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  • Does Apple Prefer Fair Weather Friends?

    January 29th, 2009

    You know that Apple clearly has no interest in honoring the 25th anniversary of the Mac. The event wasn’t mentioned during Philip Schiller’s keynote at Macworld Expo, nor in the recent quarterly financial conference with industry analysts.

    The latest ads don’t harken back to the original 1984 commercial that attracted so much attention at the time, nor does the number 25 reflect anything especially meaningful for Apple.

    I suppose that people who stuck with the platform through thick and thin might feel a little slighted by all of this. After all, we all endured some occasionally savage taunts from all those PC users who felt we were afraid to get our hands dirty and work on a real personal computer, rather than what they regarded as an overpriced plaything.

    Certainly, Apple has done its best over the years to show the finger to Mac users, by producing bad products, unstable operating systems and all the rest. But now that things are on the upswing — despite the economic meltdown — you have to wonder whether Apple has become so full of itself on the way to the top that it has totally forgotten how it was allowed to stay in business all these years.

    Certainly Apple is on a roll, and a lot of their current prosperity came in large part because the iPod and iPhone introduced millions of skeptical PC users to their products. If these gadgets are so great, what about getting rid of those nasty Windows PCs and trying something that really just works?

    Over the years, the Windows conversion rate at the Apple Stores have been estimated at 50%. That’s an awfully large number and, along with Apple’s online store and third-party resellers, millions of newcomers have come to the platform.

    But you have to wonder whether this new generation of Mac users might be cataloged as a band of fair weather friends. After all, what might happen if their experiences with their new Macs aren’t so great after all? What about Apple’s penchant to release products riddled with bugs on Day One?

    Take the first generation of Intel-based note-books, for example. MacBooks developing discoloration on the case, swelling batteries and overly hot chassis. Even the new generation of unibody models have had graphic defects that are, in part, addressed by a recent firmware update. But some of these note-books might actually have to be replaced under warranty.

    Certainly the iPhone 3G left the starting gate with connection problems, particularly in marginal reception areas when the device had to switch between 3G and EDGE and perhaps back again, where there would be occasionally disconnections? What about slow-running, crashing applications, and taking what seemed to be forever to load a contact list?

    Yes, firmware updates have addressed the most serious problems, and it’s not as if loads of people have returned their iPhones in disgust. But how much is Apple pushing one’s tolerance level when initial product releases have serious bugs? And don’t get me started about the MobileMe fiasco or the initial release of Leopard.

    Now loyal Mac users would tolerate all this abuse for the greater good, just as they’ve done over the past 25 years. But would the newly-minted Mac users be willing to accept buggy products and stick with the platform, or would they decide that Windows maybe wasn’t so terrible after all?

    Now I suppose you could suggest that jumping back and forth between computer platforms is no trivial task and that most people, assuming that the problems they encounter are not terribly serious, are not going to so quickly ditch their Macs and acquire new PC boxes.

    I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how much frustration Apple must create among its new customers before they are forever lost. It’s not as if they deliberately build defective products, or attempt to deceive their customers as to features and performance. And, yes, I know there have been a few lawsuits alleging the inability of some iPhone 3Gs to achieve twice the speed on a 3G network compared to EDGE. I think they are largely nonsensical, since Apple makes the limitations of its promise quite clear in the fine print.

    More to the point, to what extent is Apple taking care of customers who have problems? Well, in that respect, they apparently do surprisingly well, at least in tech support surveys. The Apple Stores are legendary for the Genius Bar, where you can get free help for a number of issues and even get your Macs updated with the latest maintenance releases — and that comes in real handy if your own Internet connection is not as fast as it might be.

    Compare that to the experience of getting help with a Dell. Yes, it does appear that founder and CEO Michael Dell is working hard to fix the company’s tarnished support image. But consider the typical Windows driver and stability issues and imagine the horror show that ensues when the average PC user tries to get some assistance.

    So long as Apple can continue to show a huge distinction between the before and after user experience, and perhaps improve product and software reliability somewhat, these new Mac users may stick with the platform. But please, Apple, try not to forget the millions who kept you in business before all this prosperity occurred?



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    8 Responses to “Does Apple Prefer Fair Weather Friends?”

    1. Andrew says:

      Apple still takes care of its customers EXTREMELY well. I bought an early 2008 model MacBook Pro in October, at clearance pricing just as the unibody was released. I loved it, preferring the matte screen to glossy, and have gushed about it here and on other sites on occasion.

      My MacBook Pro developed a strange graphical glitch over the holidays that is related to the bad nVidia chips. I took it to the Genius Bar, where it was referred directly to Customer Relations. Customer Relations was terrific. They offered me a 17″ MacBook Pro with matte option when they ship if I had to have a matte screen, or a new unibody if I had to stay with a somewhat manageable size. The new unibody 17 was very tempting, as I do really prefer matte, but alas I went with the 15 because I do travel frequently and even the 15 is seriously pushing it (I originally though hard about getting an Air).

      Not only did Apple replace my 4-month-old laptop with a brand-new, more expensive model, they did it directly through my local Apple Store, and swapped out my extra battery with a new extra battery for the unibody model.

      Apple’s products aren’t perfect, but they are as good or better than the competition’s, and if its possible, the service is even better than the product.

    2. David says:

      If Apple continues to provide good customer service then it’s unlikely that many will switch back.

      I would estimate that anyone who switched at least a year ago would have to experience something catastrophic to go back to Windows, but someone whose brand new Mac fails to live up to expectations is a whole different matter. It’s likely that they still have their life set up in Windows and could switch back with little pain.

      This doesn’t mean Apple should get too complacent though. The mid 90’s were a self inflicted dark age for Apple. They spent years re-packaging old technology, sometimes more than 4 years old, and trying to pass it off as new. Hundreds of thousands bought Macs only to be disillusioned by poor performance, a flakey OS, lack of software and incompatibility with the rest of the computing world. To make matters worse they’d given Microsoft permission to copy their OS making Windows even more inviting.

      I don’t think Apple will make those mistakes again, but if Windows 7 gets as much positive word of mouth as Vista has had negative, then the flow of new Mac buyers could become a trickle again. Should that happen Apple will need to be more aware of the competition and not allow their hardware to lag as far behind as it often does today.

      While it’s true that the general public knows little about the state of Mac hardware or release dates, they
      typically turn to their local “nerd” for computer advice and all of us know the current Mac desktop line is in need of a major upgrade. I wouldn’t let anyone in my social circle buy a desktop Mac today unless it was urgently needed to replace a broken machine. I can’t believe that Apple doesn’t see big slowdowns in their sales every time the Mac community decides a model is getting long in the tooth so I’m shocked that their average desktop refresh periods are longer with Intel than they were with PowerPC. It defies logic unless your goal is to force people to buy notebooks if they want the MacOS. If that’s really Apple’s end game then there’s a hackintosh in my near future.

    3. Lawrence Rhodes says:

      I have two wishes that Apple could grant its long loyal supporters that might even be affordable (one-time) programming efforts.

      The first is more import filters for iWork, particularly Pages. Apple has published software with many different word processor formats which are not now readable (MacWrite in its various versions, ClarisWorks 1-5, even WriteNow, which Steve originally commissioned) on current Macs. Import filters for these would transform a million mysterious old files into readable ones, and I’ll bet some would be quite worthwhile.

      For the rest, I’d like Apple to assign a couple of old guys to fixing and packaging the Basilisk II 68K emulator with a selection of old 68K Mac ROM images (say, Mac Plus, IIci, and a Quadra) and operating systems (6.0.8, 7.5.3, and 8.1) into a nice self-contained MacIntel application that would allow people with old but useful software, a good deal of which has never been bettered or duplicated and is not available for OS X, to run it and potentially recover some of the millions of man-years of work done with it. I realize that these tiny old files seem insignificant, but the value of human thought is not proportional to file size.

      The reason I ask for the 68K emulator is that comparatively few file formats were unique to PPC-only software which was never upgraded for OS X; most old OS X apps will still run in Rosetta.

    4. Steve W says:

      The pundits that follow Apple haven’t shown much love during previous anniversaries; why should Apple expect them to start now? Remember the 20th Anniversary Macintosh? It wasn’t a tremendous hit, was it?

      Even more significant. Apple just pulled out of MacWorld, claiming that producing products on an artificial schedule isn’t worth the extra effort. I’m sure you and every other pundit was just waiting for a 25th Anniversary Macintosh, just so you could scream “HYPOCRITE” all over your headlines. If an anniversary isn’t an artificial deadline, I don’t know what is. Think about it, Apple could have delayed the announcement of the 17″ MacBook Pro by three weeks, and called IT the 25th Anniversary MacBook Pro. How well do you thing that would have been received? I’m willing to bet somebody would have claimed it was another sign of Steve Jobs’ imminent demise. They could have rushed the completion of Snow Leopard, and called that the 25th Anniversary Mac OS. Ditto!

    5. @ Steve W: It doesn’t have to be a special model. It could be an ad campaign to promote the brand image. Remember the original Think Different campaign, which is, I think, a classic.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Apple is tops in customer service … they almost make it too easy to buy something. 🙂

    7. bjh says:

      Apple seems to to to have dropped the ball in the last few years with regard to customer service. Early adopters have suffered. For example, I bought the first MacBook Pro. That thing was a dog, overheating and crashing. It took a number of repair submissions to get it fixed. What galled me was having to pay to remedy a design fix (re-routing cables). No apology from Apple for that one. Screw me.

      Then I paid full price for the original iPhone. Price drops a few months later and,after pressure, a voucher is made available. Only things is that when I got around to trying to use the voucher I was told it only had a two month lifetime and had expired. Screw me again.

      Installing Leopard – what a disaster that was. Took DiskWarrior to repair my hard drive from that debacle.
      Software Update problem in Leopard – messages telling me I’m not connected to the Internet when it had just downloaded some updates. Great software, guys !

      It continues today. I bought iLife to run on my PowerMac G5. Nobody bothers to inform me that the ‘Learn To Play’ function only works on an Intel dual core processor. (just as well I have a new MacBook Pro). G5 users, no support for you.

      MobileMe – what a fiasco. And by the way, the whole Family Pack thing doesn’t really work if you’re already a subscriber; no way to extend your existing individual subscription.

      For my sins, I’ve bought a Titanium 15 inch Powerbook, a 12 inch Powerbook (my favourite), a flowerpot iMac, a dual 2.0 G5, two MacBooks, an original MacBook Pro (ugh), a MacBook, a MacBook Air and a 2008 MacBook Pro. Not to mention six iPods, two iPod touches, and two iPhones just for my two kids, my wife and I. Not to mention the Macs I bought for family. So I have been pretty loyal to Apple. But recently I have started to think that Apple is not loyal to me as a customer.

    8. Just a mostly positive note to add to this discussion:

      I was over at a client’s home office the other day to help with an email problem. While I was there, he was taking to Apple about the fact that his son’s iMac G5 failed, just a few months after he paid a third-party authorized dealer to replace the power supply.

      Well, the Apple support person told him he should not have paid for that repair since it was covered by a special program that the dealer would have known about, and they would make good on it, refunding the price for the original repair. This time, he’d take it to an Apple Store to get the work done.

      This doesn’t mean, by the way, that all third-party dealers are necessarily bad. In this case, the service department may simply have failed to check the service bulletins.

      Peace,
      Gene

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