How to perform a currency lookup in a Numbers spreadsheet

Apple recently introduced in the Numbers spreadsheet the ability to pull live stock prices from the internet, making it now possible to track portfolio performance.

To access this feature, you use the STOCK function:

Since the feature pulls data from the Yahoo finance service, the symbols you should use for reference are those used at Yahoo. For most stocks that I’ve come across, the symbols are the same as those used at Google, but they do seem to vary slightly for non-US stocks and currencies.

To track the Euro/USD exchange rate, the symbol used at Yahoo is “EURUSD=X”, but using this symbol in the Numbers STOCK function returns an error. The solution, as I found in this discussion at Apple is to use the CURRENCY function:

Disappointing interaction design at Apple

Long-time Apple customers became accustomed over the years to thoughtful and delightful interaction design. As Apple has grown—and perhaps as Steve Jobs has passed, and Jony Ive’s involvement seems to be sunsetting—cracks have begun to appear.

Here’s two examples I ran into just this morning.

Enabling Do-not-disturb in Notification Center

Trying to enable “Do-not-disturb” in Notification center, I ran into to problems:

  • First, it’s not clear to me which of these tabs are active.
  • Second, it took me a while to figure out that the Do-not-disturb control is only exposed when scrolling down in the notification. There’s no UI cues at all to help with discoverability here.

Assigning a photo to a contact

In the, when trying to assign a photo to person, you’d think the picker would default to the contents of your People album, and provide a usable UI for finding and selecting someone (with sensible fallbacks in the case you never configured any Faces.) Instead, we’re dropped into the root level of the photos hierarchy, and by the time we navigate to the People album, are left with a list that’s only capable of showing the first few letters of first names.

Isn’t there someone at Apple whose job is just looking around for these kinds of details, that are such an integral part of the brand we’ve come to perceive?

iCloud Photo Sharing

Having an extended family spread geographically far and wide, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that a Mac/iOS feature I’d previously rarely used has ended up connecting us far better than any social network, and that is iCloud Photo Sharing. My parents, brother, our kids, their kids, etc. love seeing photos appearing in the streams, and being able to comment on them.

Deteriorating user experience design at Apple

In a recent Philip Greenspan post questioning Apple’s competitive edge going forward, I found myself sympathizing with this anecdote:

What about Apple’s supposed leadership in user experience? Plainly the Apple Health programmers didn’t get the memo, but surely the core iOS has a better/cleaner user interface than any Android or (gasp!) Windows phone? I might have thought so until I visited a neighbor. She is intelligent and well-educated, but not passionate about technology. She said that she had hardly gotten any phone calls for weeks. I discovered that her phone was in “Do Not Disturb” mode. She had entered this inadvertently by mistakenly swiping up from the bottom of the screen then touching the moon symbol (a nice icon but there is no explanation of what it means). No programmer at Apple had thought to have the phone display a confirmation dialog box after a few days in DnD mode.

Poor 4G network performance with my iPhone 6

While traveling this past week, and staying in a hotel with awful wifi, I tried working with my MacBook Air tethered to my iPhone 6. The network performance seemed almost as bad as the hotel wifi, even though presumably I had a good 4G connection.

By chance, I tried tethering to my iPad mini, connected to the same Vodafone 4G network, and the performance was much better.

Running SpeedTest on both devices revealed terrible performance on the iPhone, compared to the iPad:

As you can see, download speeds of 37 megabits per second on the iPad, but only 0.5 megabits per secondfor the iPhone. And a similar story with upload speeds.

Both devices are connected to the same Vodafone 4G network. Both are running iOS 8.4. The only difference I can see is the carrier profile settings — version 20.0 on the iPad and 20.1 in the iPhone.

After resetting my iPhone to factory settings, which allowed me to revert to carrier settings version 20.0—a process, btw, that took a few hours, since a full restore-from-backup is required—the network problems went away, and I again had 40ms ping times, and 50+ Mbit of download and upload.

A few days later, though, getting tired of having to cancel the carrier update alert, I allowed it to update the carrier settings to 20.1 and immediately experienced the networking problems again. I noticed, however, that if I activate a VPN over 4G, everything is fine.

A friend of mine has an iPhone 6 with the 20.1 carrier setting, and his iPhone’s 4G networking works fine. So it seems to be some problem with version 20.1 settings specifically on my iPhone.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any way to revert carrier settings, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to reset and restore the phone again. 🙁

Face management in version 1.0

Mac OS X 10.10.3 introduced version 1.0 of, Apple’s iCloud Photo Library enabled replacement for iPhoto and Aperture. Over the past couple of weeks, having finally uploaded my 120GB of photos and videos into iCloud Photo Library, I’ve had the opportunity to begin exploring the new application, and much of that time has been spent in “Faces”—the area of the application that allows you to associate photos to people. I previously documented some sync issues related to faces, and in today’s article I’ll highlight some face management issues.

The Faces section of the Photos app is separated into two regions:

  • The tall region at the top displays the named faces of people you’ve already tagged. Double-clicking one of these faces drops you into a chronological listing of all the instances of photos you’ve tagged of that person. Control-clicking on any instance of the face in that area allows you to set that particular instance as the key face for that person (used in the main Faces screen) or remove the image altogether (in case you accidentally mis-assigned someone to this face.)

  • The short region at the bottom displays a row of “Suggested Faces” that Photos has auto-detected. Double-clicking any of these faces triggers a search/input field to assign a name to that particular face. Control-clicking on any of these faces allows you to instruct Photos to “ignore” the face, removing it from the Suggested Face row.


p>In terms of face management in this first release of Photos, I’ve observed two major shortcomings:

  • In my Photos app, “Suggested Faces” currently contains far more images I want to ignore, than images I want to tag. Unfortunately, Photos does not allow you to “ignore” multiple faces at once, hence requiring you to control-click-ignore faces one by one by one.
  • Since ignoring faces has become unworkable, my next approach was to scroll along horizontally, finding and adding those faces I do want to tag. But what’s equally frustrating, is that when I do tag a face, the Suggested Faces scroll snaps back to the start of the row—thereby losing my scroll position! The inability to ignore multiple faces at once, combined with the loss of my scroll position when looking for faces I do want to tag have become show-stoppers in my use of “Suggested Faces”.

Apart from those major issues, I’ve noticed a couple of lesser issues:

  • There’s no way to filter the upper region of faces. If you want to change the key photo for a particular face, or correct a face assignment mistake, you have to either visually hunt for the face in question or use the app’s general search mechanism to find the person, and then make the edit in an environment different than that optimized for face management.
  • When viewing an album of photos, I haven’t found a way to enter the Faces management mode, scoped to just those photos. This was possible in Aperture. So within the context of an album, you have to manually identify and name each face.
  • When associating a Suggested Face to a known existing person, Photos will often display several other photos it believes contains the same face, allowing you to add (or exclude) those in batch. I expected to find this feature available in the screen you’re shown when double-clicking on an existing person in the upper region of the Faces area, but alas, it isn’t. Currently, Photos knows of several photos containing my son, but I can’t confirm those until I find him being proposed for management in the Suggested Faces list.
  • I had hoped that setting the key-image of a person associated with one of my Contacts, to update the image used for that person in Contacts, but that doesn’t seem to happen.
  • If I work in the Faces management area for an extended period of time, I begin notice the program slowing down. For example, I begin to experience noticeable delays when typing into the search/input field, having double-clicked a face. So it appears there’s some room for performance improvement in the app as well.
  • One of the photos the app identified in Suggested Faces was the cover of the Steve Jobs biography. For a moment, I found myself surprised that Photos didn’t auto-recognize that particular face!

As someone currently building a version 1.0 of a new product, I can deeply sympathize with the need to prioritize features, and release something closer to an MVP. In this respect, I think Apple has done an astounding job with the initial release of Photos. That said, at least in the area of Faces management, there are some important deficiencies that need addressing, and I look forward to those receiving some attention from Apple in future updates.

Predicting Apple Q2 iPhone Sales

In anticipation of Apple’s Q2 earnings call on April 27, 2015, Fortune published some predictions of both professional and indie analysts.

Will be interesting to check back here after the 27th to see how they did.

Update 2015-04-28:

Looking at the numbers:

  • $58.0 billion in revenue
  • $13.6 billion in profit
  • 61.1 million iPhone units

So the prediction winner is, indie analyst Robert Paul Leitao. My favorite analyst, Horace Dediu, underestimated the number by 9%.

iCloud Photo Library and the synchronization of Faces data

This morning, in a post discussing my first impressions of iCloud Photo Library, I mentioned a concern about the synchronization of Faces data, which I’d like to discuss in more detail here.

As background, for many years I organized my growing collection of photos in an Aperture Library, and during recent years had associated many of those photos to individuals using Aperture’s face recognition technology.

In anticipation of iCloud Photos Library, I wondered how I would upload 90GB of Aperture data (photos only, not including video!) to Apple’s cloud within a reasonable amount of time. The best location from which to to seed my iCloud Photo Library would certainly be my internet-hosted Mac mini, with its 100 Mbit connection. To support that, the great staff at Mac Mini Vault allowed me to ship them a thumb drive containing my data, which upon arrival they connected to the machine, allowing me to then copy my Aperture Library to the local drive, from where it would then get imported into Photos and uploaded to iCloud Photo Library.

It took about four or five days to seed my library with the 90GB of data from Photos running on the Mac mini. And a few days after that, all that data—photos, albums, etc.—began appearing on my iPhone, my iPad, and within the Photos app on my MacBook Air. What was missing, however, was my faces meta data.

Viewing Photos on the Mac mini (via Screen Sharing), I could see that all the faces data I compiled over the years did make its way into that initial import from Aperture. But that data wasn’t getting synchronized to my MacBook Air, where I needed it.

On Twitter, Thomas Verschoren pointed me to this Apple Support article which explicitly says that Faces data does not synchronize across Macs. That in itself is terribly, terribly disappointing because being able to find old photos of specific individuals was very important to me.

But then Thomas also pointed out something that gives me a glimmer of hope that Faces data not synchronizing might just be a temporary thing. He pointed out that if I search on a person’s name in Photos on my MacBook Air, I should see search results that could have only come from the Mac mini. And indeed I do:

As you can see from this image, a search on my daughter’s name returns search results, that are associated with a type “Face”, and so even though the smart albums themselves haven’t synced, some level of association between the person and the photo has.

On the other hand, though, looking at the information panel for one of the photos resulting from this search, the direct association of the face in the photo hasn’t synced.

So the current situation is that although I’m able to find all the photos that were associated with a person through Aperture’s face recognition process, that native relationship defined in Aperture hasn’t synced between Photos on my Mac mini and MacBook Air. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Apple will fully close this loop in some future update.

iCloud Photo Library

Having updated to OS X 10.10.3 and iOS 8.3, I’ve finally had the opportunity to start using iCloud Photo Library, and here are my initial observations:

  • I shipped my 90GB Aperture library to the provider of my internet-hosted Mac mini, on a thumb drive, in order to seed iCloud Photo Library from a computer with a fat pipe. Even still, it took several days for all the data to upload to Apple. But it all finally did, and without getting stuck. I’m glad I skipped the betas and waited for the final release.

  • It was interesting to see that all the data was uploaded to Amazon S3.

  • My iPhone saw the Library data quite quickly, but my iPad didn’t, even after a toggling of iCloud Photo Library. Ben Brooks recommended toggling it on all my devices. I would have never considered doing that, but somehow it worked.

  • My family love having all our photos and videos in one place now, and are constantly gathered around my MacBook Air—especially watch the videos. Given that I’ve setup an iCloud Family plan, I presume Apple will at some point provide a mechanism to provide family members with access to one’s iCloud Photo Library.

  • Since family member access doesn’t currently exist, I expected the next best thing would be the AppleTV. But we discovered that the iCloud Photos app on our second generation AppleTV doesn’t provide access to the library, just the “Photo Stream” and shared albums. Since the second-generation AppleTV isn’t receiving updates any longer, I went purchased the latest model AppleTV, but was disappointed to find that its iCloud Photos app also doesn’t provide access to the entire library. The AppleTV would be the perfect channel through which a family can enjoy its media, but I’m wondering if Apple are holding off on this (maybe due to bandwidth costs?) In any case, I’ll be returning this AppleTV, as rumors are a new one will be released soon.

  • Although I have “Optimize Library” set on all my devices and my MacBook Air, I think I’m going to allow a full copy of the data to remain on my Mac mini, so that at least I have one backup of all my data at CrashPlan. It’d be kind of scary to imagine that the entirety of my photos and videos only exists in Apple’s storage.

  • Watching videos in Photos on my Mac is very slow (over my Spanish ADSL connection), since the entire video has to download before viewing can begin. I wish there was an option to just stream them.

  • Non-destructive photo editing that propagates to other devices is magic.

  • When editing photos, I seemed to have gotten Photos in a mode where it would apply auto-enhance whenever I simply cropped a photo.

  • When cropping photos, I wish there were an option in the Setting to preserve the original aspect ratio. I almost never want a free-form aspect ratio when cropping (which is the default).

  • Apple have a couple of issues to work out with sharing. When sharing photos to Flickr, you can choose an Album in which to publish, but you can’t create a new one. I always publish to a new album, so that’s a real pain currently. And when sharing multiple photos to Facebook, rather than including all the photos in single post (like a gallery), each photo ends up in its own independent post with a copy of the description.

  • Apple still have some conceptual clean-up to do. Currently I need to put videos in Photos on the Mac, but on iOS devices I watch them in Photos instead of Videos. And “Photo Stream”? How does that fit into the picture any more?

  • One of the biggest concerns of mine, is that evidently Faces smart album data does not sync across multiple Macs. This is terribly disappointing, as years of accumulating Faces data is now sitting on my internet-hosted, headless Mac mini, where I don’t need it, and unavailable on my MacBook Air, where I do need it. What @tverschoren noticed, however, is that faces tagging does seem to sync; e.g. if I search for a name, that name is found under a type “Face” (which had to have come from my other machine.)

  • Above all, iCloud Photo Library, and Photos on Mac and iOS seem to be a great start to how photos and video management and experience should work. Despite some initial issues that are not-so-ideal, Apple definitely seem to be on the right path.

iTunes Match lost all my music (and then I got it all back)

For more than a decade, I’ve been accumulating music and curating playlists in iTunes, all of which has physically been located on the SSD of my MacBook Air. And for the past couple of years, I’ve been sharing that library with other devices—computers, Apple TV, iOS devices—via iTunes Match.

Continue reading iTunes Match lost all my music (and then I got it all back)

RaceSplitter rejected after three years for using a slider control

RaceSplitter is an app that provides “do it yourself” timing of sport events. It’s been on the market for three years and has gone through 13 different Apple-reviewed versions. Yesterday, we were surprised to receive an app-rejection notification related to a minor-maintenance release.

Continue reading RaceSplitter rejected after three years for using a slider control

Comparing the market valuations of Apple, Google, Facebook & Twitter

After reading about Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp, I started thinking about the revenue and public valuations of the giant advertising companies—Google, Facebook and Twitter—as compared to that of Apple:

Continue reading Comparing the market valuations of Apple, Google, Facebook & Twitter

Great customer support at the Apple Store

Back in August, I purchased a 4TB G-Drive at the Apple Store in Marbella to serve as the destination that CrashPlan uses when backing up our family’s various Macs.

Last week, CrashPlan started getting stuck; stuck synchronizing file information, and stuck backing up our data. The superb staff at Code42 inspected my CrashPlan logs, and discovered numerous read and write errors on the disk. Although Disk Utilities and Tech Tool Pro both reported that the disk was fine, the venerable Disk Warrior got “stuck” in its (evidently much deeper) drive check.

Convinced that the drive had problems, I then set off to the Apple Store—four-month-old purchase receipt in hand—to get a replacement.

After explaining the problem to the Apple Store employee, he replied that Apple only takes back disks during the first three months; after that, the customer has to deal directly with the manufacturer. He then volunteered to help me identify the manufacturer’s contact details.

As the guy was Googling, “G-Technology service and repair”, I was imagining what my next few days and weeks were going to look like:

  • Waiting to get an email back from G-Technology with shipping instructions and an RMA number—probably preceded by several “Can you try restarting the drive?” emails.
  • Finding some brown paper to wrap up the box for shipping.
  • Traveling to the Marbella post office and waiting in line for an hour to ship the thing.
  • Traveling back to the post office a month later to figure out why the shipment never arrived.

…all the while, not having a backup at home, because the drive is getting repaired.

I was just about tell the Apple representative to forget it, that I’d just buy a new drive, when he spoke up and said, “Hey, G-Technology doesn’t have customer support in Spain, so we’re just gonna replace the drive for you here.”


Then a few minutes later, returning from the back room, he reported that unfortunately Apple didn’t have any more of those particular drives in stock. But, they did have a 4TB Seagate drive they could offer me. And… that drive costs 100 € less, so in addition, they’ll refund me 100 €!

Now that is great customer support!

My iPad mini seems to have a hardware problem

My iPad mini seems to have a hardware problem. Frequently, when I activate the device by opening its Smart Cover, I find it in one of two states:

State 1: Possessed

In this state, the brightness control is visible, and pulsing up and down, on its own without any input from me, until it finally settles in the completely down position. Here’s a video:

Although I can authenticate with my pin code and use the device, the brightness control remains fixed on the screen and can’t be dismissed without a full power cycle of the iPad. (And, in this state, the brightness can no longer be manually controlled.)

State 2: Disabled

The other state in which I might find the device is Disabled.

This is the state the device gets in after too many failed logins. And if “Find my iPad” was previously enabled, you can’t recover from this mode through normal means. For example, if you try “Restoring from Backup”, iTunes will report that you must first unlock the device with your pin code—something that’s obviously impossible to do. Furthermore, logging into iCloud and removing the device from “Find my iPad” doesn’t help either.

When the device is disabled, you have to boot in Recovery Mode—by pressing the power-home button combination until the device restarts, and then continue holding the home button until it says “Connect to iTunes”—and then restore it from scratch, from iTunes. This requires a full download of the iOS software over the internet.

This—the device getting disabled—has actually happened to me twice now, and in both cases there was some mystery around its recovery.

  • The first time, I booted into Recovery Mode, started the restore process, and went to have lunch. When I returned, expecting to find the iPad in a “new” state and requiring a restore from backup, I instead found it completely up to date, with all my apps and contents. It was as if nothing had happened. Given my certainty that I’d need to subsequently restore from backup, I actually wondered whether the restore process had happened at all, or whether the device had somehow just recovered.

  • The second time, I was in the car and found it disabled while at a stoplight. (Yes, I was going to check email at a stoplight.) When I got home, the problem had cleared up on its own.

Visit to Apple


p>This afternoon while at the office, I opened the iPad to discover it in the “Possessed” state, and decided to immediately drive over to the local Apple Store, five minutes away, to have a Genius look at it.

The folks at the Apple Store, though, wouldn’t let me speak with a Genius, because I didn’t have an appointment. The problem, I explained, was that by the time I got an appointment, I would be left having to describe the problem to them, while right now, I can actually demonstrate it! Unfortunately, that wasn’t a good enough reason to break protocol, so they gave me an appointment for next Tuesday.

At this point, I can (a) leave the device as-is, without using it until next Tuesday in order to demonstrate the problem, or (b) reboot it, so that I can continue to use it, and then hope they’ll be able to investigate the problem next week with just a description (and perhaps the above video.)

Update: 2013-10-29 Replacement

Had my appointment at the Apple Store Genius Bar this morning, and given the combination of both a brightness anomaly and frequent “iPad is Disabled” occurrences, they replaced the iPad mini on the spot, saying that my old one almost surely had a motherboard problem.

The iPhone 5S and chopped off fingers.

I once saw an ad for a fake Rolex that read:

Don’t spend $5,000 for a real Rolex, because wearing that kind of money on your wrist is likely to get your hand chopped off! Instead, spend 45 bucks on our imitation Rolex, which, we guarantee, is indistinguishable from the real thing!

The obvious point this advertiser missed is that if their watch is indistinguishable from from the real thing, then you’re still just as likely to get your hand chopped off. And if that happened, it wouldn’t be that satisfying to know they only made off with $45, rather than a $5,000. You’d be thinking about your lost hand!

I was reminded of this story today when I read on TUAW how a disembodied finger can’t be used to unlock the Touch ID sensor on the now iPhone 5S, since activation of the sensors requires the presence of electrical charges that wouldn’t be emitted by a severed finger.

That’s great, but I suspect your average finger chopping street thief is unlikely to know that. So after he makes off your with iPhone 5S and your finger, I doubt you’re gonna be jumping up and down thinking, “YES! Just wait until he tries unlocking that thing!”

Using a Contacts group in my email ReadLater rule

I get a lot of email that I’m interested in reading, but which I don’t want cluttering up my inbox. In the past, I tried creating a mail rule that would immediately archive mails (keeping their status unread) with a sender address matching those within a long list contained in the rule. That got unwieldy after a while, since’s rules definition interface wasn’t really meant for managing very long lists of conditions, and so I abandoned the rule.

Recently, though, I had a better idea — adding all theses senders to a “ReadLater” group in, and then having my rule contain a single condition—i.e. checking whether the sender is a member of that group. Works great, and easier to identify just those mails in my Smart Folder for later reading.

The downside for developers of automatic app updating in iOS 7

Manual app updating, prior to iOS7, was beneficial to developers as a mechanism to notify their customers that a new version was available1. Since Apple doesn’t otherwise provide developers with a way to communicate directly with their customers, that indirect mechanism served an important role.

in iOS 7 apps silently get updated, automatically. This morning, I just happened to wander into the App Store app and discovered several apps that had recently updated—some of which contained interesting functional additions.

Perhaps with iOS7, enabling customer communication by finding creative ways of capturing user email addresses—i.e. ways that don’t violate Apple’s policies—will take on a higher priority with developers.

  1. I think some developers abused this with unnecessarily frequent updates, simply to trigger a reminder that their app exists. 

Apple's app review process — a rejection with a happy ending

Apple’s app review process seems to get its share of knocks in the developer press, but we at Makalu recently had a positive experience which demonstrates that, at least from time to time, the process actually works.

Earlier this month, we submitted version 1.4 of our RaceSplitter app for review. This version contained two changes:

  1. Live results publishing. Users can now publish live results online, at any time during the race. Now, the whole world can follow the event, as it unfolds.

  2. New account signup screen. In order to publish race results, the app must be logged into the user’s account. In the past, the account creation process happened upon the first publication of results. That caused problems, though, for some users, given that the account creation process happened right in the middle of timing their event. To address that, version 1.4 introduces the account creation process on first-launch of the app.

After about a week of waiting, the app was rejected, with the stated reason being that the app requires the user to provide personal information (i.e. create an account) in order to access “non-account related app features”.

Having recently read another developer’s blog about a rejection due to requesting the user’s email address “too early in the process”, we weren’t too surprised to see the rejection. But we were surprised by the stated reason, since it was flat-out wrong; our app does not require an account to use non-account related features.

Discussing that in the office, we just concluded that we must have been sent the boiler-plate response to all non-compliances with the particular referenced section of the App Review Guidelines, and that it really didn’t matter (to Apple) whether the response was actually accurate or not.

Since we urgently needed the live results publishing feature for an event at the end of this month, we were considering removing the first-launch account creation screen, but then decided to see what would happen if we responded to Apple’s feedback — simply stating that they’d made a mistake.

We did that, along with making an expedited review request. To our pleasant surprise, Apple responded that they would take our feedback into account, and one day later, we got news that the app had been released from review, and was ready for sale.

Thanks, Apple!

The Sprint HTC EVO 4G — Sorry Apple, you knew it was coming

SPRINT ARE BRINGING OUT THE BIG GUNS, with this truly powerful advertisement for the, uh — not sure exactly what it’s called, The Sprint HTC EVO 4G? Doesn’t matter, just have a look:

After a moment to catch my breath, my first thought was that forever I’ve been opening the Weather app on my iPhone, never really imagining the day would come when I could instead watch a man talking about the weather in a Flash player.

My second thought was, “I do need a phone with a peg leg.”

Anyway, more seriously, let’s check out this ad.

FIRST ad displaying more than six trademark symbols.

C’mon, Matt, I said seriously. (And it needs to be taken seriously; Sprint probably paid somebody $25,000 for this ad.) Ok, here we go.

First, I don’t get the usage of “FIRST”. But maybe that’s just me.

The main point of this ad is that the EVO runs Adobe Flash. And in case that doesn’t mean much to you, the ad emphasizes that 85 of the top 100 sites use Flash. (In the small print, they point out that they got this data from Adobe, who in turn, got the data from Alexa.)

Does this mean my poor iPhone can only deal with 15 of the top 100 sites? Let’s go check out the Alexa Top 100.

Google (seems responsible for at least 20 of the top 100). Facebook. YouTube. Yahoo. Wikipedia. Twitter. Amazon. LinkedIn. eBay. Flickr. Apple. New York Times.

Hmmm — where is the Flash on these sites? Oh, I see — mostly it’s the ads. The ads on these sites are often Flash.

So what this ad is really saying is that if I’ll switch to a Sprint HTC EVO 4G, in addition to getting a phone with a peg leg, I’ll finally be able to see all those slide-out, content obscuring ads I’ve been missing!

A look at Apple competitor advertising

It seems Apple has no competition these days, and judging just from advertising, I’m thinking we’re a good ways off from seeing any. Why? Try as they may to copy, companies like Samsung just don’t get it. My colleague Alex and I today were discussing the striking difference in advertising, in the latest issue of Fortune magazine (which is full of Samsung Galaxy ads.)

Continue reading A look at Apple competitor advertising


I’m writing this article in the hope that someone at Apple USA might read it, and come to understand what kind of service your customers abroad are receiving. (And let me prefix this by mentioning that my company has probably spent more than $50,000 in Apple equipment over the past several years.)

A couple of months ago — as it were, about three weeks before the launch of the MacBook Pro (Grrrrr) — I placed an order for two 15″ G4 Powerbooks from Apple Spain’s store. One was for me, and the other for our company’s system administrator, Niall. The idea was that I would take delivery of both, and deliver one to Niall (who lives in Ireland) on our next corresponding trip to the company home office in Germany.

About three days after receiving the two Powerbooks, the display in one — Niall’s, of course — died.

I called Apple’s post sales support, on a 902 number. A couple of interesting observations: (1) If you want to buy Apple equipment, a toll-free number is available for you. If you want service, however, you’ll be paying for a toll call. (2) If you call a sales number, you’ll be attended to in a split second. If you call support, plan to make some coffee.

After listening to an automated voice telling me (at least 50 times) that I might be able to resolve my problem by hanging up and going to A-P-P-L-E.C-O-M, I finally was routed to a service representative, to whom I described my problem with the dead monitor. Of course, they’re trained not to take your word for it; you have to run through some tests first, on this for-pay phone call, to establish that, in fact, the display is dead.

After that, the conversation went something like this:

Apple: So, Mr. Henderson, you’ll need to drive to Pepe’s Computer on the other side of Malaga, and drop off the Powerbook. They’ll in turn forward it on to TecniMac in Sevilla for repair. You should have it back within three to four weeks.

Me: Malaga’s more than 50 km from Marbella. In normal traffic, the drive to Pepe’s would be about 1.5 hours each way. I’d prefer to purchase AppleCare, so that a courier can pickup the device here at my office.

Apple: Certainly, Mr. Henderson. I’ll process that order for you right now.

(Several minutes later…)

Apple: Thank you for your purchase, Mr. Henderson. Here’s your AppleCare confirmation number. Now, about that Powerbook… You’ll need to drive to Pepe’s Computer on the other side of Malaga…

(Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.)

Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa… Uhmm, didn’t I just purchase AppleCare to avoid that?

Apple: Yes, but, you see, you live within 80 km of an authorized pickup location. So, even with AppleCare, you still have to deliver it yourself.

Me: Couldn’t you have mentioned that 10 minutes ago? Look, anyway, in the US, they always send a courier pickup under AppleCare.

Apple: Well, this isn’t the US.

Fortunately for me, an Apple reseller just opened here in Marbella — Marbella Mac Solutions, MMS, who, after hearing my sad story, said they’d be happy to organize the repair for me. As with Pepe’s, that still involves sending the Powerbook off to TecniMac, in Sevilla — apparently the only authorized Apple repair center in this half of Spain.

So, with about six weeks before the planned hook-up with Niall in Germany, I dropped the Powerbook off at MMS.

Turns out, four weeks was optimistic. On the very day before my trip to Germany, I was called by MMS to let me know the Powerbook was ready for pickup. I picked up the computer about five minutes before their closing time, and headed off to Germany.

Reading the repair report, TecniMac had determined that the problem was a “logic fault”, and replaced the logic board, the LCD display, and a related cable.

As things worked out, Niall’s trip was postponed, so I left the Powerbook in the office for him to pickup the following week. About a week later, I get an email from Niall, asking what in the world had happened to the Powerbook — that it looked like it’d been attacked with a screwdriver. He sent some photos:

Niall also reported that nothing happens when he closes the lid of the Powerbook. After a little investigation, he determined that the magnet in the display which signals to the machine that the lid has been close was missing! And, the display intermittently fades in brightness here and there. And, finally, he’s seeing all sorts of weird OS and application behaviour — things I’ve never even heard reports of (and I follow the Mac world pretty closely.)

That’s where we are today. Niall is trying to communicate with the Apple folks in Ireland, but it’s not easy. They want records of the previous repairs. They want proof that we’re really still seeing problems. In short, they’re making it as difficult as possible to get this situation sorted out.

And what’s the best we can hope for? Another repair session with Apple (Ireland). Niall having to work without a Powerbook for weeks. And, in the end, owning one Frankenstein of a portable — composed of bits and pieces from here and there, likely to never quite work like a new one.

Story Number 2: But wait, there’s more…

In our office here in Spain, a colleague just reported last week that one of the memory slots in his 15″ G4 Powerbook wasn’t being recognized. I nearly wept at the thought of having to contact Apple again. But alas, I connected to the Spain support page, to lookup the support number again, and, lo, what did I see in the sidebar, but a link to:

Repair Extension Program: Powerbook G4 Memory Slot (15 inch)

How about that?– turns out the serial number of our Powerbook corresponds to the batch of defective units listed in this article, which have been demonstrated to have a problem recognizing both memory slots.

Great, in a weird way. At least you’d think that in this case, getting support would be easy — there’s an article on Apple’s very own website, listing my very own serial number.

Nope. Not even in this case is it easy to get service from Apple Europe. Seems that the repair terms and conditions of the article are relevant to the US market, not Europe — even though the article appears on Spain’s support page. Once again, I’m asked to go driving off to Malaga. The support representative said he needed to check with “management” to see how to proceed, and would phone us back.

A week later, we’re still waiting for the phone call.

Story Number 3: Yes, there’s even more…

In the year 2004, I reported to Apple Europe that there was a bug in the interface between their ordering system, and their logistics system, which discarded one line of the shipping address. In my case, it cut off the line which specifies in which apartment I live. Pretty serious problem, and the source of many shipping delays.

I received a reply from someone apparently high up in Apple Europe, apologizing for the problem, which he stated was a known issue he thought had been resolved several months earlier, and promising to personally look into it.

Jump ahead to mid-2005, another order of mine is delayed, due to the very same problem.

As far as I know, they still have this problem today. (Today, we specify shipping to our new office, which has a less complicated address than my home address.)

Moral of the stories…

The point of all this is that Apple should be ashamed of their European operations, especially their post sales support service. Maybe if enough people publish their stories, someone at Apple with enough clout (and concern) to do something about it will initiate some changes, to finally demonstrate some appreciation to their loyal customers.