22 March 2008

Here it comes, I guess that's fair

Yesterday was officially the start date of the Apple Backlash, at least according to The Onion. "At the current rate, we believe that at this time a sea change will occur in which people will look down at their glossy white or black devices and feel a sense of embarrassment and gullibility" they quoted an alleged analyst back in October of last year.

About time too.

As many of you know I have a predilection for Apple products, hovering somewhere between an early adopter and a fanboy (a murky line divides the two, often shrouded in the seasonal mists that float off the Pacific into Cupertino). I have been known to wax lyrical about the form and functionality, simplicity and ease of use. All of this is a hollow lie, and masks the pain that every true Apple lover buries deep inside, so in honour of this monumental day, I feel it is time to dispel some of the myths.

1) Apple products are high quality.
Never ever, ever buy a first generation Apple anything. It will break. It has been rushed out ahead of schedule, built by underpaid and overworked children in China, is buggy and incomplete. Your laptop will overheat and burn your legs, your Airport Extreme will not connect to your existing network, your iPhone will loose wireless connection and never get it back, your OS will be so buggy it needs an update almost immediately, which will cripple many parts of your computer until the next update a week later. In the meantime Apple will deny that there is anything wrong, shut down any fan sites that suggest there is, and rely on the rabid nature of their fans to hype the product and boost sales until they have time to fix the problems with the next release. Steve Jobs has said that people should replace their iPods every 12-18 months, which seems about right given how likely they are to suffer a serious failure in that time.

2) Apple loves its customers.
Apple treats its customer like rich, ignorant children.
- Apple products are seriously overpriced for what they do. €1,699 for a MacBook Air, a supposed ultraportable that is actually the same width as a regular laptop, try €320 for an Asus EEE PC that's small enough to fit in my coat pocket and do everything I need on the road.
- Apple's closed proprietary standards means that you are really, really kept in the dark about what is going on in your computer, from the days of "An unknown error of type 21 has occurred" through to security updates that are "recommended for all users and improve the security of Mac OS X" without any accompanying detail, Apple has been as minimalist with information as with its design aesthetic.
- Customer service outside of Apple Stores is a joke. When my MBP's hard-drive failed 11 months after purchase (as was inevitable), I rang Apple to find out how to get it repaired. Every Apple owner I had talked to in the office told me to go to London to the Apple Store there since there are no Apple Stores in Ireland, but I persevered and called Apple directly. I had bought the MBP through the online Apple store, and was told that while it was still under warranty as I had not opted to extend the 90 day Apple Care package that came with it, they could not tell me where I could get the machine repaired. The rep had a list of authorised repair agents in Ireland (there are only two, and none of this information is available on Apple's web site), but could not give them to me unless I bought additional Apple Care coverage. This was a €2,500 machine, 11 months old, and they would not tell me how to get it repaired under warranty without giving them more money!
- Dropping the price of the iPhone 60 days after launch by $200 tells you everything about Apple's opinion of its customer base. Sales were going well, the media hype suitably positive, and yet they felt the need to drop the price to boost even more sales, slapping every earlier adopter in the face secure in the knowledge that the loyal fan base will suck it up and come back for more. This disregard for the customer base extends to Apple's partners; when O2 in Ireland were criticised for the excessive price of the iPhone here (including a ridiculous monthly tariff, lack of unlimited data plan and visual voicemail) their CEO laughed it off saying that “Apple freaks will be queuing out the door when we launch”.

3) Apple products just work!
Apple products just work with other apple products, sometimes. My Airport Extreme will not play nice with my Airport express units, which I used for AirTunes. The Very Understanding Girlfriend's PB will not connect to the Airport Extreme network. My work MB just doesn't like anybody's wireless network. As for non-Apple products, some work, some don't. My Canon Ixus camera works well, my Sony HDD video camera does not. The Sony records in MPEG-2, which Quicktime does not support. You need to download a Quicktime add on for €20 to get your computer to recognise MPEG-2 files. Then guess what, even after that Quicktime won't play them with sound, so I need to use Streamclip to open and export them so that iMovie or iDVD can recognise them. None of this is obvious from the Apple FAQs or support center, and I only found out about Streamclip from searching on the web. iMovie 08 adds this functionality, but then you have to buy iMovie 08, you can't just upgrade free from earlier versions (see number 2 above for treatment of customers like stupid cash-cows). And don't even talk to the Very Understanding Girlfriend about photo storage or image manipulation, her wrath has no bounds.

4) Steve Jobs is a nice man.
Steve Jobs is not a nice man. He is arrogant, aggressive, and anticompetitive, and rules over his employees with the iron fist of a micromanager. The only difference between Steve and Bill Gates is that Steve is a slightly better dresser. Leander Kahney has a pretty good article in Wired that sums up most of this.

5) Apple is a happy, friendly brand.
Apple gets away with everything Microsoft tries to do, closed hardware, proprietary software, bundled products and zero transparency simply because its smaller. If Apple had a bigger market share it would come under far more scrutiny. This is why they are finally opening up the SDK for the iPhone, Safari has over a 50% share of the mobile browser market now, and with the increasing importance of mobile data the regulators are going to start paying close attention. Safari on the iPhone is in the same position as the bundling of IE with Windows 95, and we all know how well that went.

I like my Macs, I'm not going to turn away to PCs (though I may uses Linux a bit more), but Apple customers are a battered spouse in an abusive relationship, constantly ignoring their partner's flaws and blaming themselves for walking into so many doors. Sooner or later folks have to stop being Apple-apologists, forgiving everything out of some insane loyalty to a fabricated brand image.

Besides, a) Rush Limbaugh is a fanboy, and b) almost 50% of Apple users are over 55. Time to move on people, its just not cool here anymore.


At 9:44 am, Blogger Unknown said...

Well I must say that was a surprising read. It's something I've long suspected about Apple stuff and often find myself enraged by the lengths people go to in justifying the problems with their Apple products.

The classic one I came across was as follows.

A friend has a Powerbook. Every time I see him opening it he takes an A4 sheet off the keyboard. I ask why, and he warns me that if you don't put something between the screen and the keyboard of your laptop, then the keys can mark the screen.

I am surprised but start putting a bit of paper on my HP laptop keyboard, assuming this is something that can happen to any laptop. After a while of doing this, I find out that there's actually a design flaw in the Powerbook that is leaving the keyboard too close to the screen and causing a problem.

A little after this I'm in an Apple store in New York with a friend who wants to buy an Apple laptop to replace her 6 year old IBM laptop which is still working (on asking her why she isn't buying another IBM after the sterling performance of her last model, she replies "yeah, but the Mac's are all curvy").. Anyway, we're in the store chatting to a sales rep. I decide to ask some pertinent questions about components etc and I bring up the keyboard/screen issue. The sales rep explains that it's common knowledge that this happens with all laptops and that they offer screen protectors as an accessory. I point out that I've had my HP laptop for over a year and never had this issue. She mutters some half arsed excuse and has to leave us..

At 3:51 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

very true about the keyboard + screen issue. Both the Very Understanding Girlfriend and I have had this happen with our Powerbooks, you can actually see the outline of keys in the sccreen. The problem was supposed to be fixed with the MB and MBPs, but wasn't, and so we still use cloth protectors over our keyboards.

At 9:41 am, Blogger Unknown said...

I can't believe they didn't fix that with the new range.

So there are still a load of people out there who believe that laptops just 'need' a cloth protector for their screen.

That's retarded.

At 3:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this one. A good read.


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