Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's Up With Apple?

About four months ago, I had my first ever Apple Store experience. A friend took me in to the Apple Store Chicago, and at first I was all "why are we going into this computer store?" and then I found that it was filled with wonderful toys that you could touch and play with and cheerful staff who greeted us upon arrival and ran around happily explaining the features of each Mac product even before we had to ask. "Have you tried tapping the iPhone? Have you tried tapping it twice?"

Today, as I had promised to do in an earlier post, I went back to the Apple Store -- this time the DC version.

But this time it was not at all the same.

First of all, no one greeted me when I came in the door. In fact, no one noticed me. I tried to flag down an employee, but I couldn't tell who any of them were. Finally I figured out that they were the scruffy, kind of desultory-looking people wearing dark blue shirts. They were all busy either behind a register or at the Genius Bar; a few were on the floor, but they were assisting other customers.

So I found a computer and signed up for a Personal Shopper, since I assumed that was why some of the other customers had helpers. The next time slot was fifteen minutes away. The computer said that my name would be called when it was my turn, so I decided to settle in and start playing with the toys.

The second thing that troubled me was that very few of the toys were turned on. The majority of the laptops and iPhones weren't connected to the internet, and none of the iPods had sample earbuds attached. I found the single working iPhone and poked at it for a few minutes, but it wasn't all that fun.

My appointment time came and went, and no one called my name. No one called anyone's names. I started trying to catch the eye of one of the employees. No one would look at me, although a few people looked at my shoes. Finally, twenty minutes after my appointment and almost an hour after I had arrived in the Apple Store, someone asked me if I needed some help.

I mentioned that I had signed up for an appointment, and they were instantly apologetic, explaining that they were understaffed today... people had quit, some people hadn't shown up. In the end they hauled out one of the managers, who gave me a thorough tour of all of the laptops, but by then I felt pretty bad for him since I wasn't going to buy anything today anyway, and he knew it.

We did have an interesting conversation, however, about the MacBook Air. The manager was explaining to me all the virtues of the itty-bitty super-slender Macbook Air, and how the only thing you had to buy to go along with it was the $400 external hard drive.

"So I can't just... um... plug a thumb drive into this thing? Or any other external hard drive?" I asked.

"No." He looked at me like I was an idiot. "You have to buy this one."

Then I started asking "where's the speakers? where's the microphone jack? how do you burn a DVD on this thing?"

As I expected, all the parts of a laptop you might want to use were sold separately, at $100-500 a pop. The MacBook Air itself was a glorified paperweight, and an insubstantial one at that. ^__^ (Yes, I am ready for all MacBook Air-lovers to attack.)

"Do you see this as the future of laptops?" I asked my personal shopper. "In two years are they all going to be like this?"

"Probably," he said.

"You guys are brilliant," I said, winking. "Getting people to pay extra for all the stuff that used to come in a laptop for free."

Of course, there are benefits to this model, namely that if one thing breaks, you don't have to replace the entire laptop. ^__^ So it isn't completely bad. In fact, having a laptop shell (or... um... eggshell) that you can modify (and upgrade) as you want, pulling things in and out of the USB port as if it were a fast-processing Mr. Potato Head, probably will be beneficial -- and kinda cool -- in the end.

Still: at the end of the day, my time in the Apple Store was surprising and a little depressing. Does anyone know if there's something up with Apple? I mean, a year ago it was one of the best places to work retail (in terms of employee creativity, status, and pay scale) and the employees were, for the most part, happy. But the employees I saw today were overstressed and, worse, undercoiffed. They didn't look healthy, they didn't look taken care of, and they didn't look happy to be there.

Is it 'cause of the recession thing (is Apple, like everyone else, cutting back), or is there something else going on?


Blue Bike said...

Now I know I haven't turned anti-Apple for nothing, the biggest problem with apple is, they make it compulsary for you to buy their overpriced accessories, they almost make you live according to standards they set up. You cant even touch the battery / SIM of an iPhone !! Ofcourse I dont play with my phone battery/SIM everyday, but no one should tell me to buy ATT just because I want a fancy handset nor should I end up with an iBrick if I download some other than specified software. All of above does in no way undermine the fact that apple has a lot of amazing stuff.
So Apple lovers, I'm all yours to slay.

ctrlalteredmind said...

I find the desire to comment on this one too compelling :)

first, I think the manager didn't know his wares. The Air works fine with external drives. I think he was confused by the external DVD burner that is an optional accessory for the Air. That DVD burner does *not* work with other computers, just Airs (although the Air will work with a conventional USB DVD burner). The Air can also use a networked computer's DVD drive wirelessly.

That said, the Air is of course a compromise and should only be concerned if you're traveling way too often, especially taking flights a few times a month (nothing beats pulling a thin laptop out of a briefcase instead of toting an additional shoulder bag).

Blue said...

It reminds me of a quote from the British series "Father Ted:"

(Ted is going on a vacation.)

"Did you bring Scrabble?"

"I brought both the travel Scrabble and the regular Scrabble! Travel Scrabble for when we're traveling, and regular Scrabble for when we arrive!"

Gary said...

Exactly which Apple store in the DC area did you visit?

Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience at the Apple store. However, much of it seems to be based on your impressions of the employees, appearing to be "overstressed," "undercoiffed," "didn't look healthy" and were "desultory-looking." That's pretty subjective. Perhaps they didn't appear this way to other visitors in the store.

I think the MacBook Air is intended as a very compact computing solution, not so much something to which you would hook speakers, microphones, DVD burners, etc. (although you can do it). The MacBook line is really the one intended for portable and desktop activities. It does sound like the employee was uncertain about the Air's ability to use an external drive.

It also sounds as if you had an agenda going into the store, rather than actually being interested in the products and services. That certainly changes one's perception of things.

Hope you next visit is better!