- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

Apple’s First Impression Dilemma

All right, try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never purchased an Apple product, or perhaps did so way back when, but later migrated to the Dark Side. In recent months, you have been exposed to endless articles and ads about the joys of Macs, iPods and the ever-so-popular iPhone.

Now if you were once a Mac user, the next thing to consider is why you abandoned the platform. It’s not as if Apple didn’t do lots of things to drive you away, such as charging exorbitant prices for the hardware, and providing short-term limited warranties. Indeed, in those days all you got with your new Mac was 90 days parts and service.

Perhaps you loved your Mac, but didn’t appreciate the fact that the software you required for your business stopped supporting your favorite platform. They said go Windows, and so you did.

But you soon discovered that the other side of the tracks wasn’t so terrific after all. It wasn’t Mac-like in any respect, despite claims to the contrary. Yes, the interface was superficially quite similar, but all that malware, all those driver conflicts. Windows Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Meantime, maybe you bought an iPod, and you realized that Apple builds some super cool stuff nowadays. So why not give them a try? So you went ahead and purchased a new Mac, ready to get back in the swing of things.

But, as with some of the folks who have written up their war stories in our Comments section, perhaps something went wrong. Perhaps your brand new Mac misbehaved big time almost out of the box, failing to sustain a Wi-Fi connection, for example.

Is it the Wi-Fi? Well, you boot your Windows box and it works just fine, so what’s this deal about Macs just working anyway? That’s not your experience, and your frustration is quite understandable. At this point, you have to consider whether it make sense to endure the problem or put yourself in troubleshooting mode and try to find a solution.

Now maybe all it takes is a Mac OS X update. Indeed, the initial releases of Leopard did have AirPort-related troubles, which have, or should have been, largely resolved. Perhaps that’s all it takes and it’s time to get on with your life.

But maybe things aren’t quite so simple. Perhaps your first foray into the Apple universe was the iPhone 3G. You saw the ads, about how it connected to the Internet up to twice as fast as the previous model, which was limited to the EDGE cellular data network. So you sweated for several hours immersed within a large crowd of eager buyers waiting for the honor of paying the full price, having it activated, and taking it home.

In the real world, however, the joys of broadband access on a mobile device proved elusive. You are like many others who found lots of dead spots where even the slower network wasn’t available. Maybe you even saw a “Service Unavailable” message on your iPhone, and you have to wonder whether it made sense to get involved in something that you have come to regard as perhaps a bait and switch scheme.

Unfortunately, troubleshooting a cell phone isn’t so easy. Two people with different devices in the very same location might have altogether different experiences. Network congestion or bad weather might impair reception big time. In fact, one of the frequent complaints about the iPhone 3G’s performance is that AT&T’s network in the larger U.S. cities simply isn’t capable of handling the load.

Here’s one possible cause, among many: With other phones, even smartphones, people aren’t constantly surfing the Internet. That’s because the browsers on these other devices are downright pathetic, even when they promise to deliver an authentic online experience. So it may well be that cellular networks are suddenly thrust into an environment where they must handle traffic quite different than what they were designed for.

For the end user, rather than blame Apple or the wireless carrier, you go after both. Certainly there’s already a legal action pending where someone charges that Apple’s claims about the iPhone 3G’s performance are false, and they are demanding restitution.

If you, as the recent Apple convert, encounter any difficulties of this sort, maybe that BlackBerry is starting to look a lot more attractive to you. Buyer’s remorse is starting to set in and you are seriously considering abandoning Apple for something, however imperfect, that you can reasonably rely on.

Right now, of course, most people are cutting Apple some slack. When the products work, they are simply marvelous. But having all recent problems pile up together has to have some impact, and not necessarily the kind Apple wants.

Consider running through hoops to get your iPhone even activated, trying out MobileMe and finding your email is offline, and then setting up a new Mac and encountering various and sundry difficulties. Consider if you were that new Apple customer, and encountered all this within the space of a couple of weeks.

What would you do? How would you handle it, and would you swear off Apple products forever? That, dear reader, is a very real danger. And Apple’s difficulties at providing solid customer information in a simple, organized fashion doesn’t help. You shouldn’t have to depend on a terse sentence in an email from Steve Jobs or a memo to company employees, both quoted in a news report, to find the answers you need.

Indeed, first impressions mean a lot, and Apple needs to consider the consequences. They may not get too many second chances.