4 Lies Apple Corporation Told Me

June 13, 2007

The original title of this post was to be “Got a Mac – I’m Excited” but well, um, things change. What can I say? Somewhere between actually getting the Mac and actually turning it on, my excitement turned into all too familiar cynicism.

In technology, as in life there are trends, fashions, & fads – what’s hot and what’s not. Macs are hot. How do I know this? Well those Mac vs. PC ads tell me so, and very creatively too I might add. So does startup school guru Paul Graham in his recent essay (Microsoft is Dead):

The last nail in the coffin came, of all places, from Apple. Thanks to OS X, Apple has come back from the dead in a way that is extremely rare in technology. [2] Their victory is so complete that I’m now surprised when I come across a computer running Windows. Nearly all the people we fund at Y Combinator use Apple laptops. It was the same in the audience at startup school. All the computer people use Macs or Linux now. Windows is for grandmas, like Macs used to be in the 90s.

In which case, excuse me for a moment kiddies while I put in my teeth. “Grandma, what big teeth you have !” All the better to take a bite out of the Apple marketing hype.

I bought a Mac for pragmatic not “cool kid” reasons, boring I know. I need to do cross-browser testing. I am also learning Ruby on Rails and have concluded it’s probably best done in it’s natural environment (hint: not Windows). Instant Rails came packaged with some sort of virus. Using the Rubyweaver extension for Ruby on Rails has buggered my installation of DreamWeaver. TextMate, the de rigeur Ruby on Rails editor, isn’t available for Windows. Gotta get a Mac. A Mac mini, the techbait Apple has designed for potential customers of my ilk.

This review says it all:

The Mac mini is a master stroke by Apple – it’s essentially a headless iMac, supplied without a monitor, keyboard or mouse, enabling users to get on the Mac ladder for less money than ever before, by reusing their existing peripherals. The Mac mini is the Apple computer aimed at ‘Switcher Man’. This is the Windows user who’s already been turned on to the way Apple does things by the iPod, and is now intrigued by what else it can offer.

So I try to buy one locally but no one stocks them out here in Toronto’s bedroom suburbs. So I try to buy one online from Apple. Which brings me to

Big Apple Inc Lie #1

Ships: Within 24 hours
Free Shipping

After giving up my credit card info, the shipping changes to 8 days. 8 days! If step one had said 8 days, I wouldn’t have gone to step 2. Cancel! What no Cancel button? What conceit – that online customers might not want to change their minds at any time during this purchase process? X!

So I go to the Toronto Apple Store @ Yorkdale, guiltily cutting out of my .NET User Group meeting early to get to the store before closing. Walking into the Apple Store, surrounded by Apple’s spartan design aesthetic and staffed by Apple hipsters, I am struck by the eerie sensation that I have walked onto some sort of “set”, something I didn’t fully realize until I read this blog quote on the opening of this very store, the first in Canada:

AAPL [Apple Inc.] is not a tech company, it’s a sugar-as-lifestyle marketing agency

I wouldn’t call it sugar but the “lifestyle marketing agency” bit is dead on. That’s what if felt like being in the Apple Store, like I was in a lifestyle marketing ad.

Back to the store, I focus on my goal. I’ve done my research, they’ve got stock and I’m ready to buy. The Apple sales dude seems nice enough, seems to know his stuff. I am subjected to a gratuitous sales pitch, I reassure him I’ve done my research and am ready to buy (the store is closing in 3 minutes). I want a Mini Mac Ultimate (extra memory and hard drive space). I am then subjected to an upsell pitch for an AppleCare Protection Plan.

I ask Apple sales dude, “Uh, why would I need one of those? Aren’t my problems over?”.

To which Apples sales dude has no answer. Oh well. He tells me I can still get one within the first 90 days. I thank him and tell him I’ll keep it in mind. Order placed. Off to cash. I quiz about peripherals as I wait. Yes they’ll work.

Apple cash dude notices that I have no AppleCare Protection Plan and asks if I want to buy one.

“Uh, aren’t my problems over?”. Silence. Apple cash dude reminds me I have up to 90 days to get with the program.

Off home. Set up. This is where the “fun” should begin but I run into

Big Apple Inc Lie #2

Key to Apple’s pitch to us switchers:

4. You don’t have to buy new stuff.
Your existing printer, camera, keyboard, and mouse will work with a Mac. PCs and Macs can usually share peripherals if they connect via USB, FireWire, or Bluetooth, three industry standards available on every Mac.

Hmmm … so why is set up hanging searching for my brand new super-cool Logitech keyboard?? I google the message. One Apple forum result, similar situation, user finally resolves by buying an Apple keyboard and mouse. Hmmm …

I try the free 90 days of Mac Tech support. I am pitched the AppleCare Protection Plan yet again. “Aren’t my problems over?”. Silence. I acknowledge the 90 day limit to buy. Long story short, it turns out that not all peripherals are all that compatible after all. If you’re using a wireless keyboard, even with rf to USB, it still has to use Bluetooth – the mouse will work but the keyboard won’t. There are an increasing number of wireless keyboards out there … and the majority don’t use Bluetooth.

Anyway, I get wired and I’m through.

Soon after, I want to print a readme to my shared printer / all-in-one. Which brings me to …

Big Apple Inc Lie #3

7. No hunting for drivers.
Just about everything works with Mac — even the stuff you used with your old PC. All you have to do is plug it in. A Mac has USB drivers for printers, external drives, digital cameras, input devices, iPod, and more. It can see Bluetooth cell phones and headsets, as well as FireWire cameras. No rebooting, no hassles.

Bahahahaah. So why am I spending hours here looking for drivers and trying to get the damn thing to print properly? I can’t find my printer in the drop down, even with open source versions, they just won’t show up.

I call Apple Support. I am subjected to yet another pitch for the AppleCare Protection Plan. “Aren’t my problems over?”. No answer. Yes, I understand I still have 90 days to purchase. Now we’re into

Big Apple Inc Lie #4

World class tech support

The truth is Apple Tech support is as lousy as anybody else’s. Drivers are not their problem, call HP. There aren’t any ways to install drivers other than by installation program. I am able to extricate where the drivers go though with some effort, to make sure they actually did get installed (old habits die hard).

I check OS X documentation online, the drivers are supposed to be in the drop down, even with Windows sharing.

Back to Apple Tech Support. I am subjected to yet another pitch for the AppleCare Protection Plan. No but thanks. I ask that a note be put on file to not ask me about AppleCare . Drivers. I point out that the drivers are supposed to be there according to the documentation. This time tech support is a little more helpful. Could be a network issue, try a direct printer plug in. Ok, I can buy that …

But not really … network communication seems fine and rearranging my equipment will be a pain. I persist in reinstalling the open source drivers. Finally, they show up to be selected and finally, finally, I am able to print. My workday is shot and I’m cheesed off as “no hunting for drivers” turned out to be the biggest lie of all.

Now these aren’t big lies but they are insidious. They are marketing lies. And I’m cheesed off because I bought into them, I got caught, I bought the hype.

Lie #1 (the online shipping bait and switch) probably doesn’t apply … but it’s just not good business practice … and I expected better from Apple.

If Microsoft told me:

  • #2 You don’t have to buy new stuff
  • #3 No hunting for drivers
  • #4 World class tech support

I wouldn’t be cheesed, I’d be laughing. It’s Microsoft – who would believe it???

What experienced Windows user hasn’t hunted for drivers?? And everybody knows Microsoft wants you to buy new stuff / more stuff. Microsoft may be dead but at least they’re honest about it.

With Apple computers, it’s not a case of the new Emperor has no clothes. Apple machines are the real deal. I just think Apple’s marketing department shouldn’t make exaggerated claims that don’t hold up. Implicit and explicit to the current Apple marketing message is “your problems are over”. That’s what “it just works” and their other claims mean.

But I have to give props to the front line people in the Apple trenches – at least none of them had the gall to tell me my problems were over. But who knows what they would have told me without the AppleCare elephant in the room?