UPDATE 3.25.2019I received an e-mail from Bob Interbitzen NQ1R at ARRL that the “fixed” updated QST app from PageSuite, Version 5.1, is now available at the Apple App Store. He posted a note on the ARRL website here. It updated on my iPad as usual and I was able to download the April QST issue. I had to download all of the back issues (I’d previously deleted the app trying to see if that would fix the issue to no avail as described below.) The larger issue regarding the reliability of the custom QST app remains.
Oh, at least 15 years or so ago, a university team in the UK came up with an electronic ink (e-ink) technology for an 8″x11″ format thin tablet for office use. It was going to revolutionize photocopying by reducing the need for it. Recall when corporate (and university!) meetings would be held after burning down the photocopier with reams and reams of memos, white papers, and so forth? The team in England had a budding product that would just nip that in the bud. Except, it never got released. It just wasn’t ready for market. The team went back to the drawing board and disappeared from the marketplace. A few years later, Apple released the iPad line of products which accomplished nearly the same thing. Many corporate and other large organization’s ship documents and memoranda prior to a conference room meeting out to the teams involved by email or intranet. But the eDocument tablet like the iPad has also changed commercial publishing in the print media — newspapers, magazines, and books. Amazingly so! Still, I have a rack in my attic that is almost full of past copies of QST, Monitoring Times, CQ Magazine, and a few others. I am about to dump them all but will likely just donate them to hams at club meetings rather than literally send them to the dump. I actually read those magazines on my iPad (the MT successor is only available by downloadable PDF.) And, I’ve dropped my subscriptions to the other ARRL specialty magazines in favor of paying the $25 or so for an annual DVD of them. I catch up either at my workbench PC or my desktop PC after they arrive each February or thereabouts. If you’re a subscriber to the ARRL’s flagship magazine, QST, you are no doubt aware of the push the League has had on shifting the receipt of your monthly magazine to digital-only by opting-out of the color print copy. (I love, by the way, the new layout changes, Steve Ford!). They advertise it as a Go Green! initiative. It will no doubt help the bottom line on the publishing books for QST but it’s odd that the specialty magazines don’t also come digitally except as on that DVD I mentioned above. But that’s another matter. A few weeks ago, Apple pushed out it’s regular iOS updates which I installed on both my iPad and iPhone. No sweat. Within a few days, I had updated 100+ apps on my iOS devices. (OK, ok. I have a few apps…) All worked fine. I culled a few as I decided I had a better app to do that task. When I received my usual e-mail from the ARRL that the shiny new April 2019 issue of QST was now available, I immediately downloaded it. Except when I did, the QST app crashed. Hmm. I repeated this cycle over a dozen times. Deleting it and the database and reinstalling from the app store (like we were told to do in March of last year by the League’s website.) Still crashed. I felt like the old guy on Modern Family who mutters, “ah geez,” all the time. So I asked about 50 hams a few nights later at a club meeting were they having problems. Of the 30 or so who said they read QST via an Apple device, most had the exact same problem that I did: complete app crash! Reading various Forums on ham radio will turn up similar complaints with some saying that’s why they haven’t renewed their membership. That shouldn’t be viewed as someone being Mr. or Ms Cranky Pants. The QST magazine is, after all, the premier outlet for the League. So I wrote a negative review on the iTunes store, thinking that the Support folks who read that page would realize that the app has hit the fan, so to speak. While I was in iTunes, I read a lot of the previous reviews of the QST app. The average rating out of 5 is 2.3 for this iOS app. That’s really not good. The date of the negative reviews go back several years. I have an Android tablet that I use to both test WiFi dead zones and link to some Bluetooth devices on my workbench but I never read QST on it. Nonetheless, I checked the Android Play store to see if it’s just an issue with Apple’s Development Kit (SDK). Nope. The average rating for the Android version of the QST app is only 2.5 out of 5, just a tad higher than the one for iOS. So it’s not just the operating platform that is plaguing this app. See the reviews for yourself at the respective links shown here:
I wrote Bob Interbitzen, NQ1R, the Marketing Director for the ARRL, about the issue. He rightly asked me what make/model/iOS version I was using. I sent that from the Settings menu. His first response was, well, that’s an old iPad from back in 2016. It is. And it was the biggest fastest iPad Pro Apple offered then. Apply still fully supports it. And I read my CQ Magazine (and others) on the Zinio app just fine and dandy. I also read a ton of books and magazines in both my Kindle app and Apple Books app with nary a hitch. So, it really, really couldn’t legitimately be the old “you need a new computer” response. To Bob’s credit, this caused him to research the issue more deeply. Moreover, he said in his e-mail back to me, “I appreciate your concern for this matter. I can assure you it is receiving a priority level of our attention.” I can hardly complain about the communications from the League in response to my report of being blocked out of the digital access that they’ve encouraged subscribers to shift to. (I myself have not opted-out at this point. And, am glad that I haven’t.) In reality, the League has hired a large commercial eDocument company based in the UK, PageSuite, to customize an app for the League’s QST magazine. They do a lot of business and have a US corporate presence in Boston. They provide the software for the host of the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times newspapers, for instance, and they are fine sites to read, IMHO. PageSuite is launching a new app, called “New Edition,” in which they say “Our new ‘Edition’ solution offers publishers new ways to generate revenue and grow digital audiences.” So the vendor chosen by the ARRL is one that is doing a lot of business. They must have software engineers and coders who are knowledgeable about both iOS and Android (as well as web) platforms, no? The League posted a note to QST subscribers about the issue with the iOS version of the app crashing as Bob took time off for Spring Break. This was dated March 3, 2019: He also sent me a follow-up message by e-mail that updated the technical issue:
While the bug issue with the new version of the app was the initial problem, this has now become a policy problem. Apple has changed the way they consider QST. The app developer had the fix coded last month, but Apple will not let them upload it. We have investigated all options with both the developer and Apple — including appeals to Apple, largely to assure them that QST is a membership journal and not simply a magazine subscription. A new version of the app meeting Apple’s change in terms is being readied. We have our sights set on a weeks-long (not months) resolution. Additional information will be posted to ARRL News, found on the ARRL website home page and http://www.arrl.org/news”. Bob Interbitzen, NQ1R, ARRL Marketing Director e-mail to K4FMH
OK, so now the issue is post-app crashing (for those developers with the app in the SDK) and at the feet of Apple’s iTunes App Store management. The developer (PageSuite) is most certainly a member of the Apple SDK community. This provides such developers with prior versions of iOS releases ahead of when Apple releases it to users. So technically astute developers have the versions of hardware that Apple says their iOS supports (including my 2016 iPad Pro), the new iOS software candidate, and their own QST app code. Well, they should, at least. Everyday, all day activity for development teams. Perhaps. I’ll get to that in a moment. Apple’s management rules for publication are something that the ARRL can’t really negotiate or deal with. It’s the contracted vendor’s turf and, frankly, their obligation to handle. Or, it should be under the terms of the contract with the League. But another issue in PageSuite’s app for ARRL’s delivery of the digital QST is that the app just crashes. When this happens, there is a report automatically generated. This is called, not surprisingly, a “crash analytic report” and the user is given a chance to have it submitted back through the Apple iOS system, ultimately, to developers. However, it is another step in the development process which costs time and, therefore, money. Without it, app Devs are Somewhat Out of Luck (SOL). It’s explained here (emphasis mine):
When an application crashes, a report called “crash report” is created. This will help understand what the problem is and where is it coming from. This will state the condition causing the iOS application to stop without prior warning. Most iOS app developers fail to implement this function during their iOS app development, and when there are no crash reports attached to an iOS app closing unexpectedly, there is little or nothing that one can do to solve the problem. So, it would be wise for an iOS app developer to implement crash analytic to the application during its development to help the application function the best possible way. With this in place, other causes of crashing in iPhone application can be reasonably reduced or stopped. http://blogs.perceptionsystem.com/ios-app-crash-7-reasons-why-an-app-crashes/
Cutting to the chase on this, Bob’s done everything that I could expect him to do. I’ve been in software development, funded software development, designed award-winning software licensing models in the GIS industry, and so forth and so on. Bob’s got a difficult challenge here. Especially, since the public reviews have stated repeated and consistent negative issues with PageSuite’s QST app on both the Android and iOS platform since 2014, or for at least five years. It cannot be that PageSuite’s personnel is incompetent, although they do not follow the implementation of a crash report system which is “best practices” from Apple’s point of view. They’re too large and have too many production-driven clients to be incompetent. But what it may well be is that the ARRL’s custom app to just download and digitally manage the rights (DRM) to QST is not a big enough client to warrant the labor devoted to an issue in order to resolve it in a timely fashion. Back in the late 1990s, I was a respective $100,000 customer to ESRI and ERDAS and a $50,000 customer to RSINC annually, all GIS and remote sensing software vendors, on behalf of NASA and the State of Mississippi. Would my contacts at each vendor take my call? Every time! I’m a $100 a year customer to ESRI now as an individual consumer. Will they take my call? No. But I can post a question on their Forum for such small fry customers. That’s just the economics of software support. Is this the situation that the ARRL is in with the QST app produced by PageSuite? Is it that they are just not a big enough fish to get the right technical talent to keep the QST app on either platform working reliably? I do not know for sure but it would be consistent with the observable performance record and the corporate profile of PageSuite. I will close with this. The issues regarding the digital QST app over past five years or so are analogous to the Logbook of the World development. Great idea. Largely built or designed in-house (or something equivalent) at first. It was terrible in performance. But, scaled up, using modern IT designs, hardware, and implementation, LoTW now has over 1 billion QSOs in it’s database. It’s bigger, better and faster. And, the League is taking on business from the CQ Communications, Inc. line of contests! That improvement came about because of the heat that the Division Directors (Board members) received from the membership community. Bear that in mind. Moreover, the Zinio platform is where CQ Magazine has disseminated their digital version, DRM and all, with very few technical issues over the past several years that I’ve been a subscriber. (I had one subscription where my electronic payment wasn’t added to my current account but resulted in a “new” account such that I could not get my back issues. A phone call to Hicksville NY fixed that.) Thus, it just isn’t that getting magazine issues out to subscribed customers is that big of a deal these days. Others, like Apple Books and Kindle, do it at volumes a few magnitudes larger than the QST subscriber base. The Board of Directors, along with the President and CEO, should schedule a review of the contract with PageSuite at the next meeting. I am not pushing Zinio as an option but PageSuite has just not performed. As CEO Michel has gone on record with, adding value to the ARRL member is the mission of the day. Here, the member is not getting value added but value subtracted. This is especially the case for those members who responded positively to the Go Green! call by the League to opt-out of the printed version of the QST magazine. I’m sure they’ll get the April 2019 issue, eventually. But it’s been over a month and only a hope by Bob Interbitzen of a “weeks-long” hiatus that it will be resolved then. If this were a paper cut, a band-aid would be a prudent response. But this five-year run of an unreliable app on both the Apple and Android platforms requires stitches to firmly fix the problem, not a band-aid. If this issue reports to the Programs & Services Committee, here are it’s members:
Contacting your Division Director and letting him or her know your feelings about this is both your right and responsibility to help the League grow and prosper as our amateur radio organization. As Mr. Spock would’ve said, “It’s only logical!”
Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].
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