Not everything has to be a secret

I bought a 13" MacBook Air last year. It’s been a fantastic machine overall. I’m amazed by the combination of size and power. I have had some problems with kernel panics though. If you don’t know what this means, it’s when your Mac’s screen goes dim, and a message appears asking you to restart the computer. I filed a bug report with Apple, and it was marked as a duplicate. This made me hopeful it was a known software problem they were working on. But it continued to happen every week or so, and reinstalling OS X hadn’t helped, so I decided to take it in.

They kept my computer for about a week and ran various tests. Eventually they told me they couldn’t find any problems and just gave it back to me. Right on schedule, a week later, it happened again, and I took it back in. Today Mac OS X 10.6.7 was released, and among other things it “Addresses an issue with MacBook Air (Mid 2010) computers that could cause a kernel panic.” I called the Apple store to discuss whether they felt this would solve my problem, but they were busy and told me they’d call back. The store is now closed and I still haven’t heard from them.

The worst problem hasn’t even been the bug, but the repeated lack of communication that has made the process of getting it fixed drag on. I’ve been astounded by how many communication problems have made the experience frustrating:

  • As far as I can tell no one ever bothered to check if my problem was a known software issue the first time I took the computer in. Admittedly I should have mentioned the bug I filed, but I honestly didn’t think it was necessary. On more than one occasion I’ve gotten the impression they look into things like that on their own, and really, why wouldn’t they? If they had done this, it likely could have saved me the time I spent taking it in again. (Not to mention their own time looking at it again.) Instead they gave some vague excuses, suggesting using the Air with their own 27" display might be causing my “performance issues”.
  • As I mentioned, the bug I filed was marked as a duplicate. When this happens, there’s no way for me to check on the status of that bug. If I filed the original bug, I’d get some minimal feedback. When Apple was posting beta versions of 10.6.7, they would have asked me to verify whether it fixed the problem for me. Later I could have seen that the bug was in fact resolved. I don’t understand why this information is kept from others who file duplicate reports.
  • As a Mac developer I have access to beta versions, like the builds of 10.6.7 they’ve been sending out. Even if I had never filed a bug report, I would have had a chance to try these builds. If there was ever any indication that these builds might solve my problem, I would have happily tried them out. But Apple says very little about what’s included in these betas. There was never any indication of a fix for MacBook Air kernel panics until 10.6.7 was released to the public today.

If Apple addressed just one of these communication failures, it could have saved hours of my time and a lot of frustration. Then there are the less significant (but no less frustrating) communication problems I’ve had with my local Apple store:

  • The second time I took my computer in, traffic was bad, and I was 15 minutes late. They canceled my appointment, which was understandable. They made me a new appointment and I stood around and waited. An hour later I finally got to talk to someone, but only after asking what was going on. It turns out they decided I wasn’t there and moved on. (I think they were looking for a guy in sunglasses, which I had taken off as soon as I was able to.) They used to have a list of upcoming appointments on a large display. That was great communication—I could see when they’d be ready to find me, so I could be looking for them. These days you can get a notification on your iPhone if you check in through their Apple Store app, but since I had to make a new appointment in person I didn’t get one. (And not everyone has an iPhone. Or a working one—this is for repairs after all.)
  • About a week after I took this computer in the first time, their site showed “repair complete”. This doesn’t actually mean they repaired anything though—it just means they’re done with it. In my case they couldn’t find a problem, and nothing was repaired. They called me to talk to me about it, but I couldn’t answer so they left a message. I called them back, but they were busy, so they said they’d call back in fifteen minutes. An hour and a half later I still hadn’t heard from them. If they had left a more useful voicemail message, or put better information on their site, it would have saved my time and theirs. (In the time I waited I could have picked up the computer and talked to them in person.) This isn’t the only time they’ve failed to call me back either—as I mentioned earlier it happened again tonight, and it has happened in the past. I honestly don’t think they’ve ever called me back when they said they would.

I’m not just selfishly complaining about these problems. If Apple addressed any of these issues it would save time for their employees and their other customers. It’s fine to keep secrets when it comes to product launches, but Apple really needs to work on their communication elsewhere.

Posted March 21st, 2011 by Mike Piontek
Link to this entry: http://mikepiontek.com/go/8617

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