A few years back, I began to run an occasional column about Apple “war stories,” meaning unfortunate encounters with defective equipment. The question I raised over the years was the same: Has Apple’s quality control gone south? Well, the basic conclusion is that little has changed over the years, although the offending parts might be different.
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” Kirk McElhearn, returned to discuss his personal tales of woe involving defective products he’s purchased from Apple and Logitech. He also explained why it’s a good idea to purchase an extended warranty.
This discussion made it crystal clear that work needs to be done in the consumer electronics industry to make products more reliable. It’s not just the very cheapest gadgets, but products you expect to be pretty reliable because they command higher prices.
In the next segment, Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith revealed the results of the magazine’s heat and battery tests of the new iPad, and how they compare to other posted test results, including the ones from Consumer Reports. In retrospect, it’s curious that nobody has, so far at least, duplicated the 116 degrees CR measured on the iPad 3. Most other tests maxed out at 100 degrees, which is just a degree higher than one of the recent Android tablets that was also tested.
Cutting edge tech commentator and journalist Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, described his thorough evaluation of the new iPad, why it was singled out for what he believes to be unfair treatment because of non-existent heat problems, and then delivered an overview of the ongoing platform wars involving Apple, Google and Microsoft.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author and longtime UFO investigator Chris Lambright, author of “X Descending,” and special guest Ray Stanford to discuss how a private study of UFO films may have influenced amazing new developments in aerospace propulsion. Our guests will also discuss the mysterious Paul Bennewitz case and how he succumbed to possible government disinformation and dirty tricks.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.
It wasn’t so many years ago that the sales for any Apple product were mostly in the single digits. The Mac was a niche computer, a plaything for the well-heeled or for temperamental content creators. “Real” people used Windows, and Mac users really needed to get with the program.
For many years, Apple and “beleaguered” were frequently mentioned in the same phrase, and death watches were frequent. Yes, Steve Jobs made a huge number of changes to shore up the bottom line when he took over the company some months after the purchase of NeXT, Inc. in 1996. But maybe he was just postponing the inevitable by a few years, or so the critics claimed.
The sea changes began with the introduction of the iPod in 2001. How could anyone seriously consider paying $399 for a digital music player, the skeptics said. But Apple persevered, even moving iTunes to the Windows market to attract the larger number of potential customers who didn’t use Macs.
A deal with the major music labels to offer most of their content on iTunes made the biggest difference of all. Suddenly, getting your music via a digital download was legal, and everyone wanted to get in on the action. Over the years, Apple became the number one music store, ahead of brick and mortar retailers, many of whom just gave up and went out of business, such as Sam Goody.
Despite effort after effort from the rest of the consumer electronics industry to beat Apple, the iPod commanded a lion’s share of the market; it still does. Even Microsoft failed miserably, although the interface of their Zune music player served as inspiration for Windows Phone and now, with the name Metro, Windows 8.
In 2007, the wireless handset industry was blindsided by the arrival of the iPhone. Google had already acquired Android as a move against Microsoft’s possible domination of the mobile handset market. But they quickly switched gears, turning Android into a direct competitor to the iPhone OS, later named iOS.
These days, Apple and Google fight for dominance, while other platforms, aside from the failing Research In Motion, are mostly invisible. That’s even true for Windows Phone, although the interface isn’t all that bad.
The iPad arrived with yet more skepticism. Apple had its run, and it was time for reality to take over. After all, nobody had been able to make a go of a tablet computer, and the iPad seemed more like a bloated iPod touch. How could it possibly go anywhere?
Now just weeks after the arrival of the third-generation iPad, as Apple struggles to catch up with demand, came a survey from CNBC claiming that 55 million U.S. households (51%) own at least one Apple product; the average is three. Apple’s tightly integrated ecosystem makes it very likely that they will buy even more Apple gear. The survey says 25%, in fact.
The estimates go even higher with younger and more prosperous households. But political leanings make no difference. The share among Democrats and Republicans is just about the same. So the fact that Apple might be regarded as more of a leftwing company in terms of the politics of their executives and board members — which include former Vice President Al Gore — it doesn’t seem as if that counts for anything in the marketplace.
I suppose there’s a point where Apple’s growth must plateau in the U.S., even accounting for population increases. More and more purchases may simply go to additional or replacement gear within a household.
But that doesn’t mean Apple’s amazing growth is going to stall anytime soon. There are plenty of opportunities for Apple around the world, particularly in such emerging countries as China, where sales of Apple gear may exceed that of the U.S. within just a few years.
As the populations of less developed countries become more prosperous in the years ahead — as we hope they will — that will only mean more people will aspire towards higher quality gadgets. That’s yet another huge opportunity for Apple.
When I look at these numbers, it’s difficult to imagine how bad things once were for Apple, and how far they’ve come. At the same time, you wonder how long Apple can continue to grow at the present rate before the curve begins to level off. Apple cannot expand as quickly as a startup company forever. But that’s nothing for anyone to worry about now.
And it doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t going to make serious missteps in the future. Other supposed “unstoppable” companies have run into trouble over the years. HP, for example, was regarded as a world-class company, but has come down on hard times with management that simply has no vision for the future. The same may be true of Microsoft, although it would be nice if Windows 8 truly became a worthy competitor to OS X Mountain Lion. As much as Apple may seem to exist apart from the rest of the industry, having credible competitors will keep them on their toes. That also means more innovative gear for everyone.
But the true Apple-killer may be a company barely out of the startup phase right now. Even if that unknown company one day becomes the top consumer electronics company on the planet, Apple will have had a great run. Meantime, I wonder how long it’ll take for 75% of U.S. households to become Apple customers.
Once multifunction, or all-in-one printers became good enough to replace separates for most people other than, perhaps, content creators, I decided to do my best to make do with one. Well, actually two, since I also have one of those Xerox solid ink printers on hand in case I need a lot of pages without going broke on consumables.
Inkjet multifunctions are quite cheap. You can get decent models for less than $100, but $150 is a sweet spot where you find such gems as the Brother MFC-J825DW. Brother has found a great combination of speed, decent print quality, and ink replacements that are competitively priced. At least you won’t go broke if you don’t keep it printing constantly.
Well, when I was ready to return my review sample, Brother suggested I give one of their laser-based multifunctions a try, specifically the MFC-9325CW, which lists for $449.99. Yes, expensive, but only for the initial purchase as you’ll see shortly. It’s also a heavy beast, tipping the scales at 50.5 pounds, and it was a load to carry to my office area, but the setup wasn’t as difficult as I expected, since I simply placed it atop a vintage laser printer cabinet that’s been in use since the early 1990s. It was actually designed to match the Apple LaserWriter II series, and was a near-perfect for the Brother, since it also comes in basic beige.
Unpacking and preparing the MFC-9325CW for use was as quick as the inkjet equivalent, except you use traditional laser toner instead of ink cartridges. Most functions is identical to the MFC_J825DW. It prints, copies, scans and faxes, and supports USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi networking.
Once the printer ran through a brief warm-up process, I had a chance to test the functions. The front panel has big buttons and is intuitive enough to master without paying much attention to the electronic and printed documentation. Sure, you get a bare bones display rather than multicolored, as you find on an inkjet, but that’s not a serious detriment.
I was pleased to actually have a decent paper capacity. Instead of putting up with 100 sheets or so, the laser multifunction comes with a 250-sheet tray. If you do a lot of printing, you won’t have to continually reach for new batches of paper.
As laser printers go, the MFC-9325CW is par for the course. In regular operation it’s noisy, but quiets down soon after the last page drops into the output tray. A second tray, for manual feeding of special papers or envelopes, works like a charm.
Now laser printers are best for text, and not quite as good as inkjet for color prints. As color lasers go, the Brother delivers rich black text that’s sharp even in the smallest text sizes. Here’s the advantage of laser over any other printer technology. A Xerox solid ink printer comes close, but letters get just a tad jaggy around the edges. But when it comes to photos, the Brother is merely adequate, even at the highest resolution setting. You can easily see the tiny screens on the printed page, just as with a newspaper, but it’s alright for proofing purposes, and general business documents.
Laser also has one other key advantage over inkjet, and that’s the cost of consumables. In a world where an ounce of printer ink costs more than an ounce of silver — or human blood for that matter — laser toner is quite a bit more affordable, particularly on the long haul. Over time, you will actually recover the $300 difference between the price of a Brother laser and the inkjet version. But that doesn’t mean toner for the MFC-9325CW is necessarily cheap. The list price for each of the four colors is $73.99, but you can bring the price down to around $50, each, if you shop around. It’s not so expensive when you consider you can get far more pages than with inkjet cartridges.
But I have a quibble: Brother estimates that their black toner lasts for approximately 2,200 copies. With mostly text, I barely managed 1,500 in my tests; usually it was closer to 1,200 copies. Admittedly, some of the pages I outputted contained small photos, from a Web page, but I would have expected the estimates to be closer to the mark. When I contacted Brother’s support people, they didn’t have an answer, other than to ship me a black toner replacement.
I am still willing to recommend the MFC-9325CW multifunction. It goes about its work with aplomb, and delivers great text and decent photo quality. But toner life estimates appear to be unduly optimistic.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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