When I wrote a Mac War Stories column some years back, I didn’t expect to receive too many responses. Yet a lot of you have had problems with your Macs over the years. When you factor in Apple’s own extended repair programs, which cover some note-books and desktops, you began to wonder whether quality control had gone down the tubes.
However, year after year, Apple rates tops in customer support and product reliability in such disparate publications as Consumer Reports and PC Magazine. What is surprising is that these sources aren’t necessarily in Apple’s camp. In fact, you’d think they have more than a few axes to grind about Macs. Yes, even Consumer Reports, which apparently has an editorial stance that is more Windows-friendly than it should be, considering the magazine’s pretense of incorruptibility.
In these cases, as in other reports of this sort, the published data is based strictly on reader surveys. In other words, people like you and me report our experiences with Macs, from getting help from Apple, to how often our computers need service. All of this raw data goes into the stat machine — or Excel spreadsheet — and it all comes up smelling roses for Apple.
So what’s really at work here? Is it true that Apple simply makes builds better hardware and is nicer to customers needing a helping hand?
In part, I’m sure that’s true. But you also have to look at the sort of troubles a Mac user might encounter compared to a Windows user. When it comes to hardware, though, things are more similar than different. The Mac and the PC these days use the very same processors, similar graphics chips, hard drives, RAM, support components and so on and so forth. Indeed, they are quite often assembled in the very sample manufacturing establishments in Asia.
So how could the Mac be more reliable than the PC?
Well, it may be that Apple insists on a higher level of quality control for its products. That’s not the sort of information independent analysts can glean, simply because they aren’t going to be allowed to enter those plants and see what’s going on. So we really don’t know how building a MacBook Pro differs from a typical Dell or HP note-book.
But I’ll grant that maybe that’s the actual situation, although Consumer Reports these days reports the reliability of note-book computers as essentially the same among the major brands, with differences of only a point or two that could just be statistical anomalies. In desktops, Apple reigns supreme by a fair margin.
As to needing technical support, that becomes a different matter. My particular experience with Apple has been somewhat mixed. Most of the time I do get a proper answer without being drawn through a long tunnel and through the maze of different levels of support. But sometimes the system fails me, at least for a while.
Although I am high on Dell’s displays — which I regard as better performers than Apple’s current line — my lone encounter with their technical support wasn’t terribly helpful. This occurred prior to the time that Dell flirted with outsourced support, which can be a bad deal for any company. However, the first person I talked to may have been a trainee, since he seemed to be reading from a script rather than listening to my questions about the proper Internet configuration for an ailing desktop.
After a few moments of this, I stopped the technician, and tried to spur him on to a higher level of information, but he’d go back to his script, oblivious to my presence. Finally, I sharpened my tone and requested a supervisor, but while listening to the horrible music presentation on the phone, I figured out the solution for myself and promptly hung up.
Now Dell supposedly has learned from all these bad experiences and is spending a bundle on beefing up its customer support. It’s too early to tell whether the situation has improved any, as they still haven’t fared much better in those surveys, but I hope that Michael Dell, restored to the CEO spot in the company he founded, is getting the message that the market is far more competitive than it used to be.
However, the particular configuration issue I encountered, involving forcing a DHCP refresh to free a stuck address, simply doesn’t happen under Mac OS X. It also appears that later versions of Windows, and this machine had a version older than XP, are far more forgiving in such situations.
More to the point, Windows users simply require more support. Sometimes it’s a malware issue, such as spyware, or a virus, which causes grief for a PC user. Radio ads touting online support services talk of driver installation woes, and similar matters that should be relatively simple, but become nightmares in a Windows environment.
So one real reason why Apple’s technical support is superior to any PC company is simply because there are fewer problems to solve on the Mac, and a lot of the issues can be easily solved by the user, without calling for help.
If Apple had to support Windows, too, maybe they’d be no better than other computer makers. Thank heavens they don’t, of course. But PC users, who will no doubt complain loudly over this article, will still find reason to dispute this argument.
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