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Apple won't use the word "push" when it comes to MobileMe

July 16, 2008 |  4:34 pm
MobileMe

When is "push" technology pushy enough?

In its apology to some customers today about technical problems with its new MobileMe service, Apple said it would stop using the word "push" to describe the way the program updates calendar changes and e-mails to a person's devices. The tech industry uses the term to describe wireless services, such as the BlackBerry network, that constantly "push" new messages and other data to and from the device.

"Even though things are indeed instantly pushed to and from your iPhone and the Web apps today, we are going to stop using the word 'push' until it is near-instant on PCs and Macs, too," the note said.

A refreshing admission of failure to meet expectations? Or a linguistic dodge? In this case, push may be in the eye of the beholder.

The collective understanding of "push" is that all our information on all devices is updated and accessible in the "cloud," or server, at the same time, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch. But he said the process was expected to take seconds, rather than the minutes that MobileMe sometimes takes.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog took Apple to task about using "push." The site said Apple should instead use the word "sync," which it argued implies a longer amount of time to complete the task.

Gartenberg praised Apple for not getting into a semantic fight. "They own up when things aren't perfect and when they aren't going to meet the bar fully," he said. "It's not easy to backtrack from something you said, and what they did was the right thing."

I called Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at UC Berkeley's School of Information, for his view of Apple's decision. A MobileMe customer, he received the e-mailed apology from Apple this morning and was puzzled by it. He said the move was akin to an airline that suffers from delays vowing to stop saying that its flights are "on time" or a troubled bank saying it would stop calling its deposits "safe."

"It's an odd kind of apology," he said. "You promised something. And it turns out you can't deliver it. But when you come up short, you apologize for the word."

For now, "push" is verboten to describe MobileMe. But when the service's "push" satisfies the standard-bearers, Apple will undoubtedly let the world know.

-- Michelle Quinn

Image courtesy of Apple

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