In talking with David Biedny for an episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I came to realize that he had twice encountered a hardware issue similar to one I’ve faced. That’s the ease with which the audio input or output jack on a Mac notebook can break.
Here’s what I mean: My 2006 17-inch MacBook Pro developed a defective input jack a little over a year after it was purchased. Evidently something was stuck inside, no doubt a broken pin, but I couldn’t see it, and the local jeweler who inspected it as a favor wasn’t able to locate the cause of the problem. Since the unit was out of warranty, I wasn’t optimistic about getting it repaired, but since I planned to sell it in a few months, I decided to, as they say, take the hit.
As I recall, the price of replacing a daughtercard plus labor came to over $200. The third-party Apple reseller’s service manager told me that some units that exhibited the same problem actually required replacement of the main logic board, which would have cost far more.
I chalked this experience up to just one of those things until I interviewed David for this week’s episode. He told me it had happened twice to him. First on an aluminum PowerBook G4 and then on a 15-inch MacBook Pro of the same vintage as mine. He decided not to pay what he regarded as an excessive amount of money for that repair, and is using an old USB audio interface to handle the input and output chores.
David is a practical fellow, although he might want to consider other options should he decide to eventually sell his notebook. However the larger issue here is whether we’re both unlucky, equally careless or whether the design is sufficiently flimsy to allow for such damage to occur.
I’m not about to make a choice there. But I am concerned why it’s so expensive to replace a part that probably costs less than $1.00. The answer is, of course, that service people these days simply are not trained nor inclined to do component level repair. Rather than remove the offending part and replacing it with the good one, it’s more convenient to simply run a diagnostic to see what’s wrong, and swap the offending printed circuit card.
Now in fairness to the techs, when you’re working with miniaturized components in very close surroundings, it’s easy to make a mistake and cause other problems that may not reveal themselves until the repaired machine is back in the hands of the owner. Granted that makes an awful lot of sense. Besides, the replacement circuit board, which is generally refurbished, has been fully tested at the factory to meet the manufacturer’s specs. When someone is replacing an individual part by hand, who does the quality control, and would you pay for a second tech to examine the work performed by the first? There may be a supervisor or quality control person on hand in a larger repair facility, but not at an Apple Store or regular third-party repair shop.
Besides, consider the profit margins when a dealer can sell you the full circuit card rather than the individual part.
Now there’s nothing to stop you from doing your own repairs if you are adept at the process, have the proper tools, and can find the parts you need. I wouldn’t presume to discourage you, just so long as you know the risks, a mistake that may take down not just the card you’re repairing but other parts on the computer.
As much as I’d like to see a bank of techs making these simple repairs, it’s just not practical anymore. The world of consumer electronics is far too complicated. Besides, when something real serious goes wrong, the manufacturer and the dealer would no doubt prefer that you just buy the newest model instead.
You almost feel that way when it comes to an iPod, where just cracking open the case might, literally, crack it. Sure there are plenty of how-to documents online to ease you through the process. There are also repair shops that can replace the broken parts for you. Apple, however, will usually just exchange the broken unit with a refurbished model and return it to you, and then rebuild the older product on their own time and simply send it to someone else. Or, if it’s badly damaged, just recycle the working parts.
Of course, the real question here is all about design efficiency and reliability. As David reminds me, he’s never seen a bad audio jack on an iPod, and I can say the same for the various models I’ve used, nor the three iPhones I’ve owned since the product was originally introduced.
This doesn’t mean that such problems don’t occur. Certainly a media player or smartphone will probably get lots more use and abuse than a notebook computer over its lifetime. The headphone plug might be pulled out and inserted far more often, thus creating the potential for failure. But our limited experience indicates it’s happening on our notebooks. Maybe the modern unibody models are superior in that regard, or maybe not. Maybe we’re just unlucky, and there’s no problem at all with Apple’s audio jacks. What do you readers have to say on the subject?
- The iMac SSD Transplant Report It's quite certain that the designers of recent iMacs didn't consider what might be required if you wanted to change anything more than RAM. And on the 21.5-inch version, you can't even do that. So this forces you to load up such Macs on Apple's build-to-order page when you place your order, so you don't have to concern yourself about lost upgrade opportunities. Now I bought my late 2009 iMac towards the end of that year, a few weeks after release. I did customize some, with an Intel 2.8GHz i7 processor, and the upgraded graphics card. I kept the standard 8GB RAM, since I could always flesh it out later if I wanted; that was the one thing that could be upgraded easily. Indeed, when the time came to move to 16GB RAM, I did the deed in about five minutes from the time it took to lift the iMac from my desk, place the screen on a large towel, open the tiny cover at the bottom of the unit, and replace the RAM. Although that RAM upgrade should not have made a substantial performance change, or at least I didn't expect one, I found that some apps seem to be less apt to clog system resources. A particular example was Parallels Desktop, where I was able to launch into a Windows virtual machine somewhat more quickly, with fewer slowdowns impacting other apps. Understand that I seldom gave Windows more than 1GB of RAM, so the slowdowns shouldn't have been as drastic as they were. In any case, I appreciated the modest performance boost, but still suffered from long startup times, amounting to several minutes because I launch half a dozen apps at startup, and opening one of those large productivity apps, such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, took 20 seconds or more. Anything that involved copying large numbers of files seemed glacial, and the 1TB Western Digital Caviar "Black" drive that shipped with the iMac was regarded as reasonably swift for its time. So I enlisted the expertise of Other World Computing, who specializes in Mac upgrades, to suggest a suitable drive upgrade for review. We settled on the closest match to the stock drive, OWC's 1TB Mercury Electra 6G SSD. If you want to buy one, it retails for $478, a fairly normal price for such a device. If you can don't need that much storage, or can rely some on an external drive, you can get a 480GB SSD for $259. OWC also includes some useful features that make it suitable for use on Macs. So what OWC calls "global wear leveling algorithms" and "StaticDataRefresh" are said to eliminate the need for one of those TRIM hacks, not officially supported with OS X Yosemite, which are often necessary for third-party SSDs. The major claim to fame with SSD is a performance level several times higher than a traditional hard drive without the wear and tear. OWC advertises "sustained reads up to 535MB/s and writes up to 443MB/s," although I made no effort to verify that claim. Alas, you can't just pop the hard drive out of an iMac and put a new one in. Installation involves a laborious process that you shouldn't try without some careful instructions. You'll also need to buy a special kit that contains some special tools and a pair of suction cups. OWC sells such a kit for $59. They have also posted an instruction video that makes the process seem less intimidating. It's still not a cakewalk, but if you pay close attention, and you're comfortable with a tiny Torx screwdriver and fiddling with slim, delicate wiring harnesses, you'll probably do all right. In addition to the SSD and the drive installation kit, OWC also sent along a 3.5-inch drive adaptor — the SSD is a 2.5-inch device — although you actually can get by without it. Oh, and by the way, next-generation of ultra-thin iMacs are even more difficult to upgrade. In place of magnets to hold the glass in place, Apple has moved to a special adhesive tape. In any case, I received the kit on a Saturday, and steeled myself for the installation the following Monday. I watched the video several times, and kept it available on another Mac, the review iMac 5K that has since been returned to Apple, just in case I needed a refresher. And I did. I won't detail all the steps here. But it starts with using the two suction cups to pry the glass from the iMac's chassis. After that, you have to unscrew a bunch of tiny Torx (six-point) screws to remove the LCD display. All this has to be done real carefully, and it's best to have some clean, soft surfaces on which to place the delicate components you're removing. Disconnecting the LCD involves unplugging some real slim wiring harnesses, and you have to be extremely careful. It's not that replacement cables are necessarily expensive, but getting them from a local Apple dealer or even an Apple Store will not be easy. They are not regarded as user serviceable parts. To prepare myself for the process, I ran a full clone backup to the external FireWire 800 drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. From beginning to end, it took over an hour to install the SSD. The photo at the left shows the iMac at the point where the LCD panel was being removed. The only fly in the ointment was the dust that accumulated inside after five years in dusty Arizona, and it required a few moments to blow it out. No doubt I improved the long-term reliability of this computer in the process. After the iMac was closed up, I carefully reconnected all the peripheral cables and the power cord. Since I had to install a new OS onto an empty drive, I pressed Option during the startup process to allow me to select the Yosemite restore partition from the backup drive. The relative speed of the installation signaled what I'd expect once the iMac had its own OS. The migration process required some four hours to restore 500GB of data to the new drive, about the same as the same migration procedure took on the iMac 5K. Once restored, I was able to give the SSD the acid test, and I was amazed. Normally it takes up to three minutes for my Mac to boot and all startup apps to load. This time the process took little more than 30 seconds to complete, and I hit the desktop in 15 seconds flat. Most apps launched instantaneously, and Adobe Photoshop took maybe three seconds. QuarkXPress 10.5 loaded in about 10 seconds. As any of you who has used an SSD can testify, just about everything runs amazing fast, and the dream of almost instant response is realized. Indeed, it is now hard to detect much of a difference between my old iMac, and the iMac 5K — the latter came with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which gives you most of the performance of a true SSD — which goes to show how much of what you do on a Mac is drive related. Based on the system tools I put into action, the iMac is also running a lot cooler now, since the drive generates little or no heat, usually not much higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit after some intense action. It's hard to complain about that. The sole downside, and it's minor, is the fact that a 1TB SSD generally formats to around 960GB capacity, short of the 999GB used by the previous drive. But that's really a minor trade off to gain those amazing speed advantages. True, an SSD, and the accompanying installation kit, aren't exactly cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than buying a new Mac. If you would rather not engage in such extensive transplant surgery yourself, and I understand why, see if a local Mac dealer would do it for you; an Apple Store would refuse for obvious reasons. You can also ship your iMac to OWC's own plant, of course, but first see if you find a nearby dealer to handle the chores, because it will cost less, particularly when you include the cost of shipping. A nearby authorized Apple dealer, MacMedia of Scottsdale AZ, considers iMac drive upgrades a Tier 2 process for which it charges $95. It's definitely worth the peace of mind if you choose to take this step. Now OWC normally sends out review hardware for 30-day evaluations. But since reviewing this drive involved a complicated installation process, they aren't exactly rushing me to return it.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- The Dangers of the Paperless Revolution From the very first day personal computers and online access became relatively inexpensive and popular, there was the dream of a paperless revolution. In other words, rather than printing all your documents, including manuscripts and even financial records, you'd reduce them to ones and zeros and turn them into computer files. In the early days, you used floppy disks for storage that were later accompanied by hard drives, but later on you used CDs, DVDs and thumb drives for removable storage. Capacity soared as fast as ways to consume that capacity . But with easy online access came places to store your stuff in ways that made it easy for other people to read. So you had blogs and social networks to spread the word. Facebook and other companies turned the concept of social networks into billion dollar businesses that stored and monetized your words and pictures, coherent and otherwise. Yes, you still buy printers and expensive consumables, but maybe not quote as often as before. I recently reverted to a cheap Brother laser printer that, when I use recycled consumables, costs less than a penny a page to operate. It's rare that I need four-colors. Still, money is money, and I have enough storage at hand to keep my stuff in digital form. I can also call on Microsoft OneDrive, part of the Office 365 subscription, to place up to 1TB in the cloud. Of course, my ISP won't let me send that much in the way of data because of the dreaded bandwidth cap. Now as many of you know, although I've worked as a broadcaster since my early 20s, I also have a long background in the publishing world. I have written books and edited and published magazines, and the romance and the feel of the printed page remains, at my advanced age, endlessly attractive. As a practical matter, however, print is essentially dead, although some publishers may not know it yet. The remaining physical newspapers are mostly on hard times, with reduced advertising revenue and page counts, and smaller staffs. Most of the content has been pushed online, though some of it resides behind a paywall. This means you have to subscribe to get more than the paragraph or two posted to tempt you to read more. With proper preservation techniques, printed material can be stored without serious deterioration. So it's there for you to read a decade from now, or 500 years from now all things being equal. Maybe our heirs will need to learn our peculiar twenty-first century colloquialisms, but the content will be readable and, we presume, understandable. But the other day, I was cleaning out a night table in the master bedroom and found a tape cassette dating back to the 1980s. To me, it was a useless piece of plastic containing an equally useless magnetic coated roll of tape inside. Why useless? Well, I gave up my last cassette recorder, a Radio Shack mind you, a decade or two ago. Or maybe it disappeared in the move from one home to another, and I haven't had a car with a cassette player in years. For $39.97, I can still buy a cassette recorder from Radio Shack; well, at least as long as the stores last, and that won't be long. Without buying something new, the recording contains something I cannot hear. Before the last move to a new home, I encountered a box of floppy disks dating back to the early 1990s. I hoped I transferred that content onto CD, because it's been years since I had a floppy drive. Truth to tell, you can still buy a USB-based floppy drive for less than $20, so you should be able to read most floppies, well except the ones smaller than 1.4MB. But even if you can read the files, would you have an app that can open them? Maybe Word, but not QuarkXPress and other important productivity apps. And what about apps that haven't been updated in years, software no longer being developed? So we have documents that may be no more than 10 or 15 years old that suddenly can't be opened unless you have a vintage Mac or PC with an older version of the app. There may be other ways to trick your computer to open those documents, but you are suddenly confronted with a wave of incompatibility in what is, in the scheme of things, a very short time. Of course all those photos and videos you post on Instagram or Facebook are saved in industry standard formats, such as JPEG or MOV. At least they are standard formats now, but what about a decade from now? What about all that peerless prose you posted online to your WordPress blogs, or a social network? How much of that material will still be available in the far future? What about the stuff you deposited in the cloud for safekeeping? Will the services that host your data even be around? After all, the cloud is just a network of servers with hard drives or SSDs, no doubt more powerful and reliable than your equipment, but still based on the same technologies. A thousand years from now, imagine distant visitors from another star system stopping by on Earth to see what happened to those foolish humans whose civilization had long since vanished. How much will there be in the way of relics to assess our history? They might be able to restore and, with their own computers and expert translators, read our printed documents, but what about those floppies, those mechanical hard drives and other storage devices? Will any of it be left to decode? Would SSDs be the most durable medium? How much have we sacrificed in the permanence of our written words and photos by moving everything to the cloud? How long can you depend on that stuff being available, particularly as new companies and services arise to replace the old ones? Yes, print may be on life support, but it'll be a say day for everyone when it disappears. Just recall the quaint birthday present Dr. McCoy handed to Captain Kirk in the 1982 sci-fi classic, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn," and consider how real that scene might actually be in our far future.
- Apple and Model Proliferation Back in 1997, Steve Jobs, newly minted as Apple CEO (well "interim" CEO) began to cut back on Mac model proliferation. Stuck with loads of Performas with different model numbers but not very different specs, it was clear that Apple needed to clean out the catalog. The fundamental change, best signified by the iMac and the Power Mac, was to have a consumer and professional model for each product line. You could, of course, custom order to some degree to select processor, memory and storage, and perhaps the graphics card. But you didn't have to fret so much about which model was best for your needs. This was quite unlike Dell, HP and other tech companies that, to this day, have so many models with non-descriptive names that it's hard to figure out what might work best for your needs without a scorecard, and perhaps a salesperson to hold your hand and explain it all to you. But in recent years, Apple under Tim Cook has moved to seriously expand the product line. It's not near as bad as the mid-1990s, but it can get a mite confusing if you aren't in close touch with the tech media, particularly product reviews and, where it's important to you, performance estimates. The same logic holds true for the iPhone and the iPad. With the Apple Watch, the basic product is the same, but the many differences are essentially about fashion and the statement you want to make with one of these babies on your wrist. So placing an order at Apple's online store is no longer so simple. Choose Shop Mac, and you will have seven product lines from which to choose: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Retina 5K display, Mac mini and Mac Pro. Each 2015 MacBook has two configurations, available in three colors. But you can also customize a model to include a different processor. Other Macs include different display sizes, RAM, storage and sometimes graphic chip alternatives. So after you choose one of seven, there will be dozens of other choices you will be invited to make. These are decisions you must make upon ordering for the most part. Only some models allow you to upgrade RAM or storage later. Doing anything but RAM on an iMac is an annoying chore that starts with removing adhesive tape. The process is only simple on the Mac Pro, Apple's workstation, where high-end users are apt to even change the processor to get better performance. Moving to the iPhone, there are four models, two of which (the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c) are legacy products sold at a lower price. The plastic iPhone 5c comes in five colors, the others three. You have up to three storage options, and that's before you get to your choice of carriers for a subsided package, or unlocked. I'm only including the choices in the U.S., since cellular plans vary widely around the globe. Not all the carriers are listed at Apple's store, so you may end up buying an iPhone at a third-party dealer with more choices. Are you dizzy yet? I haven't mentioned the iPad. Despite flagging sales — and one can always hope the situation will be better when Apple reports March quarter results next week — Apple hasn't been shy about giving you choices. You have five models ranging from the original 2012 iPad mini to today's iPad Air 2. Each is available in multiple colors, and several storage options with or without cellular capability. This doesn't mean you're left to your own devices in reaching a decision about which Apple gear to buy. You'll want to read the tech press to get a sense of which products are best suited for your needs and which configurations to choose. Remember, though, that except for a very few Macs, you need to make your final choice when you place your order. Upgrading a configuration later will not be possible. But help is available. When you visit Apple's online store, there's a tiny Get Help drop-down menu where you can activate an online chat with a specialist to help you make a decision. Or you can call them. You may prefer to speak with someone you can see, with the products you're considering on display, so an Apple Store or a third-party dealer would be your best bet. While I haven't had that much trouble choosing the best Apple product that meets my needs and budget, I usually have to fret over the cost to see what configuration presents the best compromise. I can see why Apple is providing more and more choices, and that means that it's easier to select the product that suits you. But too many choices can cause confusion. This is a reason why Apple cut back on the model numbers in the first place. Is it moving too far in the wrong direction? That's hard to say, because you have to wonder which model ought to be discontinued to simplify. You can make a case for the original iPad mini. But choices of that sort are apt to leave customers without the one they prefer, so it's a juggling match, and it may only get worse in the years to come.
This article was posted on Thursday, September 24th, 2009 at 6:04 PM and is filed under News and tagged with: Apple Store, audio plug, circuit card, component repair, Consumer Electronics, daughtercard, David Biedny, Digital audio players, input, Ipod, Itunes, local jeweler, MacBook family, Macintosh, media player, Notebook Computer, output, Portable media players, proper tools, service manager, Special Correspondent, unit.