Life easy?

Perhaps. Perhaps everything is simple and we just haven’t realized it yet. Perhaps we are the Kings & Queens of Wishful Thinking.

Are we now undergoing De-Evolution?

Perhaps this is how the Dinosaurs went extinct. They found their equivalent of the Easy Button. Grew too lazy and relaxed and used to endless plains filled with endless food. And then the ice ages or a meteor or some other ‘Real Life Event’ hit their intricate illusion of perfection and they just weren’t adaptable enough.

What if things get hard?

You have one kid who grew up fixing his own bike and working hard on a paper route. You have another kid who complains because the game on his iPod doesn’t have buttons in the right places.

Who’s better suited to survive?

If an iPhone or an iPad is so simple that a cat can use it, then is that the best use of our human brains? Is it good for us or is it the equivalent of exchanging vegetables for Diet Coke?

It’s not just Apple. Every technology company is focused on dumbing down things and making things simple. Microsoft, Google, Amazon – they are all playing the same game.

We’re experiencing a lot of very interesting things right now –

  1. More and more of a detachment from reality.
  2. More and more of a focus on instant and easy gratification.
  3. More and more of a shift towards ‘how we wish the world were’ instead of ‘how it really is’.
  4. More and more of a focus on – It should be super easy. You shouldn’t really have to work hard.
  5. More and more of an acceptance of giving up. Now it’s becoming OK to be to be mediocre, to try half-heartedly, to not give your best.

What else is this, if not a sort of De-Evolution?

Or is it what Evolution should be.

Basically, it’s very simple. There are two possibilities.

Possibility 1: This is EXACTLY how things should be. We are transitioning to a world where humans have just completely taken over the planet and need to do nothing except relax and throw virtual birds at virtual pigs. This is our state of permanent perfection.

Possibility 2: This is EXACTLY how we wish things were and it’s COMPLETELY UNREAL. That it’s a function of too much feeding of ‘fantasy’ and ‘how we wish things were’ and illusions and dreams.

Who wants to live in a world where things are hard? Where the winner gets the prize and the loser gets nothing? Where you have to practice for 10 years to learn to play the Guitar? Where it takes 12 years of 5 hrs a day practice to make it to a sports team? Where you have to go and fight real wars and risk your life for family and country?

So, when someone suggests a different world, it seems so compelling.

A world where you don’t really have to work hard in school to do well. No one is ever given bad grades. A world where there’s no homework. It puts kids with disinterested parents at a disadvantage. A world where college is a 4 year vacation your parents pay for. A world where your employer understands that you need a few years to get out of the college mindset. A world where working 25 to 30 hours a week seems the right thing. A world where you can’t call a spade a spade because at some deep level the spade wants to be a flying broom.

A world where everything is easy. A world where losers get better prizes than the winners. A world where being mediocre is prized above being excellent. A world where everything is like Guitar Hero and Call of Duty. A world where the only wars fought are in video games.

The latter (The Easy Button World) is infinitely more appealing than the former. It’s so appealing that our brains have a natural incentive to imagine it as our reality – regardless of what Reality is actually telling us.

Here’s the thing though –

What if after living for years and years in this beautiful world full of Easy Buttons and Everything Easy we were to discover a completely different world where things were hard? What would we do then?

Fantasy Vs Fantasy AKA Why YA novels are a disease

Just to Clarify: This post is not saying the following:

Ban books. Women should not read. Girls are Stupid. Steal Honey from Bears.

YA is crap. Twilight is terrible. There should be no Young Adult Books. Kids like Skittles too much.

Eat More Chicken. Eat Less Chicken. Save the Earth from the Ice Age. Save the Earth from Global Warming.

It is not trying to steal your rights to read books, or to read good books or to read terrible books.

It was written about Young Adult Books. It wasn’t meant specifically for girls or boys. The example quoted is girls but that’s just coincidental. You could take something like video games and find the same triggers being used to affect boys. PLEASE don’t turn this into something about women’s rights to read books. Or for that matter, about the right to read books.

What is this post saying, if it isn’t saying any of the above things?

It’s saying that a lot of the psychological triggers that are used to manipulate people are slowly entering YA fiction.

That it’s a trend which has a logical end-point – The devolution of books into something that isn’t very good, and which will end up being harmful to readers.

These psychological triggers, and the way they are used – are a bad, bad thing. Because we can’t defend against them. That’s the beauty of psychological triggers – Even knowing they exist isn’t defence against them. They are powerful because they are built over millions of years and 5 minutes of thinking they’re ineffective now won’t end their influence.

Millions and millions of years of human experience is more powerful than any argument about ‘people aren’t that stupid’. No, of course not. They’re human and they are susceptible to anything that wields influence over humans. It’s like a reaction to fire or to cold – it’s inside you and you can’t turn it off.

Also Note this key phrase from the post:

… we are moving away from the middle and going towards the far right.

The post is saying that we are headed in the wrong direction. That’s very different from saying ‘the world has ended’.

Please Also Note: This post observes the situation. It is not calling for action – and you can read it end to end to confirm this. It is pointing out things without asking to ban books or end things.

Finally, no politically correct werewolves or metrosexual vampires were hurt in the making of this post … unfortunately.

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Imagine a continuum of Fantasy.

  1. On the very left is imagination exercising Fantasy. One that gives you a sense of wonder and makes you think about the things that might be possible.
  2. In the middle is escapist Fantasy. Where you turn off the real world for a bit and dream away.
  3. On the very right is Reality-Polluting and Reality-Destroying Fantasy. Where the fantasy ends up destroying your hold on reality and/or ends up making you unhappy with reality.

If you want a very rough analogy then you have –

  1. Far-Left Fantasy = Playing a sport, reading a good classic book, drawing something. It’s an exercise of a faculty.
  2. Smack-in-the-Middle Fantasy = A board game, reading an entertaining book, a good (but not necessarily artistic) movie, a concert. Perhaps not the most amazing use of time but good entertainment and definitely doesn’t hurt you.
  3. Reality-Killing Fantasy = hitting your head against the wall, living in a bubble, taking wishfulness to an extreme.

The distinction is important because with Young Adult novels like Twilight and, to an extent, The Hunger Games – we are moving away from the middle and going towards the far right. To the Reality-Killing and Reality-Polluting Fantasies.

The Distinction between Fantasy and Reality-Killing Fantasy

There’s been a morphing in Fantasy.

Consider how video games have devolved from ‘look what might be possible’ games like The Legend of Zelda to ‘push all the psychological triggers’ social game corruption like Zynga’s games.

The same thing is happening with books for young adults. Authors are, knowningly or unknowingly, pushing psychological triggers instead of actually writing good stuff.

Let’s consider what psychological triggers you could push for a young teenage girl:

  1. Love.
  2. The Rich Boy Loving You.
  3. The Exciting Dangerous Boy Loving You.
  4. Both Fighting Over You.
  5. Social Validation.
  6. Social Status.
  7. A Feeling of Fitting In.
  8. Feeling Beautiful.
  9. Feeling Accepted.
  10. Your Hero not caring whether you’re rich or poor.
  11. Your Hero not caring how popular you are.

In the past, the focus was on all mediums (movies, games, books, music) delivering a message. Even escapist fantasy had a message. The book left you with something.

Now it’s just a hole in your soul that you’re told/sold can only be filled by a werewolf and a vampire wooing you with the ardor of jackrabbits.

These days, the message is forgotten in the pursuit of psychologically addicting the reader. And every YA fantasy romance novel is doing the same thing.

It’s no longer about romance or love. It’s about pushing the right triggers. Unfortunately, pushing the right triggers too well means you start destroying reality.

Push too many psychological triggers and you start destroying Reality

If you set up a romance novel with 3 or 4 triggers i.e.

  1. The Hero is rich.
  2. The Hero is good-looking.
  3. The Hero chooses you out of several options.
  4. There’s intrigue and perhaps a dash of danger.

Then there’s a pretty good chance real life can compete. Perhaps your real-life hero only hits 2 out of 4 points. But he’s flesh and blood and there to hold you in his arms. And there are ALWAYS other women to add some competition.

Real life is as compelling – sometimes more compelling.

However, YA books these days are getting too good at pushing psychological triggers:

  1. The Hero is rich and good-looking.
  2. There’s a Rival Hero who is also very desirable.
  3. The Hero is a Vampire. The Rival Hero is a werewolf.
  4. The social pressure and loneliness is amplified and then your Hero magically makes it all go away. 
  5. The fate of the world hangs on you.
  6. You have magical psychic powers.
  7. Your family has magical powers and drama of the sort few human families ever do.
  8. The Hero and the Rival are fighting over you.
  9. There are added enemies and dangers.
  10. You are told you are special.
  11. You are told you are entitled to whatever your heart wishes – use the Hero and Rival Hero like pawns if you wish.

How can Mr. Darcy compete with that?

And Mr. Darcy isn’t even real. How can the real love of your life compete with that?

Plus there’s no message. Instead of being good or love or decency – the message is entitlement and running away from reality.

It’s one thing if Disney is trying to manufacture fantasy boy bands for teenage girls. It’s quite another if you couple the power of these girls’ overactive imaginations with a plethora of psychological triggers (that take advantage of their vulnerabilities) to create something even Disney’s Boy Bands can’t compete with. Not unless they grow some fangs and develop some superpowers.

All the Fantasy Overload is Killing Reality

If you’re a young boy you’re hit with runway models and centerfolds and porn stars.

If you’re a young girl you’re hit with reality-destroying YA romance where a merman and a centaur and an Orang-utan man will fight a cosmic war for Earth’s fate and the prize will be you.

It’s getting so ridiculous it’s hard to believe. We don’t have woolly mammoths and other prehistoric monsters to challenge us for survival so now we are creating monsters of our own.

At this rate soon no boy and girl will fall for each other because the girl isn’t what some idiot in a mansion thinks women should be and the guy has neither vampiric powers nor a werewolf to play the perfect foil.

As a race we’re beginning to feed on our young. It’s so important to create ‘consumers’ that are unhappy and need to consume to fulfill themselves that we are doing everything we can to destroy their sense of reality.

That’s the problem with all these Twilight clones. They are a de-evolution of books. We don’t have literature or even pulp fiction any more – we just have a set of psychological triggers wrapped up in novel form. They are neither horizon expanding nor pure entertainment – they are just reality-destroying, unrealistic-expectations-creating, unhappy fantasy. If people are worried about declining birth rates and failing relationships now – wait till you get the generation that have grown up with Twilight.

Our Kindle Speed Reading App and the truth about Kindle App Approval Process

This comment from Tim made me think it’d be worth sharing some information about our ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app and why it won’t be coming out. And might as well share information about other apps that Amazon hasn’t approved and probably never will.

Tim – 2 hours ago 

I agree with Mary – concentrate on something that Amazon or others might not do. I reckon the Kindle is a perfect format for a speed-reading app, and that a good number of its users would be very interested in that.

@Sandy Spruill – if you download Caliber and then download instal the Kindle Collections plugin from the Caliber plug-ins page, you can organise your collections.

We’ve also had users leave comments before and even email us. The infinite irony of this is that we’ve had a Reading Speed App submitted since September 2010. Over a year ago. Amazon just keeps finding reasons to not let it go out to Kindle owners.

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We do have a Reading Speed App. It has the following:

  1. A 7 day course on learning how to speed read.
  2. 15 public domain books to test on and measure reading speed on.
  3. A tracker that tracks your reading speed and shows it graphically.

Here is a screenshot. You basically go into a practice book, tap ‘Start’, read a few pages, then tap ‘Stop’, and it measures your reading speed. There’s a course that explains how to improve your reading speed.

Reading Speed App
Improve Your Reading Speed

It does not have the following:

  1. Option to speed read through every Kindle book. Apps are not allowed to access books so this is not possible at the moment. Ideally we’d like to make something that lets you measure your reading speed in any book and also use auto-page turns or Random Serial Visual Presentation to speed-read any book. However, Kindle Apps are NOT ALLOWED to access books.

This ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app is probably never going to come out.

Amazon rationale:

  1. We have no credentials to release a reading speed app.
  2. There are legal concerns. Given that there are 50 different speed reading software available for the PC and for smartphones this seems like nonsense.
  3. Users who don’t see their reading speed improve will give it a negative review.
  4. Price is too high. I have a simple answer – Let us make it WiFi only and we’ll sell it for $1. We get charged 15 cents per MB and this app is 2.5 MB so if Amazon makes it WiFi only (and then users can use WiFi or PC to download) we’ll make it $1. The aim is to help people improve their reading speed and $1 is fine. We just can’t manage $1 if we also have to pay 40 cents for every single download of the app.

Honestly, I think Amazon is just delaying us because it is shopping the app idea around and seeing if it can get some more ‘palatable’ & ‘established’ company to do it first.

Here are the key dates:

  1. October 2010: App Submitted in working form.
  2. October and November 2010: Amazon tell us that they will have some people internally ‘who know speed reading’ look at our app and give ideas. Because ‘some random person at Amazon with a fleeting interest in speed reading’ should naturally tell the people who made the software how to design it.
  3. November, December, January 2010: Prioritization of Apps like ‘Tic Tac Toe’ and ‘Flip It’ since Amazon thought that out of the 24 Apps we submitted (Notepad, Calendar, ToDo List, Reading Speed, Weather, etc.) the ones most valuable to Kindle owners would be Tic Tac Toe and FlipIt (the only two games).
  4. This year we restarted the idea (thinking that after Notepad and Calendar we would be able to get over Amazon’s ‘credentials’ objection. Amazon wanted to ‘Approve the Idea’ and took two months to approve it. 2 months for some committee at Amazon to give their stamp of approval.
  5. Then we submitted the app (works for all eInk Kindles except Kindle Touch) and just last week Amazon says – You might as well do some other app, because this app will take 3 months to approve.

This is an app with an entire book reading component. It’s only when the entire app is done (and modified for Kindle 4 so it works without a keyboard) that Amazon suddenly decided it’s not good enough.

So an app that we really, really want to make for Kindle owners and will sell for $1 if Amazon lets us do WiFi only (so we don’t have to pay 40 cents every single time the app is downloaded) – Amazon won’t let us. It’d rather we made me-too apps like Tic Tac Toe and random games.

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Even Apps that are approved are a journey through Hell. Kindle Notepad only got shipped after we threatened to leave the store.

Our Kindle Notepad update took 2.5 months to get approved. Again, after threatening to leave the store. Calendar and Kindle Notepad update shipped on the same day and only because we again threatened to leave the store.

It’s just very disheartening when the only way to get an app approved is to use threats and go through months and months of waiting.

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Here are some other apps that aren’t approved:

  1. Notes with Email. This is a Notes App that lets you keep three tabs of notes and also email them out. Reason Not Approved: It uses 3G. Note: Amazon won’t add API to differentiate between WiFi and 3G. It won’t let us cover 3G costs either. 
  2. Weather. This is not approved because it would use wireless data. 
  3. Please Return Me App. This is an app you can leave running on your Kindle when you leave the house. If someone finds your Kindle, they can email you from the app itself. Reason not Approved: Use of 3G. Because we are sending email to user email account and that counts as ‘user information’ and is risky. This is despite us switching to Amazon’s Simple Email Service.
  4. Personality Test Apps. Reason not allowed: Because we don’t have the ‘credentials’.
  5. Page Number Guesser. This was a simple app that let users enter page numbers and locations for a book and then look up things. Note: This isn’t very useful because apps can’t access books themselves – so it would be a reference outside the app.
  6. Photos – A File Manager that lets you keep photos, create folders (multi-level) and put photos in them, view slideshows. Reason: Not sure.

These are just some of the apps not approved. Most of these apps fall into the categories of

  • Apps that Amazon thinks we have no business releasing. OR
  • Apps that use wireless data and Amazon can’t be bothered to release an API that differentiaties between WiFi and 3G. Note: It won’t let us release 3G apps even if we agree to pay for 3G data.

Apps that do get approved aren’t a cakewalk either. Calculator took 9 months to get approved. In the interim another company got to release their app first (they are a launch partner). Kindle Tips took nearly an entire year.

Kindle App Team keeps ‘suggesting’ we make apps free and when we don’t then that app gets ignored for months.

Our team thinks it’s Kindle owners who should decide whether an app idea is good for users or not. Not middle management at Amazon.

And that an app shouldn’t be stopped because Amazon’s Kindle App team is scared that some users might give it bad reviews. Should a Speed Reading App that will benefit tens of thousands of users be not released because a few dozen users might leave 1-star reviews?

If you find one or more of these apps appealing, please email Mike Nash, who’s the head of the Kindle App Team. Perhaps he can explain why an app on Reading Speed is not being allowed to ship because of the fear that a few people might give it a 1-star review, and why all the above apps like Weather and Personality Tests and Email Apps are not OK to release. His email is mikenash@amazon.com.

Finally, every single Kindle App developer I’ve talked to has the same problems i.e. Kindle App Team thinks they know better than Kindle owners what apps they should get. They won’t add things like ‘sound API’ so no alarm clock apps are possible, they won’t allow a WiFi API so we can’t add apps that use wireless, and they won’t allow access to books so Collections Organizers and Page Number Apps etc. can’t be made.

Also, the Kindle Touch Development Kit was shared with only a limited group of large companies. And everyone else had to wait a month. Which guarantees that all the ‘non-privileged’ companies won’t be able to get Touch versions of their apps out for Christmas. Basically, companies like EA get exclusive access to Touch Kindle owners for Christmas and the new year.

Here are a few more developers who are experiencing the infinite joy of Amazon’s Kindle Apps Team (Bolding is mine). 

Source: http://forums.kindlecentral.com/forums/thread.jspa?threadID=1034&tstart=30

Developer #1:

Can I get a new contact at Amazon. To other developers: beware 

 was asked by a developer at Amazon to make an application offered on another mobile platform for the Kindle. I accepted, signed up, purchased a Kindle reader learned how to program on this platform. A few weeks into development, my contact at Amazon asks to see my progress, tells me things look like they’re moving in the right direction with my project. He informs me there is too much ghosting, to which I answer, that introducing more frequent flashing will take away too much from the speed of the program. I did not think the ghosting was bad at all. He informs me that it is already really fast and flashing will not make the program too slow. So, I introduce flashing with every screen repaint as he requested instead of flashing every 10 or so screens like I was doing (if I am not mistaken, a flash every 10 screens max is the recommendation in the documentation).

I finish the program, submit it. A few days later I get an email asking if he could get in touch with me about some feedback on my program. Of course, I say, any time is fine. I hear no feedback for days. I email him asking for the feedback again, and I finally get it. The feedback indicates that the team does not think the format of my program (which I have been selling for years on another platform and was asked to bring over to Kindle by someone at Amazon) is not acceptable. I am wondering why I was even asked to join this project if my application wasn’t acceptable. Also, the flashing I implemented at the request of my contact is not acceptable to the team, as they indicate my application is too slow. I’m sorry but I can’t help that flashing takes to long and my contact wants flashing with every repaint. The team, is suggesting I make other changes to my program which I disagree with. Okay fine, I can accept they want changes and I will make some of them, but some of the changes being recommended by the team are just not possible and others I need clarification on. I have emailed my contact with questions about the feedback from the team and I am totally frustrated at the lack of response and the contradictory feedback.

I’m 40,000 lines of code into my project, and these changes are requiring me to make considerable alterations. If Amazon is going to demand this much control over what they allow in the store, I need some support from them, and I am not getting it. I have had at least four important emails go unresponded. My contact is very good at making demands, but is doing very little to address my questions and other issues.

So now I have a 40,000 code line immaculate work of art, ready for deployment by  reasonable means, and I can’t get some simple answers about the feedback I am getting. It appears Amazon is throwing me under the bus. I have spent at least 240 hours on this project. I refuse to work like this.

To the other developers: What are you experiences with the review process? Be aware that this may happen to you. Be cautious of investing too much time into your projects before getting feedback. Even if you are getting regular feedback during development, it seems they have no problem reversing their stance later.

To Amazon: get me a contact that is going to actually RESPOND TO MY EMAILS AND NOT JUST MAKE DEMANDS, immediately. I don’t have endless resources to spend on this project.I am 240 hours in the hole on this project, and I have to find a way to, you know, pay for my housing and food, so some help would be great. 

email: [removed]

Thanks,
Scott

Developer #2:

This is not too different from my own experiences. After weeks and months of slow and often technically uninformed (the so-called engineer I was referred to for one problem in my app wasn’t even aware of a bug that has been discussed in these forums a couple of times only to suggest a workaround that – as discussed in the forums as well – is impossible with the current kdk) feedback I finally got the technical ok from the QA team only to be informed by my contact that the current design of my app was “not viable”. There were two – supposedly better – similar apps on the market and mine wouldn’t be able to compete with them. Apart from the fact that all information required to come to this conclusion must have been available to them for a long time I don’t agree (also, the financial risk is mine isn’t it?). I asked for clarification of the rather general statement and suggestions for improvement but only received vague dismissive answers. My last two emails on the matter (sent weeks ago) have remained unanswered.

I’ve been quite angry about the matter for a while but have now decided to invest my time and effort elsewhere.

I find this really baffling. Amazon is an international multi-billion company that wants to go up against the likes of Apple and Google but seems to think it can get along with a half-assed bug-ridden poorly maintained sdk and shoddy developer relations. I think this is not going to cut it..