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Why Mac Users Love the Products and Hate the Company

I’ve been accused from time to time of creating strong and lurid headlines, in the fashion of a weekly “supermarket” tabloid newspaper. I’ll grant you that my headlines are apt to be strong, but they are always meant to reflect the contents.

You see, over the years, I’ve run various commentaries that fit into the “war stories” category, in which people talk about the horrendous problems they’ve encountered from time to time getting Apple to help them with a hardware or software problem. At the same time, despite the occasional pain and agony, almost every last one of these people will buy a new Mac when the time is ripe to replace that old computer, even a defective one.

It’s not that these problems are necessarily minor. If you look at Apple’s history of extended repair programs, you’ll see a serioius slate of ills, such as failing logic boards, power supplies, batteries and a host of other components. Software seems to require regular updates to set things right. On the same day iLife ’08 appeared, for example, an iPhoto 7.0.1 updater was ready to roll and iWeb has since had its own update to address various “point-zero” issues.

Here’s a very recent example of a hardware issue, a serious one in fact. One of my friends recently ordered a refurbished MacBook Pro direct from Apple. Since he was leaving the country on a two-week trip, he requested delivery prior to his departure.

Alas, the computer arrived late, and when he returned home, he opened the box to find the unit seriously damaged and inoperable. He phoned Apple, expecting quick resolution, and was told that Apple only accepted a DOA return within 14 days after the product shipped, despite the fact that he didn’t actually receive and open the package until after that date.

He fought and fought tooth and nail to gain some relief over the illogical nature of their position and finally realized he had to drop his press card into the argument. You see, he’s also a writer for a computer magazine, and intended to use his MacBook Pro to evaluate how the products he writes about function on an Intel-based Mac. Suddenly, they changed their tune, and agreed to a product swap. I’ll let you know when and if the replacement computer arrives, but I have to wonder whether this dispute would have been resolved had he not been a tech writer.

In the meantime, it’s clear that Apple’s support people don’t fully comprehend their actual support policies. Here’s how they are supposed to deal with broken hardware, as copied direct from Apple’s online store:

“An Apple-branded hardware product is considered DOA if it shows symptoms of a hardware failure, preventing basic operability, when you first use it after opening the box. If you believe that your product is DOA, please call AppleCare Technical Support at 1-800-APL-CARE (1-800-275-2273) within 30 calendar days of the invoice date.”

In addition to defective products, it’s clear from some of the comments posted on The Night Owl that a number of you sharply disagree with some of Apple’s design and marketing decisions. Indeed, it’s fair to say that some product configurations seem to be developed by alien lifeforms, such as the hockey puck mouse that graced the early iMac. The flawed but beautiful Cube might fit into this category, particularly the fact that its touch-sensitive switch was so flaky that the mere pass of a hand containing a cleaning cloth to rid the thing of accumulated dust would cause it to drift off into sleep mode. You wouldn’t dare put your fingers too close, and I wonder how many kids did just that, the better to annoy their parents.

What about the iMac with the articulated arm, or the fact that early MacBooks and MacBook Pros ran a little on the hot side until Apple learned how to tame their cooling fans?

More important, consider how some of you are reacting to the new iMac’s glossy screen, the new aluminum-clad keyboard with built-in MacBook-style keys and other recent product upgrades. How could Apple commit such follies, when they are supposedly catering to the needs of their customers?

There are, by the way, also complaints about some of the more extreme eye-candy promised for Mac OS X Leopard. Until that operating system actually ships, though, I suppose this is best left in the category of a potential disaster rather than a real one.

Despite all these often downright annoying issues, recent surveys continue to suggest that more and more people plan to buy Macs in the coming months. So perhaps you continue to believe that, despite all its flaws, Apple still builds the best personal computers on the planet. But you still don’t love the company.