What I Learned from Apple - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I've been a Mac user since 1986. I plunked down about five grand for a Mac II with a 13" monitor that awed everyone who looked at the floating balls in living color on the monitor's start-up screen. Steve Jobs coming back with his Unix operating system was like the second coming. Between my family and my job I've purchased or approved of the purchase of dozens of Macs.

So much of what I believe and try to practice as the owner of my company is inspired from Apple. The simple elegance of the products, the intuitive user interface and the focus on a small set of core products have been in the recesses of my brain every time I sit down with our engineers to design the next sensor or controller. The Shark has a manual that's about 100 pages long. The 2300 has an 8 page Quick Start Guide. The web interface to the 2300 and the upcoming 2400 represents was done with the one question hanging in the air "What would Steve do?"

But my faith in Apple has been increasingly tested over the last several years and a wild horse finally did it in. Apple has always made a value proposition to its faithful users that does something like "You will pay through the nose for our products but the user experience we offer will keep coming back for more." So not only did my 17" MacBook Pro cost about $3000—about the same as 3 similarly equipped PC laptops—the cost to repair it was also in the stratosphere. Of the dozen or so laptops I or my family bought over the last 4 years all have failed and required repairs that ranged from $400 to $1200. My 17" behemoth has been to the Apple Hospital 4 times. Apple Care would have taken care of 1 of these 4 visits but how does one justify spending another $400 on a warranty for a product which is already priced three times higher than its nearest competitor.

The frequent repairs should come as no surprise. Those thin, slick bodies that are devoid of cooling vents get mighty hot when running full steam and we all know what happens to electronic circuity when temperatures rise.

The cost of the machines and the cost of the inevitable repairs were a source of frustration but not the cause of a break-up. Until Mavericks. That's the new operating system, OS 10.9. My 10.6 was just fine but I couldn't say no when a message from the other world told me that I can upgrade to 10.9 for free. Who says no to "free?" So I upgraded.

And that's when my world fell apart. My lightning fast MacBook became a paper weight. The operating system alone is so bloated it uses up over 90% of my 4 GBytes of RAM. Simple Word documents take about two minutes to open. Photoshop crashes every several minutes and often doesn't work at all. I had two older applications built for the PowerPC processor and Mavericks no longer supports them so these programs are dead to me. Extremely annoying pop-up windows gives me alerts on e-mail messages and late breaking Apple news. All of my old e-mail messages had their header information and messages mixed up as if they were thrown in a Mix Master. That would be hilarious if my e-mails weren't important for my business.

But Mavericks, as the Apple genius told me does have cool features—like the annoying pop-up window and the second screen that slides out and shows you more pop-up messages. It finally occurred to me that Mavericks is what Microsoft would have come delivered had they botched Windows. So I bought a top-of-the-line HP Envy laptop and, yes, I could buy two more for the cost of my MacBook and still have enough money left over to buy Office, a portable hard drive and a flight simulator. In some bizarre way Apple looks more like Microsoft and Microsoft like Apple.

I'm not writing this down so I can't exact revenge on Apple for their misdeeds. I'm writing this because there are lessons that I, as the owner of a little company, can learn from the missteps of a big behemoth like Apple: