Archive for April, 2010

I finally talked myself into getting a new Mac. I haven’t owned a Mac or even had regular access to a current one for over a decade. I have an upcoming project that will be Mac-based, and I wanted to get a jump start on relearning the operating system. I could really benefit from the purported 10-hour battery life when I’m at conferences. Also, I just wanted to know what it was like to drive a Mac again. Since there were rumors of an upcoming refresh to the MacBook line, I was watching with interest to see what new features would be unveiled. I must admit to being taken aback by the fact that the brand spankin’ new 13” MacBook Pro doesn’t sport one of the new Core i5 or i7 processors that the 15” and 17” received. Most unfortunate, that. But after convincing myself, the next thing was to see if the store actually had one.

So Tuesday morning, after we knew that the things were official, I called the nearest Apple Store (Saddle Creek in Germantown, TN – about an hour and 45 minutes away) to see if they had any in stock. They wouldn’t answer their phone. At this point, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, new products had just been announced, so perhaps they were slammed with hordes of the Apple faithful all looking for the latest in Mac gadgetry. Since that didn’t work out, I tried chatting online with an Apple store rep. The rep told me that he couldn’t check inventories at individual stores, so my only option was to just keep calling.

I called back later that afternoon and finally found out that they didn’t have any of the new MacBooks, and they didn’t know when they’d be getting them. Well that was a disappointment. Wait, try again another day.

Wednesday. I called Wednesday morning to see if they had received the new MacBooks. Second verse – same as the first verse. Even though the Apple Store at Saddle Creek opens at 10:00 a.m., by 10:30 they still weren’t answering the telephone. Grrrrr. Finally sometime after lunch I was able to talk to a person who told me that they had received the 15” and 17” models, but not the 13”. Try again tomorrow.

Thursday. I called again. Would you believe that an hour after the store opens, they still don’t have anyone answering phones? I should mention here that I didn’t just call once over the last three mornings. I called several times. I should also mention that once selecting the option to speak with a rep, there were no more phone tree menus to navigate. The phone just rang . . . and rang . . . and rang. No one answered. I was annoyed

I started up another chat with an Apple store rep, and I explained the situation. I told her that people at the Saddle Creek store just won’t answer the phone in the morning, and I asked if she could have someone from that store call me. She explained that she couldn’t, but then gave me temporary hope by asking if I was trying to check inventory at the store. I said, “yes,” and she replied, “One moment please.” For a moment hopes were high. I thought I had happened upon someone at Apple who actually knew how to access their online inventory system and who would be able to give me the information I needed. As I said, hopes were high – for a moment. Then she came back and said that I’d just have to call the store.

So . . . about three hours after the store opened I finally got someone to answer the phone. She told me that they did indeed have the 13” MacBook Pro I wanted, and I asked if she could set one aside for me to pick up later that day. She told me to go to reserve.apple.com, pick out what I wanted, and select the Saddle Creek store as the pickup location. When I got back to the office, I tried. Imagine my surprise when I found that they website she provided actually just redirected me to the iPhone page. Double grrrrr.

Back to Apple chat. I explained the situation to the next chat rep. He said, “Just a moment and let me prepare a custom URL for you.” He hit me with a URL that directed me to the Saddle Creek store. I worked my way through the form only to find out that it merely allowed me to make a shopping reservation. It didn’t actually let me select a product. I explained to the rep that his URL wasn’t allowing me to actually make the reservation that the store rep said I could make. I also explained that I didn’t want to drive an hour and a half only to find out that all of the computers had been sold. Another “One moment please” followed by “I’m sorry, but you can’t reserve items online.”

I was irked. The rep cheerfully asked, “Why not take advantage of free shipping by ordering from Apple’s online store?” I replied that the online store – even when I asked on Tuesday – would not be able to get the product to me before I left town for a conference.

Ultimately I wound up just risking it, and fortunately the store still had them in stock when arrived. But it left me wondering, “If service is this poor when I’m just trying to purchase a product, how bad is the ‘service after the sale’? “

Not answering the phone during morning business hours for three successive days.
Giving misinformation during a phone call.
Offering no way to hold an item for a customer driving an hour and a half just to get to your store.

It’s interesting to note that my really dedicated Apple friends all rave about how wonderful Apple’s service is, and I’ve read a couple of articles about their highly ranked service. If the Apple Store at Saddle Creek in Germantown is any sort of indication though, I’m not looking forward to much in the way of service.

News is now spreading across blogs that Apple has finally approved Opera Mini for the iPhone. (Need it? Get it for free in the iTunes store.)

So what does this hold for the future? In the short term, I hope this means Firefox for the iPhone. I like Firefox, and I’ve been hoping to see an iPhone version for some time. For the long term, does this mean that Apple is changing its stance on apps?

For those who don’t know, Apple has officially been opposed to apps that duplicate core iPhone functionality. That has been interpreted to mean that since the iPhone has a built-in e-mail client, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in telephone application, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in web browser . . . well . . . you get the picture.

Given all that history, the fact that the Opera Mini web browser is now available for the iPhone, could be huge. Or it could be nothing. At the very least, it could be a sign of Apple opening the door for some changes. However, as many developers have experienced, Apple can slam doors just as quickly as it opens them.

I’ve played around with Opera Mini, and I’m not impressed yet even though I like the tabs. Opera Mini actually seems a little slower than Safari on my phone, although others are experiencing better results. Faster or slower though, I hope that Opera’s approval by the App Store reviewers bodes well for things to come.

When I saw the iPad preview information, I was struck with a lot of the same impressions that others had: it’s a big iPod Touch. To a great extent, that’s still my opinion. However, several days ago I read a review that (somewhat) changed the way I think about the iPad.

David Pogue, writing in the New York Times, did a two-part review that looks at the iPad from both a techie perspective and an “everyone else” perspective. In his closing, Pogue wrote, “ . . . the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on.” Strangely enough, these few lines made the difference for me.

When I look at a product – computer, camera bag, kayak, whatever – I take a “be all that you can be” approach. I expect the item to have loads of functionality. In short, I expect it to be the be-all-end-all device. That’s unrealistic of course, but I still expect it! So whatever the device, I look at all potential uses to which I might put it, and then I evaluate it based on how well I think it will meet my expectations.

This was the test that the iPad failed when I initially considered it. In my mind the iPad was the PERFECT form factor for a true tablet PC. However, it lacked the one-two punch I consider essential for a tablet: a stylus and good handwriting recognition software. In spite of what Steve Jobs has to say, I can see the value of a stylus, and I wish the iPad had one. I have previously used Microsoft OneNote under Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The handwriting recognition software was really very good for either print or cursive writing, and I saw a lot of possibilities there. Unfortunately, the PC itself was just too heavy. That’s why I thought the iPad would have been perfect, but alas, no stylus.

But David Pogue’s review made me rethink the iPad. Once I resigned myself to the fact that it’s not a great device for creating stuff, the idea became a lot more palatable. When I think of it as a device for consuming stuff, it makes a lot more sense. Since my first portable device, I’ve read a lot of e-books. The iPad should be fine for that. The browser and add-on apps should make it a good device for consuming lot of other content as well.

This seems to make all the difference to me. In trying to accept the iPad for what it is, I have (somewhat) rejected what I think it could be. And it truly looks like a great device for consuming content.

So . . . maybe I do need one after all.