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  • Let’s Not Get the Wrong Idea About Apple

    December 1st, 2006

    From time to time, I read an article that offers to show what Apple is doing wrong. While I think the company makes its share of mistakes, sometimes what strikes these people as wrong is perfectly normal, or at least something to be expected from a company the size of Apple.

    So maybe it’s a good time to look over some of the complaints just to see how realistic they truly are. You might just be surprised at how things look if you step away from your emotions for a moment. And, yes, I find myself making some of the same mistakes, so it’s time to clear the air.

    First, there’s the oft-repeated rant that Apple is rushing so many computers to market that quality control is going down the tubes. Shipping more than a million Macs every single quarter may seem a dream come true, but Apple was able to do precisely the same thing back in the 1990s. Did you complain about hardware defects then?

    Well, in fact you can look at almost every Apple product and you’ll find parts that were prone to go bad. Some were a little worse than others, but as mass produced electronics go, Apple continues to rate among the best. Yes, I’d like to see fewer failures, but this is a highly imperfect world. You may be one of the lucky ones who keeps a Mac for years without so much as a hard drive failing, or you might confront regular visits to the repair depot for one reason or another.

    You can usually expect the most frequent troublesome issues during the early stages of a production run. Do you recall those cracks that appeared in the cases of the infamous Cube? Apple managed to refine its sophisticated plastic design over time, and it did repair the worst problems, although I suppose you had to complain a time or two to set things right.

    In recent years, when a specific part is prone to break, Apple will extend product warranties to take care of such matters. It may take a while for their engineers to realize what’s going on, but when they do, they’ll usually work quickly to make sure you are satisfied.

    But don’t expect perfect technical support. The people in that department may get the same level of training, but skills can vary, and personal problems, even if just a spousal argument, can conspire to result in people being a little off their game from time to time, so they don’t do quite as good a job. Apple, lest we forget, does rate a lot higher than the rest of the PC industry, if only because Macs are less troublesome than Windows boxes.

    Some also complain about Apple’s arrogance and tendency to do so much in secret. After all, doesn’t Microsoft give you product roadmaps years in advance? Well, sure they do, but how often do they actually fulfill their promises? Take a look at the promised delivery date and features for Windows Vista, and then examine what Microsoft really delivered.

    Of course, Apple did the very same thing a decade ago, and that, among other things, nearly killed the company. Besides, doing everything in secret is a great marketing approach, even if it freaks out third party developers who need to build compatible products. Yes, the developers do get ahold of prerelease operating systems and related stuff, if they pay for membership in the program, but the new hardware is held close to the vest.

    Besides, think of all the great publicity Apple gets from all the people — and I’m a part of this group — who are busy speculating on what they will do, won’t do, or might do.

    Then there is that buggy operating system. They rush the latest version of Mac OS X to market, some say, and it’s riddled with defects. They’ve got to slow down, spend a little more time cooking the stew before letting it out to the DVD pressing plant. Maybe there will be fewer problems.

    Maybe, maybe not. There are important marketing reasons to want to meet a deadline with the essential features intact, and lots of pressure on the developers. With millions of lines of code to bake, problems happen. Sometimes the fixes go bad as well. People are people.

    In the end, remember that Apple is not your friend. They are here to make a profit, and for all that Steve Jobs says about empowering the individual and wanting a Mac to be the hub of your digital lifestyle, remember that he has the jet plane to commute around the country. You don’t — or at least most of you don’t.

    Yes, Apple deserves brickbats too. I won’t stop my criticisms, but sometimes you might want to step back and see whether or not you’re going overboard. After all, if you want something to criticize, there’s always Microsoft or the politician you don’t happen to like at the moment.



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    5 Responses to “Let’s Not Get the Wrong Idea About Apple”

    1. Dan says:

      I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum.

      On the one hand, the majority of the Macs I look after do little more than hiccup occasionally. 10 -15 mins TLC later they are back on form. And my personal Mac at home, a G4 DA, is even better, needing only a new DVD drive recently.

      On the other hand, especially recently things have been less than perfect. My boss is getting narked with the percieved “rubbish” that Apple has shipped us in the recent past, to whit;
      One of the last Xserve G5’s that has had the power unit, motherboard and several drives and caddies replaced. Pretty much the only things left from the original purchase are the chassis and the RAM.

      A G5 Quad that has been at the AAR’s workshop for over 2 months. So far it’s had a power unit, new CPU’s, and 2 new motherboards. And it’s still not fixed.

      A Macbook that had the heatsink replaced.

      A Macbook Pro that had the heatsink replaced.

      A Mac Pro that need the chassis replacing, as the screws are crumbling. I haven’t seen this issue online yet, but it’s been flagged by Apple to our AAR, who got me to check the new arrivals.

      Personally I take these as things that happen, particularly in new product lines, but she is losing patience.

    2. Doc says:

      I have used Macs since ’85 and apples since ’80. I almost always find their products and software of very high quality. And just as important, their stuff is elegant and fun to use. Sure, I had a G4 daughter card replaced under warrantee and a G5 motherboard replaced under warrantee due to a firewire port failure. Neither cost me a penny. Other than that, my many Macs and Apples have performed extremely well and lasted many years even when handed down to the kids for additional years of service. I only wished my other tech toys were as well made.

    3. Andrew says:

      I’ve had very good luck with all of my Apples except one, a first-gen MacBook that enjoyed the random shutdown issue. The problem was that after a motherboard swap it was no better, then a replacement fixed the heat issue, but came with an unusable screen (washed out), and a final replacement brought the heat back. All of that brought me to the end of my patience and the MacBook was gone the next day. In the two months between buying it and ditching it, I got to use it for all of two week of random-shutdown unhappiness.

    4. Cynic? says:

      Perhaps Apple’s computers are very good quality compared to the competition, but my track record with the 8 Macs I have purchased so far (over 16 years) has been that 75% of them have required repairs. Thankfully most failures have occurred during the warranty period.

      The latest problem machine was a 10 day old Mac Pro which required a new “logic board” (i.e. motherboard). For some unknown reason this took them 10 days to resolve, instead of the 24-48 hr turnaround I was expecting from such a fault (and considering the amount of cash spent on such equipment, you’d think they’d put it ahead of iMacs costing 1/4 the price.) In fact, it took less time for me to custom build the machine via the online store and have it shipped to me than for them to repair it once it failed. Do they still do DOAs?? Perhaps not on custom builds.

      I don’t know, I really like Apple gear, but the quality control is not what I’d call stellar, esp. Rev. A hardware (it’s now so bad that I simply expect problems with Rev A products.) The turnaround timeframe for a repair, both now and in the past, is simply terrible, even on high end gear. I now believe this delay is to con you into purchasing AppleCare or ProCare so that your repairs are potentially undertaken in a more timely manner. Then again, maybe I’m just being cynical.

    5. Dana Sutton says:

      Gene writes “Then there is that buggy operating system. They rush the latest version of Mac OS X to market, some say, and it’s riddled with defects. They’ve got to slow down, spend a little more time cooking the stew before letting it out to the DVD pressing plant. Maybe there will be fewer problems. Maybe, maybe not. There are important marketing reasons to want to meet a deadline with the essential features intact, and lots of pressure on the developers. With millions of lines of code to bake, problems happen. Sometimes the fixes go bad as well. People are people.”
      There’s another reason for this. Regarding its OS releases Apple follows a policy that might be called “perpetual beta” — get it out the door, wait for the inevitable problems to surface (and accept that unpredictable Bad Things are going to happen once the OS is put in circulation), fix them rapidly and introduce refinements and improvements with an incremental series of updates. If something does go seriously wrong with a particular build (say, if Firewire devices fail to work), everybody in the Mac community understands that this will be put right within a few weeks. That’s one possible policy. Compare it with the alternative, which is Microsoft’s: put out few OS builds at much longer intervals, in which you have to get everything right the first time, hit the ball out of the park every time you step up to the plate, or risk losing the confidence of your customers, your shareholders and the computer press. I. m. h. o., all you have to do is spell out and compare these two strategies to see which one is preferable.

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