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

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 are never far from my my prefrontal cortex every time I sit down with our engineers to design the next sensor or controller. Just about every design decision we make is done with 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 goes something like "You will pay through the nose for our products but the user experience we offer will keep you coming back for more." 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 every one has failed at least once 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? All those 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. Beautiful? Yes. Practical? Not so much.

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 animal name for the new operating system, OS 10.9. My 10.6 was just fine but can say no to an upgrade that's free? Free is a no-brainer, right?

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. Two older applications that were built for the PowerPC processor no longer work because Mavericks no longer supports them. 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 messages 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 delivered had they botched Windows. So I bought a top-of-the-line HP Envy 17" 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 twist of events Apple looks more like Microsoft and Microsoft like Apple. We need you Steve.

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

• No company gets to the top and stays there forever. No company should ever behave as if it will. Ask anyone who ever worked at Wang or Digital Equipment.

• You get what you pay for. Nothing is really free unless your parents give it to you.

• Innovation is not adding features that aren't useful. Innovation is making it easier to do things that are.

• Every good company has a core value. When it loses sight of that value it loses it's customers who bought into it.

• And, as my Dad once told me and that I say at least once a day, "Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered."

I have to go now. There's a new pop-up message on my HP.