Bottom Line Reasons to Buy Apple Gear

August 12th, 2011

Just this week, my son told me of a curious episode involving a friend of his who owns an Android OS smartphone. She downloaded an update to the Google Market software, only to have a content filter activated in the process. The result? A 25-year-old woman suddenly had to deal with removing parental controls settings.

Now you’d think this sort of download is as trivial as they come, one that ought to be accomplished in a minute or so without serious side-effects, after which you can get back to your life. But silly bugs aren’t unusual in Android land. What it means is that customers may require far more hand-holding than those who use a BlackBerry or an iPhone.

Indeed, according to a recent survey from a firm that examines customer service encounters, ClickFox, carriers who sell Android phones have to spend lots more money to provide support. The survey canvassed customers in North America, reporting that they spent $46 million more per year to support BlackBerry customers than they did with iPhones. Android OS smartphones, notorious for developer fragmentation and end-user inconsistencies, cost $97 million more per year.

The report is cited in a recent article from Galen Gruman, at InfoWorld, and the results don’t auger well for the support situation in the Android world.

In reporting the amount the carriers are spending to deliver support, it was pointed out that it usually takes a single call to help an iPhone user. BlackBerry users need to have their calls transferred or followed up 37 percent of the time. The figure is 77 percent of the time for Android users.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the tight integration between Apple hardware and software. Even when Macs were much more expensive compared to Windows PCs than they are today, the cost of ownership was almost always less. Users needed less help to deal with problems, and system-related conflicts were far less significant.

Of course, Consumer Reports wouldn’t have a clue about such matters. Their surveys of PC reliability are usually restricted to the hardware, where Apple is at or near the top of the pack, but most companies fall within a narrow range. That’s because a fair amount of the components in these machines are the same, or at least sourced from the same manufacturers. The most significant difference is the operating system.

Understand that the cost of support is not the same as customer preference, or an assessment of how the customer feels about the reliability of their gadgets. If they are accustomed to putting up with more grief on an Android OS device, they are apt to regard the experiences as perfectly normal, in the same way Windows users are accustomed to jumping through more hoops than Mac users to do their thing. Windows users are also far more apt to acquire security software, although there’s an awful lot of money still lost from malware infections on that platform. But that may also be the result of the fact that far too many customers let those security software subscriptions lapse, hence aren’t protected from the latest malware outbreaks.

Unfortunately, such surveys don’t always get the widespread publicity they should. Although Galen’s InfoWorld story was also carried in a sister publication, Macworld, it’s not as if the mainstream media tends to pick up on such things. Certainly CR won’t, because such support matters aren’t on their radar. They will focus more on whether support people solve the problem; they won’t attempt to figure out why the problems remain.

Of course, it’s also fair to say that being more reliable doesn’t mean the iOS is free of problems. Apple has issued regular updates to fix bugs, including serious security leaks. Sometimes it takes a generation or two of updates to address a serious interface problem, such as the poorly-implemented Push Notification feature. You would have thought that Apple’s supremely talented development team should have realized early on that even the Android OS had a better way to address app and system messages, but they didn’t. You would have thought customer complaints would have brought the message home, but evidently they didn’t. Or perhaps other issues rose higher on Apple’s radar, which means you won’t see a flexible Push Notification system until iOS 5 arrives this fall.

At the same time, OS X Lion arrived with some interface peculiarities too. Consider, for example, Full-Screen Apps. It works well enough, until you try to use a second display, which displays that silly linen background. One would think Apple would consider that maybe you’d like a second app displayed on a second display. Personally, I think the Spaces multiple desktop feature, even as revised for Mission Control, remains flaky. Apps appear on the wrong desktop, for example.

I’ve little doubt that some of the worst ills that ail Lion will be fixed after a few maintenance updates, but sometimes you wonder what Apple was thinking when certain features are implemented without thought for the various ways customers will use the product. Using Full-Screen Apps with multiple monitors is just one example, and I’m sure you readers can produce far more.

At the same time, Lion is still easier to use than Windows, and it doesn’t appear that Microsoft will improve things all that much when Windows 8 arrives. That, too, remains a potential customer service issue that ought to get more attention.

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