I renounce Apple and all its works

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I’ve had it in for Apple since the Ridley Scott “1984” commercial, which purports to show Apple as the champion of free-spirited individualism against the conformist world of IBM. Steve Jobs became a business legend by pitching to the Bobos, the bourgeois Bohemians in David Brooks’ canny phrase. Apple computers perform better in graphic arts applications, to be sure, but if better performance in a niche business was all the company had to offer, no-one would have heard of him.

All this bears on why I’m returning a new Iphone 6, after six hours of wasted time on the phone with Apple support staff. This particular instrument of the Devil came into my hands unsolicited, as a corporate phone (I carry a Samsung for personal use and have no complaints). I work for a Hong Kong firm, and require a company phone with a Hong Kong number.

To download apps onto the Iphone, one requires an Apple ID. In Apple’s totalitarian dystopia, one has to turn over personal data and credit card information in order to download free apps, without which the Iphone is useless. The instrument itself is mediocre, and always has been. When the first Iphone appeared in 2007, Blackberry sniffed at it: the operating system was unstable, sound quality was unreliable, and the handset was fragile.

At the time I had a European exchange student staying at my home in the United States, and he cadged one of the first Iphones from a relative who worked for Apple. Something straight out of a horror movie ensued: He spent hours locked in his room with this alien implant, watching videos and listening to music, coming out only occasionally for food. What Apple understood (and Blackberry did not) is the network effect of cheap entertainment. Apple is there to hook you on its content delivery platform. It has become the affordable luxury per excellence, a status symbol in China something like sneakers in American inner cities.

I dutifully entered my credit card information to create an Apple ID. The Iphone refused to accept it. I tried several credit cards. My company tech took the phone and tried to follow the instructions on the screen. He didn’t do any better. The first Apple support clone I spoke with couldn’t understand why there might be a problem. Neither could the second, or the third as the query escalated up the chain.

Several hours later a supervisor opined that the problem might be the incompatibility of a Hong Kong phone number and an American credit card. Absurd as it seems, Apple guards its revenues against credit card chicanery so tightly that it won’t let you pay for its Apple Store products from a Hong Kong phone with an American account. It won’t even let you set up an ID.

I had wasted four hours in order to find this out. Another Apple tech called to announce that there was a workaround: If I downloaded Itunes onto a PC and created an account there, I could do so without a credit card. An hour later that didn’t work, either. The Apple support clones were as courteous as they were ignorant, and had all the time in the world to chat. Sound quality on the Apple handset was so poor that it often was impossible to understand what the clones were saying, but that didn’t matter, because they didn’t know anything. After speaking to six of them, including two supervisors, I was advised to take the handset to an Apple Store and consult the clones there. I declined.

The Apple support people stand out for courtesy. That’s what makes them infuriating. They are like the fellow you dread meeting in a strange city who will give you wrong street directions because he is too polite to tell you that he hasn’t a clue about your destination. It’s all about the experience, just as it is (I am told) in the Apple Stores. Apple techs are trained to make you feel that you matter, in keeping with Apple’s corporate message: You are an individual! As the man said in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” I’m not, not, at least, where Apple is concerned.

I’m returning the Apple handset in favor of a Blackberry. I felt like the Edward G. Robinson character at the end of “Soylent Green:” The old man is about to be turned into a protein bar, but the soylent people make it a beautiful experience. I didn’t want to be schmoozed by the clones. I happily would have paid to get my ID and be about my business, but Apple had no way to take my money.

My query was a bit unusual, to be sure, but it points up the problems that arise from Apple’s insufferable rapacity: to do anything with its handset you have to turn yourself over to its marketing machine. That would be less humiliating if the sound quality weren’t so poor, the battery life so short, and the basic functionality so clumsy (Android and Blackberry navigation are far more flexible and intuitive).

Just for fun, I compared Apple’s Siri voice assistance and Google’s voice query function. A question about business class airfare from Hong Kong to New York took me to travel sites on Google, while Siri demanded, “What kind of business are you looking for?” So I asked Siri what percentage of her questions come from losers who don’t have anyone to talk to; this produced references, for some reason or another, to Social Security sites. Google gave me links to sites offering silly questions to ask Siri. When I asked Siri for the temperature in Hong Kong in Fahrenheit, it came back with Celsius, several times. Google answered the question correctly on the first try. Google beat Siri every time.

I don’t play computer games and I don’t download music, so I can’t speak to the bliss associated with having my pocket picked by the Itunes store.  Apple has wasted enough of my time.

David P. Goldman
David Paul Goldman (born September 27, 1951) is an American economist, music critic, and author, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym Spengler. Goldman sits on the board of Asia Times Holdings.
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