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Do You Really Want to Sue Apple?

So put yourself in this position: You purchased an iPhone, an iPod, or a new Mac. The specific product doesn’t really matter, but the important thing is that it doesn’t perform to your expectations. Far from it, in fact. You bought the gadget on the promise that Apple’s gear “just works,” and found that, as far as you’re concerned, the claim is false.

What can you do to gain satisfaction?

The usual first step would be to call customer service, and that’s usually sufficient to resolve your issues. Or you may bring the malfunctioning product to an Apple Store, and consult someone at the Genius Bar. That form of two-way communication is best, and it also gives Apple a chance to observethe situation at first hand, and that can do wonders.

Before I go on, I’m not dismissing the possibility of getting satisfaction from a third-party Apple reseller. Many are fully dedicated to the Mac platform and will definitely provide skilled assistance.

But what if none of that succeeds, and you are still suffering from the same problems that caused this mess in the first place?

Well, now things are apt to get complicated. You could, of course, take the issue up the corporate ladder. I’ve done that in the past, and always found someone in management to handle my problem in a friendly and productive fashion. The most recent episode occurred a few years back, when I had problems with a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display. In the end, a brand new unit was waiting for me at one of the nearest branches of the Apple Store, and I was a happy camper. And no, folks, I made no effort whatever to use my status as a member of the tech media to force a favorable outcome. It wasn’t necessary, nor should it be necessary for most of you. That’s why Apple continues to get extremely high grades for support.

However, there are some who prefer taking a fast trip to their lawyer, in hopes that a lawsuit, or at least the threat of one, will set things right. Believe you me, that can truly open a can of worms, and it is rare that the outcome will even be close to satisfactory.

Now any time you look at one of Apple’s SEC filings, you’ll see a number of legal actions in the hopper. I’m not going to list them, nor attempt to decide whether they have merit or not. That’s part of the cost of doing business. Sometimes Apple will even settle with other companies that claim intellectual property violations. In certain cases, it’s because the lawsuits had merit. In other cases, Apple decides that it’s cheaper to settle than to pursue extended and costly litigation that may take years to resolve.

You’ve no doubt read about the recent actions, which involve complaints that Apple and perhaps AT&T misrepresented the performance potential of the iPhone 3G. Most of these claims focus on the ads from Apple boasting up to twice the broadband speeds compared to the older EDGE network.

Now I’ve said this before. Apple’s claim has the requisite fine print that says, in effect, that you can basically get up to twice the speed with 3G except in cases where you don’t. That may seem flippant, but there are lots of conditions that may prevent you from getting snappy 3G speeds, or even connect to the 3G network. So there you go.

I should think that a lawyer who was paying attention would know that, and realize quickly that a claim of this nature — even if expanded to class-action status — stood a high chance of failing. However, that doesn’t stop the ambulance chasers in our midst. They are simply hoping that Apple might relent and pay them off rather than endure protracted litigation.

If a settlement is made, the plaintiff’s lawyers stand to make a huge payday, netting fees of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, depending on the size of the settlement. But what about the poor, deceived consumer? Just how do they fare?

Well, in just about every case I know about — and there may be others I don’t recall — regular people will, at most, get a discount coupon for a future Apple purchase. Period! No cash will change hands, and the presence of a coupon may spur them on to buy merchandise they might not have otherwise considered.

Assuming that they have to cough up extra cash, Apple, with its traditionally high margins, stands to make a profit even at the reduced price. Even better, unless the coupon has a pretty high value, at least over $50 or so, the chances that it will ever be redeemed aren’t terribly high. The victors in this case may simply put them away, expecting to use them some day. But that day never arrives, and the coupon expires.

A similar situation exists for rebates. Do you really think every eligible person truly files a claim? It never happens, but the promise of a rebate may be sufficient to spur sales anyway, and that’s what it’s all about.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t sue Apple if you think you have a case. But try to use a little common sense first. Were you actually injured in some fashion (finally or otherwise) because of what you perceived was fraud on the part of Apple?

Consider this too: If you don’t like what you bought from Apple, feel free to go elsewhere. That may take a whole lot less time and effort than enduring an extended legal action.

Of course, if that means, as a Mac user, you’d have to switch to Windows, well, maybe that’s what you may have to think about, even though it’s not a pleasant prospect.