Is it the Problem or the Fix that Counts?

July 3rd, 2007

When Apple released its 10.4.10 update a while back, most of the initial comments were quite positive. But there were the usual spate of problem reports, such as inconsistent wireless networking, mysterious crashes; the usual stuff that accompanies such releases.

But perhaps the most unusual symptom of all was a popping sound reportedly heard on some of the MacIntels, particularly when using external speakers. Well, that problem was addressed with a downloadable fix, known as the Apple Audio Update — 2007-001, which began to appear in the Software Update screens on the affected machines Monday afternoon.

Did the fix work? I don’t know personally. I never encountered the problem on my first-generation 17-inch MacBook Pro, but I’ll grant that the issue was serious enough to require that update. One hopes other problems won’t accompany its installation. As far as I’m concerned, I installed it and nothing changed, either before or after.

To continue…

Over the weekend, during the first phase of the iPhone buying frenzy, some of you confronted network glitches in activating your new service. Most of the problems were centered on transferring phone numbers from another wireless carrier, or changing an existing AT&T plan, such as business to personal. Some of you waited a day or more for your phones to do something beyond dial 911, but I gather the issues have been mostly resolved.

Now none of these troubles should strike any of you as unique. New software and new products are almost always accompanied by bugs or configuration difficulties. That’s how it goes, and it’s one of the arguments that are often voiced against buying version 1.0 of anything. However, when it came to that Tiger update, we’re talking about the tenth version update, not the first.

As far as new products go, it appears the iPhone has come through its introduction relatively unscathed. With anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 units moving within just three days, you’d expect a lot more teething panes. So far, it seems most iPhone users simply love them, even the reviewers who tend to be jaded about new technology.

Of course, if you were lucky enough to buy an iPhone at an Apple Store when it was first introduced, you might have been one of the people who received a round of applause and cheers from Apple’s employees as they welcomed you inside the store after it reopened.

If you’ve ever been an the grand opening of an Apple Store, you’ll notice that the approach was identical.

No doubt there will be an iPhone software update in the next few weeks to address any early release difficulties. Any hardware defects, such as units that fail to operate or that shipped without the SIM card, can be addressed pretty quickly by either Apple or AT&T stores.

Right now, however, it appears it’s actually iTunes 7.3 itself — the release designed to support iPhone setup and syncing — that might be the worst offender. There are reports, for example, of a -50 error when the application attempts to update your playlist. There are also said to be some issues involving display of Podcasts and and music libraries. Time will tell whether they are specific to a few people, or problems that are more widespread.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. You expect things to go wrong with your software and your gadgets from time to time. The prime issue is how the manufacturer is going to address those defects, and how much pain you’re going to endure waiting for the fix to come, or installing it.

For the most part, Apple seems to get these things right. Despite the perception on the part of some people — and that includes tech writers — that Apple never listens to its customers, this just isn’t so. The reason Apple has become so successful, particularly in recent years, is because they are indeed anticipating the needs of their customers, not with focus groups or slide presentations, but with an intuitive awareness of how things ought to work.

Some say that’s the biggest talent Steve Jobs possesses, to place himself in a so-called “everyman” posture, which allows him to understand what’s wrong with existing tech gear and persuade, intimidate (or a combination of both) his staff to distill everything to the raw essentials. Jobs has often been quoted as saying that the most difficult part of designing a new product is to figure out what to leave out. That’s the lesson other companies with their bullet point spec sheets have never learned.

In the end, it’s just as important to promptly fix the things that go wrong as to make them right in the first place. In that regard, Apple has gotten it mostly correct. That’s why they rate so high in customer support.

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One Response to “Is it the Problem or the Fix that Counts?”

  1. Ralph says:

    Apple's quality control is slipping. That's just my opinion, and I've had people at other boards attack me for saying it. Still, it is; months ago, I applied the Airport Extreme firmware update (7.1) and then started having numerous "DoubleNAT" problems and then a hiccup in my AE connection (I'd lose the signal for a blip of a second; it was easily tracked by having iChat open — every few minutes, the icon in the dock would bounce to let me know I had lost the signal). The 7.1.1 update, which was supposed to fix these things, actually made things worse — and made downgrading to 7.1 a welcome thing. Better to have a hiccup than not to be able to see the AE at all.Then there's 10.4.10 (and never mind the whole naming convention). Lost network connectivity, audio issues, etc. And 10.4.10 v1.1? What is this, a Windows Service Pack?I used to do updates the very day they came out (though I almost always downloaded the combo updater and applied it that way); I can only recall a single problem, back in '04 or '05, where my G5 (Dual 2GHz PowerMac) went into hyperactive-fan-mode and I had to downgrade. Since then, and before, I can't recall having an issue.It's easy to see that all of Apple's attention is on the new kid, and that the other children are being neglected. Here's hoping they use some of that influx of cash to bolster up their programmers & etc. and get back to that.

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