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Not A Review: Getting Angry About Highlight for iPhone

This angry tirade was originally a review of Highlight. I have been using the application since just before South By Southwest; right around the time it started to make the rounds of popular tech blogs. Highlight seemed like a compelling product: it promises to connect you to nearby social connections by constantly running in the background, searching for other Highlight users nearby you are friends with or your friends are friends with. This is not a review for one simple reason: I have not been able to get the application to work. For the better part of two weeks I have been checking my iPhone to see what it’s actually like when Highlight highlights. Nothing has happened.

But even if Highlight had managed to find someone nearby, I doubt I would have been able to write a traditional review. Writing a review requires the author set aside some of his or her own emotions and biases and paint a more complete picture of what something is and what it does. It’s the rare product that does nothing praiseworthy, and an objective reporter will recognize a products virtues and point them out, no matter how terrible the overall package. I could never do that—unless the product was significantly different I would refuse to write a single positive thing about Highlight.You see, for Highlight to work it has to constantly run in the background. But it does more than a VOIP app or a music player, it doesn’t just keep a few key processes running. No, Highlight runs in the background and keeps location services on. That means your phone’s GPS chipset is always on, and always draining your battery. Highlight is such a power hog that my iPhone 4S, a device with best-in-class longevity, struggled to stay on as long as my ancient Dell notebook.

Battery life is the key to the smartphone revolution. We have come to trust that our phones will always be available, waiting patiently for our next command. A smartphone with poor battery life is nearly useless, the equivalent of a slow laptop with a miniscule screen and a bundled app for making old-fashioned telephone calls. Highlight compromises one of the iPhone’s central functions and replaces it with… what? A glorified Find My Friends rip off? A nice resume bullet point for everyone working on the app? Another way for MG Siegler and Michael Arrington to cash in on the reputations they earned pretending to be real journalists? (Highlight has accepted funding from CrunchFund.) I’m not sure what the exact answer to is, I never saw Highlight in action. But I have spent time learning what it is supposed to do, and I know that none of Highlight’s features could ever make up for what it takes away.

Apps like Highlight are nothing new—similar programs have existed for years, mostly on Windows. Mediocre Internet Explorer toolbars are almost perfectly analogous to Highlight. They slow down the browser and invade people’s privacy, destroying essential functions without providing tangible benefits for the end user. Low quality toolbars are removed by competent antivirus programs and spyware cleaners, so why is it that Highlight isn’t being treated as a similar form of malware? Part of the reason has to be this: Apple checks all applications for malware, so Highlight couldn’t be malware. That would be a compelling argument if Apple’s reviewers and algorithms were omniscient, but they aren’t. The Highlight developers were lazy to the point of maliciousness—they implemented a derivative idea in such a moronic manner that it utterly devastates the experience of using one of the greatest gadgets ever crafted. Apple and everyone else needs to acknowledge that, get it off the iPhones of users who tried it out, and send it back to the garbage heap that spawned it. If they were really feeling daring they would permanently ban the developers from Apple controlled distribution platforms, and if they were feeling audacious they would penalize every project funded by the venture capitalists with the arrogance to think people are stupid enough to leave crap like this on their phones.

I’m being a bit harsh, I know, but I do have an excellent excuse. You see, I downloaded a cool social app everyone was talking about, and it really did a number on my battery life. I haven’t been able to check my email all day and I keep missing sales calls. For some strange reason that puts me in a bit of a bad mood.


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