• Mac Talk: Overheard at the Car Dealership

    February 26th, 2005

    I don’t want you to think that I deliberately instigate discussions of this sort. In fact, I hadn’t intended to see the inside of the repair department at a local dealership for another 2,500 miles or three months, whichever comes first. But a warranty repair the previous day left a minor, but irritating unintended consequence, so I returned on a Saturday morning.

    A woman with child in tow, waiting for her car, asked me a question about something or other. I don’t quite remember what, but the discussion soon turned to personal computers. Her home PC had been acting up big time and she was looking for something new. Aha! Time to say my piece.

    “Have you considered a Mac?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

    “Aren’t they expensive?”

    I want into a brief explanation of why the Mac is, in the end, actually cheaper. She wanted a laptop this time, and her budget was around $1,000. I recommended an iBook to her, and briefly explained why and where she could get one.

    Now maybe my timing was perfect, or maybe not, but just then another customer strolled in with his 12-inch PowerBook. Throwing caution to the wind, I asked him about his experiences with his laptop, and he explained that it had worked just about perfectly since he bought it last year. He owned Dell and Sony laptops previously. The former suffered unmentionable difficulties, and clearly the painful encounter left him scarred. All he could say is that the Sony worked all right, until “parts began to fall off.”

    Later that day, I consulted the reader survey in the March 2005 issue of Consumer Reports. When it came to product reliability, Sony laptops rated third behind Apple and Toshiba, and Dell ranked third from last. However, Sony ended up dead last when it came to customer service, and that surely influenced his conclusion that it was time to look elsewhere.

    The woman sat and listened.

    Almost as if it came on queue, a third customer showed up, and we all watched as he struggled to get his Dell portable to connect to the Internet using the network connection the dealer offered to its customers. He looked around in frustration for a moment, and he noticed that PowerBook apparently surfing the net without any trouble at all.

    The discussion over the next few minutes was fascinating and I did my best to stay on the sidelines. The PowerBook owner was carefully questioned about his positive experience as a Mac user, and I could see the Dell user seemed tempted. I’d like to say I heard the entire conversation, but a service advisor came over to me and said the car was ready to roll. I said quick goodbyes and left them to their own devices.

    As I drove home, I thought about those conversations, and about others I’ve had in recent weeks with Windows users. A year ago, I would be greeted with absolute skepticism that the Mac can be considered as anything but an overpriced toy. That was then and this is now, with another year of malware infections confronting the PC owner. The iPod is everywhere, and Macs are getting serious attention in quarters that might have never considered such a move previously.

    As I said, I don’t get involved in discussions of this sort simply to spread the word. They just seem to happen, and I end up being present to keep the conversation going. No wonder I like being a radio talk show host.

    At the same time, Apple needs to be extra careful these days. First impressions count for a lot, and if a Mac switcher gets a bad taste in their mouth from the initial exposure to a new Mac, you can bet they’ll never give Apple another chance. So far so good, and it seems the Mac mini is proving to be quite a reliable product. If there’s a downside, it’s the fact that the owner’s manual apparently doesn’t contain any information to educate the new Mac user about transferring their files from a PC box to their new computer.

    In the end the migration process isn’t all that difficult, but the Mac newcomer needs guidance to ease the process of adapting to a different computing platform. It may seem simple to you and to me. It may even be true that the Mac and Windows operating systems are not so different as to prevent someone from moving from one to the other and back again without a huge learning curve. But it works best if there’s a little helpful guidance along the way. Is anyone at Apple listening?

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