Apple Pie

I don’t get it. What is it with Apple? Why does the brand inspire such religious zealoutry in its consumers? Let me start by saying, I love Mac OS X. Love it, love it, love it. I first bought an Apple machine a couple of years ago because, despite their reputation for making expensive machines, the iBook was, at the time, the cheapest laptop available that did not weigh about the same as a small off-shore tanker. I wanted small, I wanted light and I wanted portable, and the iBook was all that. And I fell in love. Actually, another reason I bought an Apple was that I figured:

1) You can’t customise them as easily, so I would no longer be continually tinkering with (and breaking) the inside of my computer.
2) The whole system was so alien to me that I wouldn’t be able mess around coding ugly programs instead of getting on with The Novel.

One out of two isn’t bad – little did I know that Apple actually provide their development tools (Xcode) for free with the operating system (Microsoft sell Visual Studio for another $1,000). Nor did I realise how easy programming for a Mac would be (and what great books there are out there to help you along the way, such as Stephen Kochan’s Programming in Objective-C or Aaron Hillegass’s Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X). So in actual fact, I ended up spending more time on programming, as I suddenly realised that I could actualise my writing software idea (which I was originally going to call BookTree, and then Hemingway, but is these days known as Scrivener).

Yeah, and I guess I also liked the idea of owning an Apple computer, mainly because of various Douglas Adams rants.

And my iBook really was/is a beautiful machine. I had nary a problem with it. I liked it so much that I’ve just bought its replacement, a white MacBook. It’s as hot as a summer in hell, but I like that, too.

But… Apple. They’re just a computer company that happen to make some stylish machines and a very solid operating system, right? That’s what I thought until I had cause to go into their Regent Street store, at least. You know I said I had “nary” a problem with my iBook? Well, the one problem I did have was with the power lead. Being a clumsy oaf myself, and having a toddler who follows in my unsteady steps, the power lead on my old iBook took quite a battering, and got bent all out of sorts after one-too-many-trips over the lead. And one day my boy decided to compound the problem by giving it a good wiggle, at which point the wire inside the connector snapped off and got well-and-truly-stuck inside the computer. (The new MacBooks have a magnetic connection to prevent problems just like this one, which is testament to some good designers who actually think about solutions to the problems of the old line.)

This necessitated a trip to the Regent Street store, which had fortunately sprung into being since I bought my iBook. I had high expectations: online folk from the US and Japan had raved about the Apple stores, the amazing customer service and the downright genius of the folk at the Apple “genius bars”. Of course, I should have known: this is London. They ain’t gonna give a toss.

After a while spent in the queue for the Genius Bar at the Regent Street store, I had a sneaking suspicion that I had accidentally walked into a church of Scientology. Everyone was bovine-calm and customers were staring at the machines much as a Catholic might a shrine to Mary mother of God. I’m sure I could hear an ethereal whispering of “Join us, join us!” somewhere beneath the babble of the crowds, and I didn’t feel entirely confident that I would be allowed to leave without promising to face in the direction of Cupertino and chant the name of Jobs thrice at least four times a day.

Anyway, get this: I had to queue for half an hour at the Genius Bar just to talk to a lady making appointments for the Genius Bar. In front of me were a gazillion poor folk with broken iPods. Those who had paid 200-or-however-much-it-is quid for AppleCare (whereby you pay Apple lots of money and in return they promise your product will work for a reasonable amount of time) got to leave their iPods with the rather grumpy and intractable lady for repair. Those who had not were given some address in Taiwan and told, “Apple don’t actually manufacture them so it’s nothing to do with us.” When I finally got to the front of the queue, my conversation with the intractable lady ran something like this:

Me: “My toddler snapped off the power-lead-wire-thingy so that it’s stuck inside the computer. I just need someone to remove it and to buy a new power lead.”

Intractable lady: “You’ll have to see one of the Apple geniuses.”

Me: “Okay.”

Intractable lady: “The first free appointment is at six o’clock.”

Me: “Er. That’s six hours away.”

Intractable lady: “…”

Me: “Can’t I just leave the iBook with you? It took me an hour to get here and I don’t want to have to go back home and then come back again. I know exactly what’s wrong. Somebody just needs to remove the wire that’s stuck.”

Intractable lady: “Our policy is that you have to see one of our Apple geniuses before you can leave any hardware with us.”

Me: “In six hours time.”

Intractable lady: “…”

Me: “But if I bring it in to an Apple genius, all he will say is that the wire is stuck in the computer and I need a new power lead. And then he’ll keep it in for repair.”

Intractable lady: “Probably.”

Needless to say, I ended up going back six hours later to see an Apple “genius” (is it just me, or does anybody else have the urge to ask anyone calling themselves a “genius” if they’ve come up with a unifying theory for quantum mechanics and general relativity yet? Nope? Just me then). Who, nice as he was, told me that the wire was stuck and I needed a new power lead, and that I better leave it in for repair. (He also told me that I could have booked the appointment online without having gone in, which the guy I phoned the day before completely failed to inform me about. Grr.)

But what really got my goat through all of this was the cow-like calm on everybody’s faces. (Did I mention the cow-like calm yet?) Why were there no Apple employees struggling with heads that had recently been inserted into cinema displays? I think it has to do with a curious form of double-think that they have mastered in-store. For whilst I was queuing up, turning lobster-red with anger and imagining swelling to the size of Chewbacca and running rampage through to the “dun-dun-derrrrn-dern” I’ve-just-got-angry-I-told-you-you-wouldn’t-like-it score from the Incredible Hulk, there was some guy giving a talk about Apple products to a small audience. I don’t know whether all Apple stores have the same set up, but at the Regent Street store they have a small auditorium area (well, a few rows of seats with a podium and screen at the front). Apple folk take it in turns to demonstrate to an audience of strays how to get more “productivity” from their Macs, and why Macs are so great. The audience generally consists of four distinct types: geeks who have got up at the crack of dawn especially to hike their PowerBooks down to the store just to learn how to choose more effective keywords for iPhoto; prospective customers or new Mac converts who have no idea even how to start the damn thing up; old folk from off the street who just fancy a sit down; and lost Scientologists. Now, I’m not sure how wise it is to situate your auditorium for showcasing “the power of the Mac” right next to a queue of angry customers with broken machines who have been waiting since Spring just to see a ruddy Apple “genius” (sorry, I physically can’t type the word without the quotation marks), but it clearly didn’t phase the younger-Steve-Jobs-lookalike giving the talk. Oh no, far from it. Throughout his talk, he continually pointed to the “Genius” Bar, stating that the “geniuses” were always on hand if you had any problem with your machine , and he looked right past the Russian-bread-queue-sized mob just trying to get to one of these “geniuses” without even the merest hint of embarrassment. Maybe it was this despite-overwhelming-evidence-to-the-contrary attitude that put me in mind of a relgion. Anyway. I wanted to jump up and down and scream “nooooooo!”, much in the manner of Luke Skywalker finding out that the guy who just sliced off his hand is actually his dad. But of course, I didn’t, because I wanted my iBook fixed.

Anyway, like I say, I don’t get it. How can anyone pretend that Apple is anything other than a company that make some good computer stuff but have s**t customer service just like everybody else? But I will say that Apple do have some fantastic software engineers. They actually hang around the development support lists (the Apple cocoa-dev lists) and give support to developers who don’t even have to pay to be there. I’ve had some first-class help from them in developing Scrivener. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not slagging off Apple here. And let me reiterate: I love OS X. Love it, love it, love it. But Apple isn’t a religion (and even if it were, I’m an atheist), it isn’t a lifestyle; it’s just a computer company. I think the writers of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? got it right:

M
Mac junkies
“Oh, Macs are just so much better than PCs. The operating system is about 12 times faster and they’re just so much more efficient in, ooh… so many ways.”
Are they? Are they really? And how the fuck would you know, when all you use it for is copying CDs and looking at porn? What you really mean is: “They look nice.”
The Mac junkie will also crap on without end about how Microsoft is a big nasty corporation. No shit? And Apple’s what then – a workers’ co-op? No, it’s a smaller nasty corporation – which uses child labour and beats its workers, whom it pays in beans, with sticks (possibly).
Do you know what Apple employees call company chief Steve Jobs? I’ll tell you: Big Jobs. Or Shitty Jobby Job-head. And that’s true. Okay, it’s not.

That book made me laugh like a drain. I don’t actually know how to laugh like a drain, but that is what I did.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest for a while.

(It’s lucky this blog gets no hits, or I’d probably get some grief for this post. But then, if it got any hits, I wouldn’t have had the guts to post it. Hello nobody and that spider-bot that left my one and only comment about some dating site! Come to think of it, I hope it was a spider-bot, and not a real person who thought I was so sad that I must be in need of a dating site…)