Apple - I'm just not getting it.

I've been in Engineering for 25 years. I'm surrounded by the "holy wars" of Mac vs. PC. I've always been a PC guy. I remember moving into a new engineering organization in the late 80's, and they were all "Mac". I literally could not use a Mac to do my job (R&D work in Unix / Xenix), so they made my group take one token Mac to do our memos on, while we all had PC's on our desks.

Later, I was trying to specify and purchase some state-of-the-art avionics bus interface cards, only to be told that all the manufacturers were tooling up for Mac, because that was the corporate standard. I said, "Good luck with that. Come back when you've come to your senses...." They abandoned the standard a year or so later, and finally I could buy supportable products.

OK, so that's all background. I'm still not a Mac guy. I believe that Apple has realized that they've probably topped out on Mac sales (Mac owners don't reproduce much), and the only way to grow the brand is to offer other bright shiny things. If you've surfed around my site, you'll notice I'm a big music geek. The iPod called to me. All my other geek friends (Mac and PC) couldn't understand how I could *not* have an iPod! I resisted a long time. One of the big barriers to me was that they weren't big enough to hold my collection. My boss (not a bad guy, but a die-hard Mac-head), was like, "This is amazing. Every track the Beatles ever recorded, right here in my hand! (Ignoring the irony that you couldn't buy those tracks on iTunes for the first ten years.....) Still nowhere large enough for my collection.

Eventually I bite the bullet. I buy the biggest thing they have, an 80GB iPod. Where's the freaking manual for this thing? I ask my Mac friends (hey, I'm an open-minded guy, I have friends who hold wildly divergent beliefs from mine). They all tell me the same thing: "It's intuitive. You don't *need* a manual!"

"Um... OK, could you show me a few secret handshakes?"

Since it's an iPod, I'm pretty much forced to use iTunes. The first thing iTunes does is go through my music collection and convert everything away from the dog's breakfast of format I've had to a more standard mp3. No problem, I think. Later versions of iTunes then proceed to convert everything to a proprietary format that won't work in an mp3 player (like my car). That's when I embark on remarkably maddening tail-chase, trying to get my music collection down to a mere one file per CD track, not 4 copies of each as the damn software keeps identifying "wrong formats" and re-encoding them! I'm still struggling.

Honestly, I do enjoy my iPod, but only for travel where it feels like I have no other choice. I should maybe consider upgrading to a larger one, but they still won't fit my music collection. It makes "syncing" a bitch.

Enter the iPad
In addition to the barrage of advertising I faced in 2010 for the iPad (I even bought the Chilly Gonzales CD - it's like an ear-worm) I also saw the iPad being used in our R&D labs. Pilots are really enamored of accessing their Jeppesen airport "charts" on the iPad, leaving behind the whole chart case in favor of this small device.

I realized that as a software professional, the iPad represented a new Graphical User Interface (GUI) that I should at least become familiar with. Ignoring it is like ignoring the mouse. You're just going to get left behind....

My wife, Sharon was talking about getting a Kindle, particularly in advance of our next vacation (two weeks in Kauai at Thanksgiving 2011). She too has been using PC's as a "power user" (she was acting as her company's IT department when I met her) for 25 years or more. No Mac experience. After comparing the pros and cons of the Kindle vs the iPad as an e-reader and all around tool, it was clear that the Kindle was better at what it did (and for a third the price), but the iPad had more expandability. And it allows me to explore this new GUI.

So, that's how we came to buy an entry level (16GB, no 3G) iPad in October 2010. Wait for it.......

"It's intuitive. You don't *need* a manual!"

On some planet somewhere, I think the good folks at Apple have decided that if you find yourself needing a manual, they must have done something wrong. I'm here to tell them, they have. Done something wrong. Give me a real manual with every product. Go ahead and put a little "quick start" one page thing in there too, but give me a damn manual. A real one, made from dead trees. Maybe a searchable electronic one too, but that does me no good at all if the damn thing won't turn on (more on that later).

But no, I have to prostrate myself before all my smugly superior Mac "friends" to try and figure out how to use this little shiny rectangle. It's like that scene from "2001: A Space Odyssey" where the chimps are gathered around the obelisk they can't possibly understand. Except I'm the chimp. And I'm hurling bones in the air in frustration.

My boss "throws me a bone." He gives me a list of apps that he has found useful and / or entertaining. Urbanspoon, Plants vs Zombies, Angry Birds, Soduko, that sort of thing. I still don't know how to work the damn thing, but Sharon is engrossed and engaged. I realize that I have failed; I'll never see the damn thing and learn how it works until such time as it doesn't work, and Sharon hands it back to me.

Six Months later, it doesn't work.
Sharon hands it to me. Says it won't turn on. I try all my engineering ways on it. I play with all the buttons (I'm *still* not sure what they all are supposed to do). I give it a little "thunk". Nothing. Dark screen. No sound. No worky.

I happen to have a second charger. Since in my experience most "dark devices" are that way from a lack of power, I give the iPad a few hours on the other charger. No help, no difference. I look up the iPad on the corporate website, and I see some basic troubleshooting steps: try loading new software. I think, "It's dead, how would I do that?" But I dutifully hook it up to the PC anyway. It doesn't recognize the iPad as a living device.

Check the website again. It says I should take it to the nearest Apple store.

Good news! There's one in Alderwood Mall (WA), and it's a mere twenty minute drive away. At this point, I should interject that "good news" was maybe a little facetious. I hate malls. So does Sharon. They are frightening places designed to waste my time and extract money for things that I didn't want in the first place.

Nevertheless, I headed to Alderwood Mall. As our relationship (Sharon and I) has matured, I find that *I* am the IT department for our home. If I am going to continue to add value as the IT department, I *must* get Soduko back on-line as rapidly as possible. Not knowing *where* in the mall the Apple store is (something else I hate about malls), I park on the wrong side and head in blindly.

Find the info kiosk. Apple store is on opposite side. Strangely, the Alderwood Mall has expanded to add an "outdoors" area, sort of an "anti-mall". You have to go out into the rain and wander these random pedestrian alleys and warrens to find the new stores. Refreshing. Take what little bit works about a mall (sheltered from the weather) and toss it out into the gutter.

Find the Apple store. Clean lines. No awning. Did I mention it was raining?

Store is busy. It's about noon on a Saturday. I think I can spot the "genius" help desk at the back. There's a line about five deep there. I'm thinking, "No problem, I can wait through five problems...."

That's when I'm intercepted by one of the stores very wired / connected associates. I'm literally five feet inside the door. She asks me if she can help me / direct me. I tell her I've got a dead iPad. She asks if I have an appointment. I of course tell her no. She tells me the next appointment is in an hour, and would I like to book it?

I'm almost certain that in her mind (I'm guessing that she was nineteen), the thought of spending an hour at the mall was the sheer definition of "quality time". It is not mine. I asked if I could just leave the damn thing there for the geniuses to take a look at. I could tell immediately that this was not how things were done (by the way she blinked at me), and she said, "No, you can't leave it here."

She asked me what the problem was, and I told her it was simply dead, would not turn on, etc. She took it from me and basically tried all the things I had (minus the thump) and then peered into the minute openings in the casing, perhaps looking for signs of water entry.

She said, "Look, they're probably going to give you a new one on the spot. Can I sign you up for the next appointment?"

I ask again if I can just leave it. She verbally checks with a guy in the back of the store (I swear, these folks have more connectivity than the Secret Service) and he shakes his head sadly. The wait for the appointment has become *two hours* while I'm standing there (four minutes, tops).

She dutifully enters my information (Todd Peach, into her little tablet. Still won't let me leave it (at this point, I'm tempted to set it down on the counter and back away slowly). I tell her, "I'm out of here."

(I feel I should say at this point, I bear no ill will towards the young lady who tried to help me. She was professional and did her job to the best of her ability. She was merely constrained by the confines of an incredibly arrogant corporation that seems to think that *I* should conform to exactly the channels of customer service that it expects.)

I am now thoroughly hacked off. I drive home and figure I'll deal with Apple on-line.

I walk in and Sharon stops dead in her tracks and says, "What's wrong?" She knows me very well, and that I am slow to anger. When she sees me like this, she knows I am very close to seriously ruining somebody's day.

I give Sharon the re-cap, and she agrees with me that the Apple way maps well to "arrogant assholes."

Now sitting in front of my fully functional PC, I again take my shot at Apple's iPad support web-site. I'm full of fire and want to vent on an email. No can do, have to type out this web page instead.....

I ask Apple to call me - it takes only a minute (OK, that was a little impressive). I tell their first-level support my problem (I have a six month old iPad - warranty is a year - and it's dead). First-level support tells me that I am outside the window for phone-in tech support, and would I like to purchase a support contract?

Struggling to hold it together, I tell her I don't understand - this thing has a one year warranty, what does it take to get a new one? Her response - "Well, we don't do that, you'll have to go one of our Genius counters for that."

"Been there, done that, please call your supervisor as I'm about to explode."

Sixty seconds of Muzak later, I got a very nice guy on the phone. He listened to my problem, and then walked me through a "two button reset". This is the "home" button (the big one on the face of the iPad) and the "power" button (the one on the upper edge to the right when the iPad is held in 'portrait' config) - hold them down together for fifteen seconds. The apple logo will appear.

Worked a charm! He went on to tell me that not unlike my PC laptop, if you constantly let it "sleep", it can get bogged down in background processes. It needs to be re-booted from time to time to clean it up. On an iPad, you do that with the power button.

Why the webpage? I needed to vent much frustration. Apple needs to provide proper manuals and documentation with their products. They need to stand behind their products with support for troubleshooting. Make an appointment? Are you shitting me?!?! How arrogant is that? I'm the customer, I have a problem, let me walk in and get it freaking dealt with!

I "make an appointment" for oil changes on my car. I understand that. But when I've thrown an accessory belt and need to be towed in to get running again, I expect to be squeezed in. I mention this because the VW dealership in Salem, OR did just that for me last month. They rock. They exemplify customer service. Apple could learn a thing or two.

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