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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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