Is Apple A Company You Can Trust?
August 12th, 2002

I've been on vacation for the last two weeks, and boy did I have a blast. My girlfriend, who is finishing up a two year stint in Japan, met me in Vietnam where we proceeded to laze about in Hanoi, Hue, and Hoi An. There was the State-run (that capital "S" is there for a reason) hotel in Lang Co where we stayed a night too, but we are both busily trying to forget that. The beach was nice, but the bars on the windows, the tiny prison beds, and the door's lock being on the *outside* of the door all combined to make me think that the noise I was hearing in the background was Jello Biafra singing Holiday In Cambodia, and not the lullaby of the surf.

I am not kidding.

We didn't encounter any other trouble with the State until we tried to leave. That's when we found that not only did it take longer, and involved more hassle, to leave the country than it did to enter, but that we had to pay for the opportunity to do so. US$14 a piece for those keeping track at home.

The rest of Vietnam was pretty remarkable, however, and the people were wonderful. We just learned that we didn't trust the State to run a hotel any more than we trust Microsoft to protect our privacy.

My apologies for the brutally rough segue, but that does bring me to the other computer company in my life, Apple. I have been a Mac user for many years, and I have been a fan of Apple for many more years than that. With the .Mac fiasco, which my traveling schedule has until now left me too busy to give the attention it needs, not offering a Jaguar upgrade path -- ditto on the reasons why I haven't publicly commented very much -- and Apple's numerous efforts at undermining its own developer community, I have found my faith in, or perhaps my respect for, the company sorely tested.

I am [no longer] under the delusion that Apple cares about me. At one time, the idealistic romantic in me did have some vague warm-fuzzies about Apple as a company actually being concerned about the generalized me (as in being an individual). Apple has proven, however, that it is dedicated to the bottom line, which frankly is a Good Thing™. Apple as a corporation beholden to its shareholders is really far preferable than a company dedicated to the well-being of its users in that companies of the latter sort tend to become ex-companies.

Then again, without users, where would Apple's bottom line be? Clearly Microsoft has long misunderstood that subtle issue, which I frankly think is leading to a fundamental crack up of that company (you read it here first). Could it be that Apple too could go too far down that path?

Recently, I said to a friend of mine that Apple needed to offer a cheaper (as opposed to free) upgrade to Jaguar for existing X users. That friend told me "Well, they have to make money somewhere." That's true, of course, but it ignores the fact that if Apple wants to continue to make money off of me, and the other individuals that make up its customer base, that we need to not feel like we were being screwed, that we need to feel like our investment in Apple technology would be rewarded, and not penalized down the line. That's the not-so-thin line that most companies have to tread. Make your customer need and want to come back, but don't soak them for too much, or they may kick your habit. Right now, Apple is delivering the message that if you invest now, you'll pay later.

That brings me to the title of this column. Is Apple a company that you can trust? I don't mean this in some sort of Apple-is-perfect-and-I-worship-the-ground-that-Steve-walks-on kind of way, but rather as a customer, or as a developer. If you invest your money, and your time, in Apple, can you trust the company to not screw you over in the future?

In a truly free market, people can vote with their pocket books. They can sheen away from any company that treats them poorly by buying the competition's product. Unfortunately, that means Microsoft in this case, unless one wants to brave the world of Linux, but I think that Apple has edged surprisingly to that line of late. This, even as it is bringing in new converts from the world of Windows.

Apple has to maximize its profits, not only to keep its shareholders happy, but simply to stay competitive in the harsh world of toaster-like PCs from Dell in which Apple has to survive. In order to do this, however, Apple needs to not go too far down the path that Microsoft has so brazenly raised, the path of taking its customers for granted. In other words, Apple shouldn't mistake its need to get more money with my willingness to part with it.

Sometimes we all need wake up calls, and I think that Apple has reached such a moment now. Mac users need to tell the company what they think of .Mac (more on that tomorrow, but be sure and read Vern Seward's thoughts on that from right after MWNY), and that they want an upgrade path for Jaguar (more on that on Wednesday). I am willing to pay for .Mac, and I am definitely willing to pay for Jaguar, but we need some better options for those of us who were early adopters.

Apple has shown during the last few years that it listens to its customers, and I think that it is important for us to let the company know what we think today. Every major mistake the company has made during the last 36 months, with the exception of some of its developer dealings, has been corrected rather quickly. Bringing back the Apple Menu in OS X, fixing the G4 pricing debacle, lowering Mac OS X Server pricing, and offering free Mac OS X 10.1 upgrade CDs are all excellent examples of Apple showing that it pays attention to customer needs. I think that Apple will do so again with .Mac and Jaguar if we make enough noise about those issues. As customers, it's important that Apple understands that we need to be able to trust it with our money.

What do you think? Is Apple a company you can trust? Join in on the discussion of this topic in our forums, or in the comments below.