No iPhones Were Harmed in the Creation of this Outage

Apple’s recent iMessage outage had some users confused. What do you mean I can’t text my favorite cat photos?? How can Apple do this to me!?!?

What happened?

Apple provides services to everyone who uses it’s platform. iCloud for example stores your contacts, calendar, photos, apps and documents in the cloud. No more syncing to itunes to make sure all your stuff is backed up. It’s automatic in the cloud. Yes or course unless iCloud is down.

Same goes for iMessage. Apple has quietly introduced this, as a more feature rich version of text messaging. It’s great until the service isn’t available. What gives?

All these services are backed magically or not so magically by computer servers. These computers sit in datacenters, managed by operations teams, and to some degree with automation. All the things that brought down AWS & AirBNB & Reddit with it could also take out Apple. A serious storm like Sandy also presents real risks.

iMessage is a text and SMS replacement service for iPhones & iPads. It is more feature rich, offering device synchronization, group texting & return receipt. But in a very big way it is also an attempt for Apple to muscle into the market and further extend it’s platform reach.

100% uptime ain’t easy

Even for firms that promise insanely good uptime, five nines remains very very hard to achieve in practice.

For starters all the components behind your service, need to be redundant. Multiple load balancers, webservers, caching servers, and of course databases that hold all your business assets.

But as the repeated AWS outages attest, even redundancy here isn’t enough. You also need to use multiple cloud providers. Here you can mirror across clouds so even an outage in one won’t bring down your business.

What about in the world of messaging? Well you can bet your customers don’t likely know or care about high availability, uptime, or any of these other web operations buzzwords. But they sure understand when they can’t use their service. It may give companies like Apple pause as they try to stretch themselves into areas outside their core business of iphones, ipads, and the IOS platform itself.

iMessage – messaging standards power play

When I first upgraded to an iPhone 4S, the first thing I noticed was the light blue bubbles when texting certain people. Why was that, I wondered? I quickly found out about iMessage, which was conveniently configured, to replace my old and trusty text messaging.

Texts or SMS work across all phones, smartphone or not, and apple or not. But open standards don’t lend themselves well to market muscle and dominance. So it makes sense that Apple would be pushing into this space. I met more than one blackberry owner who loved using bbm to keep in touch with colleagues. It’s like your own private club. And that muscle further strengthens Apple’s platform overall. Just take a look at how the Android Ecosystem is broken if you need an example of what not to do.

The flip side is it means you have more to manage. More servers, more services, more dimensions to your business. More frequent outages that can tarnish your reputation.

A lot complaining and publicity like the iMessage outage received, may just be an indication that you’re big enough for people to care.

Alternatives abound…

There is huge competition in the messaging space. The outage and it’s publicity further underline this fact.

For example on the iPhone for messaging there is ChatOn, Whatsapp, LINE, SKYPE & wechat just to name a few.

Interestingly, while researching this article, I downloaded WhatsApp to give it a try. Only 99 cents, why not. Turns out that they had not one, but two outages, just a week ago. Seems Apple isn’t the only one experiencing growing pains.

A lot of complaining and publicity could be a sign that you’re big enough for people to care!

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  • Smile it is almost Friday!

    The whole iMessage thing is flawed badly. I own four Apple devices. I deregistered my phone number. I deregisterd my eMail as best as I could figure. I turned iMessage off. The problem is solved. I use standard SMS and WhatsApp.

    The sad thing, is I bought my first Apple device back in 2010, and never noticed iMessage until a few months ago (2014). I work in IT, so I am not technically incapable. Clearly iMessage is not very usable, if I did not even notice the fuctionality in all that time. I suppose the baloons were sometime blue and sometimes green. I never paid attention.

    • Sean Hull

      Yeah I suppose you’re right. Many users probably only notice it as blue text bubbles instead of green ones.

      • Smile it is almost Friday!

        I work for a major international bank. Most of my collegues own at least one Apple device. They all seem to only have passing recolections of what iMessage is. Most, like me, never took note until the “outage” made the headlines. Our head of IT has been an iPhone user since the iPhone 3. He had never noticed it either.

        Apple claims 250-300 million repeat customers. They also claim 150 million iMessage users. Does that mean that only half thier loyal customer base noticed iMessage and flicked it off?

        Ok, enough satiring Apple for today! :)

        • Sean Hull

          Lol. Thx for the comments Phred.