Should Apple Employees Read the Mac Websites?

"Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out -- it's the grain of sand in your shoe. "

-- Robert Service

Apple's senior executives like to believe that there is no value in reading the Mac and iPhone related Websites, and they tell their staff that. After all, Apple employees are too busy to dabble in rumors and speculation. So it's just a time waster. Or is it?

I was in an Apple retail store recently, not one in Colorado, and the sales guy, call him Mike, told me that he's too busy actually learning about Apple products and selling to customers to spend much time reading any Mac or iPhone related Website. Intrigued, we chatted more, and it became clear that that idea was clearly planted in him by his supervisors and trainers. I wondered: is that a good idea?

I remember when I worked for Apple, I was extremely busy. As I described in a previous Hidden Dimensions, when someone asked me how many hours a week I worked, the answer was: "All of them." It's literally true. All Apple employees, from regional sales executives to Cupertino engineers and managers to the most junior retail store salesperson is expected to know everything about all Apple products. That results in a lot of time spent studying and watching Apple training materials. Throw in family time, some travel, WWDC, (and in previous years) Macworld, and your time is all gone.

Even so, there comes a time when it's ripe to let one's hair down and relax. Time to see what's going on in the rest of the world. Time to see what the world thinks of the company you work for. Of course, time is limited, so one can't spend time with just any blog or rumor site. In the spirit of Apple, one dabbles only in the best, and there are only a few top tier sites that cover Apple. The Mac Observer, of course, is one of them.

Here are a few reasons why Apple employees should read the very best Websites that cover Apple.

1. It's a good idea to know what people are thinking and saying about Apple. Apple doesn't do everything perfectly and isn't always as fair-minded as some would like it to be. Being aware of typical customer gripes keeps one from acting as if you just disembarked from starship Apple.

2. It's a good idea to know about the health of one's CEO. Apple executives certainly aren't going to send out the memo. Mr. Jobs is notoriously private, and only shoe leather and good reporting are able to shed light on the health of Apple's high profile CEO. Of course, one keeps that knowledge close to the vest. Customers are prone to ask about Mr. Jobs, and the correct response is: "You probably know more than I do."

3. It's a good idea to learn about issues that Apple doesn't catalog internally. For example, the mini DisplayPort connector on the new 24-inch Cinema Display is perfect for MacBooks on the desk level. But running that cord down the back of a desk and into a Mac Pro can be a problem, especially for deep desks.

For example, a helpful Apple store employee here in Colorado showed me the exact Website ( and the exact part number (5502) right in the store for a 6 ft. mini DisplayPort extender. He wouldn't have known about that without a little digging on his own, and he was able to provide better service to me because he knew about that product -- something Apple itself doesn't sell.

4. In a similar vein, Apple doesn't explain every underlying technology to its sales people. Just the benefits are emphasized. For example, I recently wrote a HOW-TO article, based on my own technical background, about the magnetic compass in the iPhone 3GS. One can learn a lot from articles like that. And that kind of knowledge keeps the young sales people in the retail stores from looking like, well, idiot sales people and more like technical liaisons.

5. It's a good idea to know what Apple is up to when it comes to product compromises. For example, the spin, that is the disk image that Apple rolls out to the retail stores for all the Macs, doesn't include any high definition protected content in iTunes. (After some investigating and to the best of my knowledge.) If it did, Apple customers looking at a Mac Pro connected to a 30-inch Cinema display would discover that the HD video won't play. That's because the ancient, by today's standards, 30-inch Cinema Display doesn't include HDCP. I read about one such unhappy customer in the Mac forums who only found that out when he got home from the Apple store with this pair of equipment. He was gravely disappointed to say the least.

That's not to say that knowledge of this fact should be used explicitly to undermine Apple sales, but it also keeps the salesperson alert to the potential needs of customers and allows them to steer a customer in the best possible direction with a clear conscience.

6. It's a good idea to be up to speed on trouble shooting. Apple's sales mantra is that everything is very simple and easy. However, with any UNIX operating system, networking and backup equipment like Time Machine and Time Capsule, there are endless opportunities for things to go awry. I always subscribed to Macworld magazine as an Apple employee because there are very good articles in that publication (and this one) that explain to users how to solve some of the nastier binds they can get into.

Sure, a customer can always take the Mac into an Apple genius and get something fixed, but the first line of defense is to know how to help your own customers or acquaintances. As an Apple employee, it's hard to avoid friendly questions about mishaps anyway. You are, after all, Mr. Know-it-all when it comes to Apple.

With all this in mind, I must add that some Apple fan sites are run by people without a lot of industry experience. These are the ones that Apple corporate likes to make fun of and have you believe that they characterize all Apple Websites. One can go overboard, reading the musings of wannabes and smart alecks. As a result, it pays to get into the technical mainstream: sites that have experienced technical writers with a track record. But avoid the Websites of legacy print business magazines whose writers don't live and breathe Apple 10 hours a day. I won't name names here, but you know who the smart, talented men and women are. When you've read all they have to say, resist the temptation to dig further. There's no there there, and you don't have time anyway.

Finding Middle Ground

As usual, a one sided, single-minded solution is seldom the right one. You can fool yourself that you don't have time to read the major, reputable and professional Mac and iPhone Websites, but that's a head in the sand approach. There's an amazing community out there of talented technical writers. Ignoring them out of arrogance or self-deception is just not smart. But neither should you let the endless fretting and rumors at some blogs be a grain of sand in your shoe.