In my previous post, I wrote on my decision to leave behind the familiar comforts of PCs and give OS X and the Apple Macbook a shot. While I am glad for the most part that I did, I have encountered some irritating tendencies with Apple. For several years, the Macbook has been available in two colors: white or black. I had known a number of people who owned the white models and saw that those exteriors quickly became dirty and discolored. In other words, it had been my observation that white Macbooks don’t stay white for very long. I also thought that the white machines looked a little too cute and playful. If am going to be showing a potential photo client my portfolio, for example, I want my computer to look somewhat more serious and professional.
Since the aluminum Macbook Pros were too far out of my price range, I settled on the black finish. Imagine my annoyance when I learned that the matte black exterior shows every touch of the human hand as a prominent oily smudge. So, Apple gives its aesthetically oriented customers a choice between two beautiful, sleek machines that will both look filthy if they are actually used. Every computer manufacturer can make a flat black machine that doesn’t show prints, so why can’t the groundbreaking folks at Apple? In addition, Apple charges more for a black Macbook with the same features and specs as a white one. Are they artificially creating a conspicuous consumption situation? If so, this seems to go against the pseudo-populist image that they push through their advertising. Nevertheless, I was set against the white version for the previously mentioned reasons and decided to go with the black.
Sadly, the black finish had already begun flaking and peeling of the corners of my machine. My frustrations don’t end with appearances, however. The Macbook comes with only two USB ports. Considering the variety of devices (card readers, printers, iPods, iPhones, external mice, hard drives, etc.) that require a USB port to connect to the computer, a mere two seems pretty stingy. Further, after only eight months of gentle use, one of the two ports stopped functioning. A friend of mine has the same notebook that is one year older, and has had to replace his screen twice. Since Apple charges comparatively more than PC makers for a machine with comparable specs, one would expect more hardware reliability. It doesn’t make much difference if my computer can connect to external devices without complicated setups or handle images well if the USB ports don’t work or the screen has dead pixels.
In August, I received an iPhone 3G as a gift . I probably wouldn’t have purchased one myself, but I was intrigued to try one out. I liked the idea of being able to check e-mail, look up a debated trivia fact, or verify my bank account balance from virtually anywhere. So I drove over to the Apple store, designated gift money in hand, to take home the new iPhone. The store was emblazoned with posters trumpeting the life-changing features of the miraculous device. A table was outfitted with a full arsenal of demo phones. “Please buy this thing,” Apple was pleading with me, “you need it more than you could ever imagine.” So I asked a sales clerk what I needed to do to get one. “Oh, we don’t have any,” they told me. When did they think they would get more in? I wondered. “Oh, we don’t know. You can check availability online every night after nine PM, and if we are getting a shipment, you can come wait in line and hope that we don’t run out before you get one.” I see, I thought, without saying aloud, you either didn’t make enough (which means you released it prematurely) or you intentionally want a shortage to create a buzz for your product (which is not a very customer-centered business practice).
Suffice it to say that after several weeks, a number visits, and many unhelpful conversations with employees that were as sick of the shortage as I was, I got my hands on an iPhone through an AT&T store. So how is the hard-won device? In many ways, it is a useful thing to have in one’s pocket throughout a given day, when it functions as it should. Yet, it doesn't always function as it should. It has terrible battery life, much-needed firmware updates have been slow in coming, the touted 3G network has been inconsistent in reliability (an AT&T problem, allegedly , but they are the only approved service provider), and the touch screen is finicky. There is inconsistent use of the cool landscape keyboard mode in built-in applications, no copy and paste, no Flash capability, and few features in the otherwise great camera. Also, Apple tends to restrict applications from third parties that address the company’s own oversights. I can’t help but wonder if Apple denies the implementation of certain features in order to have more features to whoop and holler over when they release the next version of a product. How will they get their fans to run out and wait in line for the latest release if they were too thorough on the previous one? Is this an example of Apple's planned obsolescence, perhaps?
Next time: a regular guy's prognosis for Apple and the future…