Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pulling off the black turtleneck

The first computer I interacted with (as something other than a mouth into which I tossed fish so I could get a print-out from down the hall) was an Apple II.  It was 1986.  That computer was far too expensive for me to own, but it did set an aspiration.  I knew what kind of computer a person with enough money could have.  That began a 26 year relationship with a company that ended last night.

I've lost count of how many different models of Apple computer I have used, but I am pretty confident that I used every major model class over the entire life of the company, including Lisa, and I also spent a day using a NeXT cube at school one way (missing a mid-term in the process), so it's difficult to say if this relationship I am acknowledging the end of was with Apple or with Steve Jobs in some ways.

I truly believe I see what he expressed in his life's work.  He saw company-ing as an Art form.  He didn't just have a company that produced Art, or just employed Artists, the function of the company itself was his own artistic medium for his artistic expression.

This is why I paid the premium to live my computer-life on Apple products.  I was a patron of the Arts. Part of the money I paid was patronage.  I've known this for some time, but it is only now that I realize that my patronage was of Steve Jobs, not Apple.  Something that used to be there is gone.

I dropped my MacBook Air last weekend after being aggressively over-served at a local tavern.  I picked it up and dropped it again, on the sidewalk, much to the amusement of the teenagers smoking joints on the corner.  I laughed too.

I later discovered that the trackpad no longer would click on the left side, which is sort of a big deal.  It practically renders the device unusable.  I made a Genius Bar appointment.  I told them what happened (the GB employee thanked me for my honesty). and they offered me a warranty repair and promised a two-hour turn-around.

That wasn't what I was expecting.  I really just wanted to know if this was fixable and if so, what it would cost me.  The machine is important enough to me (or it was, rather) to just replace.  I just wanted to know what I was going to have to do.  I wasn't in my neighborhood Apple store, if I had expected to leave the machine, I would have gone there.

But since the Genius Bar employee earnestly promised me it would be ready in two hours I agreed to the repair and signed the paperwork.

I was without my computer for the next 35 hours.  The company I used to know, the one for which I was a patron as well as a customer, would not have allowed that to happen.  They had my model of machine in-stock in the store.  They could have kept their promise.  They chose not to.  Wow.  Just wow.

I was promised it would be ready on Monday at noon, then I was told it would be ready on Monday at 6 pm.  Then I was told it would be ready on Tuesday at 7pm.  Then I was told it would be Thursday at the earliest and they would let me know when I could pick it up.

I was flummoxed.  I called their customer relations department and got someone named Eric on the phone who was very earnest about doing his job well, but ultimately he gave me the same answer everyone else did, which was we "will get this done as quickly as possible."  That evening, a store manager called me at 8:15pm and told me that my machine would be ready before they closed at 9 pm.

I made a very sad subway ride downtown knowing that this would be the last night I ever set foot in an Apple store.  The machine was ready when I arrived.  I am using it now.

They did "the best they could do" given normal US customer service standards, like you might fine at a well-run Best Buy, or from a good experience at Dell, or that you might get from Amazon.

But the fact remains that they could have kept a promise and they chose not to, and the decision to not keep the promise was supported at every level of the company with which I interacted.  The company clearly believes that preserving a MacBook Air in-stock is more important that my experience as an Apple customer.

Sure, it is a bad "business decision" to give away an $1100 machine over a flubbed $200 repair promise.  I think most people believe that such a business practice would be a bad idea.  People probably thought the Mona Lisa's ambiguous expression hurt the "value" or that painting.

Making a promise without knowing you can keep it is a bad idea, too.

Am I disappointed that I walked away from this disaster without a new machine?  No.  I am disappointed that Apple no longer has my back as a user of their products.  They've lost my trust, which apparently was considerable, because I am pretty disappointed.

I'm embarrassed that I have been such an avid evangelist of Apple.  I want to apologize now to a lot of people whom I persuaded to go ahead and pay the premium for Apple products because the company has your back as a user.  They don't.  Not any more.

Apple is a good company.  They are still better than Dell, HP, Microsoft, Toshiba, Sony, Lenovo, etc.  Their products are better, their support is better.  Apple products are significantly more expensive, much more so than the additional quality of the hardware and software justifies.  

That extra cost used to be justified by the fact that the company had your back as a user.  

They cared about your experience as an Apple customer--seemingly above every other consideration, including their own profit/loss off of a particular sale.  

This is what set them apart.  They lived by Stanley Marcus's old adage: "if it isn't a good buy for the customer, it is not a good sale for us."

No more.  A sad day.

My next machine will be something with a solid-state form factor like the MacBook Air, probably from Samsung, and I will use Ubuntu as an OS.  I will use my local authorized Mac shop for service/support for my current slate of Apple hardware until my current warrantees expire and these machines are passed along to the next user.  

This is how this kind of thing ends.  We will see what happens next.  I realize now I wasn't expecting this loss.