Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Wow. I must put off the intended posting for a terrifying Tale of Customer Service, once again featuring the monstrous Apple zombie army.

This time the army was marching in support of a rampaging Frankenstein’s monster:

My laptop’s automatic Software Update program alerted me a little while ago that there was a security fix and Web browser update available. I began the process immediately, quitting the other programs I was running while the update made its way to my laptop. When it arrived and a message box told me to restart my computer, I restarted my computer.

When it was back up, taking all of a minute, I went to the Mail program, which is made by Apple. It didn’t work. I tried my Web browser, Safari, which is made by Apple. It also didn’t work. Going through the program Apple provides to help get users back on the Internet, I discovered that all of the stuff needed to connect a specific machine with its Internet service provider — the DNS numbers, IP addresses, PPPoE information and all those other incomprehensible acronyms and mysterious data — had disappeared.

I called Apple technical support, plunging deep into their policy horror.

If your product is within its AppleCare protection period, dealing with technical support is like being royalty, but when that time runs out — and the plan cannot be renewed — you’re a vulnerable villager, cast out and invited back inside to safety only briefly and only for $49.99 a pop. That is, each time you call with a question or problem, tech support must get that money before helping.

Even after I explained the situation, my tech support reps insisted on charging me the $49.99. I argued with the first guy, who transferred me to the second guy, and there it ended, with him insisting on the money and me insisting there was no way in hell I was going to pay Apple for creating a software update that wipes out Internet connection information. There is no appeal. I was hung up on.

Basically, I wanted to know from Apple whether my Internet connection information was buried somewhere on my computer where I could get at it and correct the problem. I also wanted the company to know I was upset by it unleashing an update that would do such a thing.

Little luck. The tech support rep just kept repeating that he would need my $49.99 before he could troubleshoot my problem, which could have been hardware, or software, or anything, really ... he wouldn’t know until he got my money. Having told them my story and reminded them that there was another computer in the house still connected to the same Internet router with no problem, I couldn’t believe they were still trying to suggest my problem could be mechanical or the result of an “existing software problem.” That it was their software anyway moved them not at all.

It was the software updates, you freaks. The software updates. It’s what changed from one minute to the next. The only thing. On my Apple laptop with the latest Apple operating system using Apple’s Web browser and Apple’s Mail program getting the latest Apple software updates at Apple’s suggestion. Before the update, the information was there; since the update, the information is gone. This is worth $49.99?

I was forced to bother the Internet service provider to get the information. For the record, the provider is XO.com. Very nice people who didn’t ask whether I was on some kind of protection plan or charge me any money. Very nice people who just gave me the information I needed, essentially saving me from an unprovoked attack of the Apple software updates while the Dr. Frankensteins at Apple, who let loose the monster, looked on in feigned helplessness:

“How can we correct what we did to you if you don’t give us your money?”


eric said...

Apple sucks. Go figure.

Windows sucks, too, but at least you can get them for help, for free, and navigate the script lines to fix something. So they suck less.


eric said...

Oh, I forgot to mention I've been telling you people that Apple really, really sucks for years. Just thought I'd mention that.

Scape7 said...

Well, wow again. That was an astonishingly reductive comment for a relatively lengthy post that can be boiled down to a complaint about Apple's profit-mongering customer care policy.

To be clear: I have very few problems with my Apple products. I've worked with a lot of Windows-based PCs. I'm sticking with Apple and can't imagine doing otherwise.

3Jake said...

I have found my Apple products to be well designed and intuitive. Their help may be lame, but the product is beautiful. I remain loyal.

Scape7 said...

Actually, even Apple’s technical support services are considered superior. In the June issue of Consumer Reports, which is the most recent to address computers and related issues, Apple’s tech support is rated far above even its closest competitor: on desktop models, a score of 81 out of 100, with top ratings for solved problems, wait times, support staff and Web support, vs. a 57 for Dell, which scored only well (but not best) on solved problems and average on the other levels. The others rated were Gateway at 56, HP and Sony at 51 and Compaq at 45.

For laptops, Apple scored even better — 84 out of 100, again with top scores across the board — against even more competitors. The next highest scores were for IBM with 69 and Toshiba at 58, with Dell, Gateway, HP, Compaq and Sony following in that order.

Consumer Reports also found that Apple desktop computers had the fewest repairs and serious problems by far (about 12 percent or 13 percent of more than 140,000 computers reporting problems), with Sony being the nearest competitor (at about 17 percent). On laptops, Toshiba’s 16 percent rating on repairs and serious problems beat Apple by about 1 percent.

These scores are remarkably consistent over the years. Consumer Reports keeps finding that Apples need fewer repairs and have fewer serious problems and that the company’s tech support is the best. Add this to an elegant operating system, attractive exteriors and far fewer virus worries and you’ve got some good arguments for sticking with, or switching to, Apple.

eric said...

Yes...I've not been fond of Apple since about 1984. I did like the game on the ol' II that had stickmen falling off something and a involved a teeter-totter (I can't even remeber the details, but it seemed better than Pong when we all gathered at "that guy's" house in the 'hood who had an Apple II). I'll also concede that the newest Macs are superior in many CAD and other heavy design uses. But the great thing about Windows is that I can name, probably, 10 phone numbers of places where I have friends who can do better customer support than any 800-number. That's why they can screw you with the fees...nobody is taking "How to Troubleshoot Apple: 401" at the local community college.

They remain the bastion of the uses cited above and educational institutions.

Scape7 said...

We can go back and forth on Windows vs. Apple all day. I could even refer you to http://www.vanwensveen.nl/ and ask you to read through the section on Microsoft. But none of this matters, as I'm not going to switch to Windows and you're not going to switch to Apple. What matters is that, recognizing this as a choice that people make on their own, I do not run around criticizing Windows, and I think it's unwise for people who use Windows to run around criticizing Apple — largely because it's pointless.

Let he whose platform is without sin cast the first stone. If you think Microsoft has never had an irritating policy designed to make it money or released a product that was shoddy or resulted in unintended consequences, well, by all means, go ahead and criticize. But your comments are sure to fall on deaf ears, or at least on ears too busy listening to iTunes to pay attention.

3jake said...

Once you started quoting Consumer Reports, Marc, this argument took on a whole sad, geeky level that I feel bad about.
Can't we just say that Apples are kickass and the other guys are lame-o and flip them off and go get another Diet Coke out of the fridge?

eric said...

You mean the free one you could have at Microsoft, 3J?


Scape7 said...

Unfortunately, I've never let geekiness get in the way of facts, Jake. I guess I'm silly that way.

Unfortunately again, I have no idea what a free Diet Coke in Redmond, Wash., has to do with which computer platform one chooses. It's like choosing a system of government based on the color of the leader's linens.

Anonymous said...

Marc, was this the Safari update? I got an update alert for Safari just yesterday.


Scape7 said...

Go ahead and do the update, so long as you have all of your connection information written down somewhere. I don't know that what happened to me will happen to you, but having the information written somewhere is always good policy.

Brian Wanamaker said...

Picture me stepping way, way away from anyone who thinks it is easy to get support from MS, and that Apple "sucks" compared to Windows. And then starts casting the "geek" stone.

Marc, I follow a couple Apple boards, and people were complaining about this security patch right from the moment it launched. None of them are having the issues you described, but I imagine the issues are fairly complex and can take many forms, like Zan and Jana.