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Apple's Communication Breakdown

Today's column may make me slightly unpopular among some fans of Apple. (The first expletive-enriched response landed in my inbox at 12:49 this morning.)

But I think Apple's making trouble both for its customers and itself by neglecting to talk to them outside of tech-support interactions and Macworld Expo keynotes. I'd compare this company to a reporter who answers all his reader e-mail -- but never does any Web chats, blogs or any other sort of one-to-many communication. That kind of outreach can enlighten individual customers (or readers) but winds up leaving the bulk of them wondering what's going on.

Compare, for example, how Twitter keeps its users in the loop with both a detailed system-status log and a corporate blog -- then look at Apple's paltry MobileMe status reports. (When I asked an Apple publicist earlier this week if the company had any comments about MobileMe's record, he suggested I look at the coverage of Steve Jobs' leaked memo announcing a reorganization of this service's management.) For that matter, try to find an equivalent on Apple's site to the public bug databases of open-source developers.

Apple compounds this problem when it neglects such elementary feedback loops as the release notes accompanying its software releases. This week's iPhone 2.0.1 update and its nine-character "bug fixes" description really set me off in that regard; why would the company choose to provide so little detail about a quarter of a gigabyte's worth of software download? [Apple's It's not even smart marketing: As I joked to a co-worker, the placebo effect of this upgrade ("they said this improved performance, and my computer really is snappier now!") would have been much stronger had it come with a detailed inventory of fixes and optimizations.

It's not as if Apple's DNA does not allow it to speak directly to its users. Look at its Surfin' Safari blog, which chronicles the development of both Safari and its open-source WebKit code in as much detail as any of Microsoft's Channel 9 blogs (yes, that name was inspired by United Airlines' practice of letting passengers listen in to air-traffic-control chatter). Jobs, too, has been willing to give people a peek behind the curtain in some of his open letters about digital music and environmentally sound manufacturing -- not to mention his famously personal Stanford University commencement address in 2005.

Still not convinced? You can harangue me during today's Web chat, starting at 2 p.m.

In the meantime, you can let me know what you think right here. If you're an Apple customer -- or you're thinking about becoming one -- do you feel you're getting enough feedback from the company about what it's up to?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 7, 2008; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes , Mac  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Heading Into the Shop
Next: Your Boot-Up Cycle


They must be something right, they are beating their competition and it's only just got started.

Posted by: dcolley | August 7, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

you got that really wrong. Whenever I have a problem with my mac, I immediately go to the online Apple discussion group. I write out my question. There's a box to declare the hardware and software I use. And usually within a few hours someone answers my question and solves my problem. It never fails. I am even informed if the person responding is an apple tech support person or just a knowledgeable user. If that sounds funky, it isn't. There's a enthusiastic group of users who seem to pride themselves on solving problems, and their response may list 1000s of similar responses. This system is quick. It is free. And obviously you don't know about it.

Posted by: Jim Nollman | August 7, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I was a PC user for 25 years who used it primarily for work. I also spent some time doing special IT work. Microsoft, RIMM etc. are business oriented. I switched to a Mac (G5 dual Power PC processors). I really like it; however, when I seek help I feel like the ugly guy in the queue trying to get into club 54. Microsoft treats one like an adult. Apple treats customers like children. This makes sense since it targets itself as a supplier of "coo stuff" for kids. It is not a computer company -it is a consumer electronics company. My impression (and since I am a customer my opinions are always right) is that Apple has little respect for its customers, that I should be honoured to be their customer. They are not set up to support mission critical work. Their business model is to sell expensive toys to people who can't afford them. If I was an IT guy now I would refuse to give iPhones network access. They can't be made secure. Blackberry products are made for the business user with security in mind.

Posted by: Philip De Groot | August 8, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I am a relatively new Apple customer (about 7 months.) I really never did pay attention to the way in which Apple treats its customers until I became one, and I have been appalled! Fortunately the only problem I had I was able to fix by following some of the users' hints on the online Apple discussion group. For other people it seemed to be a hardware problem, and there seems to be some indication that Apple knows that it was a hardware problem, but would not do anything about it until the user re-installed their OS. There are numerous chats on this problem, but never any indication that any participants are from Apple. While I really like the Mac Book Pro, I'm not sure that I would recommend it to someone else without a lot of caveats. As Apple's market share increases they should get smart about how they treat their customers or many of them will be one time customers.

Posted by: Ken Goldman | August 8, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I switched to Apple because I am visually impaired, and the Apple machines have better universal access. The ability to have the system talk to me or make the font HUGE was not an option with Microsoft. All Microsoft had was some small little magnifier. It has been about 4 years since I made the switch, and I have had no problems. I go to the Apple store in my area for help, and I always am given as much help as I need. As far as new products and what is coming up, I think they communicate like any other company...there is little to no information until the product comes out. I love my Apple products and I love that they work well every time I use them. That was not my previous experience with Microsoft.

Posted by: Sharon | August 8, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the title -
Is Jimmy Page a Mac user? Does anybody know?

Posted by: Andy in New Orleans | August 11, 2008 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Our company purchased a MAC OS X and Final Cut Pro to edit film. The system has never worked well. We have all types of problems with capturing film clips because of the firewire connection; I was on the phone several times with three different techies this weekend. Their solution: buy a new MAC. Forget about the thousands of dollars I've laid out, that's not important. If you have an older Apple product, they don't stand behind it and I agree with one of the the other posters, they treat you like "the ugly guy in the queue trying to get into club 54". I'll never buy another Apple product.

Posted by: Gary in Anaheim | August 12, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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