The Apple Report: Yes, Most of the Time it Just Works!

August 18th, 2008

In recent months, you have to wonder whether Apple is losing its golden touch. I mean there are rampant reports of dropped call issues with the iPhone 3G, the rollout of .Mac’s successor, MobileMe, was particularly troublesome, and, add to all this, the press has only recent stopped talking about the health of Steve Jobs.

The iPhone connection issues are especially dicey, because all wireless calls have to go through a sophisticated system to work at all, and lots of factors can impact call quality even if everything is theoretically in perfect working order. However, there is a published report, purportedly containing an email signed by Steve Jobs himself, that quotes him as saying, “We are working on some bugs which affect around 2% of the iPhones shipped, and hope to have a software update soon.”

Soon came real fast, as the 2.0.2 update, with additional “Bug Fixes,” arrived in iTunes Monday afternoon. Some say it fixes the connectivity issue; some say it doesn’t. If the former proves to be the case, I expect we’ll have to look for other things to complain about, but the Mac troubleshooting sites always seem to have plenty of ammo to deliver their payloads.

Many of the complaints are lodged against Apple for supposedly shipping poorly-tested software updates. Whether it’s an operating system maintenance release or something less extensive, someone, somewhere, will find reason to complain about a failed installation or anomalous behavior in the wake of the update. However that rarely happens to me, but maybe I’m challenging the fates just saying that publicly. We’ll see.

However, I have to tell you that I generally work for days and weeks on end without shutting down or even restarting my Macs. That is, unless it’s required by a software update. My 17-inch MacBook Pro, one of this year’s models, had its last restart after the last security updaste was installed recently. Since then, it exists in Sleep mode when I’m not using it, and I work on it two or three hours each day to catch up on evening tasks in the bedroom, at least when my iPhone 3G isn’t working in its stead.

My son has a black MacBook. also of recent vintage, and he is the sort of person who will complain vociferously if something goes amiss. Again, he hasn’t had need for restarts except for the requisite updates. He also doesn’t install much software these days. It’s iChat for instant messaging, Microsoft Office 2004 for writing, and he accesses his email from the server’s Web-based interface. Then there’s iTunes and the occasional DVD playback, and that covers his needs these days.

My Mac Pro, however, gets a pretty thorough workout. I use several audio-related programs to capture interviews and perform post-production chores. They can be a mite flaky, and hence there’s a rare bout of application quitting. Despite the questionable reputation for stability, both Firefox and Safari generally perform quite well for me. Apple Mail is mostly all right, but sometimes it’ll just go into an endless loop downloading mail and I’ll need to force quit and start it up again.

Before you put all the blame on Apple, however, I should mention that Microsoft’s apps tend to be eternally temperamental. I have tried to work with Entourage 2008 as a possible replacement for Mail. I prefer its text editing features, particularly the ability to auto-correct common typos. For a few hours, I might find myself growing comfortable with its interface, until it decides to stall while sending or retrieving a message. But even then, it does get the job done, although saying it “just works” might be a stretch.

Beyond the basics, I do invoke Adobe Dreamweaver for revising some of my Web sites, when I’m not simply using the text editor in Transmit, an excellent shareware FTP client, to handle many of these chores. This site’s content, by the way, is powered by WordPress, so I use its Web interface for writing most of the actual content. The few exceptions include last-minute edits to published articles, which I can also do with the special WordPress application recently released for the iPhone.

Yes, I also use Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress and a smattering of Photoshop, although I am not a graphic artist. My skills at content creation emerged from a background as a commercial typographer, so I have a somewhat obsessive-compulsive set of symmetry about text layout. Other than that, I’m out of my element.

In any case, as you can see from the foregoing, I tend to concentrate mostly and software that actually does something, rather than provide a catchy visual effect. I don’t engage much in testing system enhancements these days, but I’m devoted tor Jon Gotow’s excellent Default Folder X, which makes the Open/Save dialogs fully functional. Too bad Apple isn’t paying attention.

In addition to doing my own work on a Mac, I still find myself listed as a volunteer and sometimes paid Mac helper in the local user group newsletter. As a result, I get occasional calls from people who have problems with their Macs. Sometimes I even make house calls, and when I leave the client’s home or office, the fixes generally stick. So perhaps I’m much like the mythical “Maytag repairman” who waits for business but doesn’t get so many.

The growing popularity of the Mac platform also demonstrates, to me at any rate, that millions of Windows are fed up with the malware and performance irritants they encounter daily and they’re seeking for a better way to get their work done. For the most part, Macs answer that need.

Yes, I’d like to see Apple improve its quality control, and the ongoing issues with the iPhone 3G, although they don’t seem to affect me, are troubling. But, in the end, Apple usually does right by its customers, and that’s more than you have a right to expect in this highly imperfect world.

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