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Does Apple Prefer Fair Weather Friends?

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?