iPhone 3G? I don't care, Apple -- I just want my MacBook fixed

I'm a Mac ... and I'm conflicted. For the past 15 years, I've barely placed my finger on a PC, either at work or at home. I've spent most of my career as a magazine editor, a profession that relies almost exclusively on Macs as its primary tool, and over time, Apple's platform has necessarily been hardwired into my brain. But over the past year, as more consumers snap up iPhones and collect endlessly clever apps, my personal relationship with this company has begun to feel abusive.Today, the rest of the world is salivating over the next-gen iPhone, which goes on sale this month. And me? I'm seething over my two-year-old MacBook's third trip since August to the emergency room.

I'm endlessly interested in Apple. I'll read practically anything about the company, its technology, and the mysterious visionary who leads it, Steven Jobs. I don't think Dell could possibly dampen the palms of its consumers for its next line of computers the way Apple does for each new generation of Macbooks.

But I'm primarily interested in Apple's computers, not its iPhones. And I can't escape the unsettling feeling that Apple is taking its eye off its core brand -- off my computer -- in deference to the almighty iPhone. On Monday, as millions of breathless Apple fans watched the unveiling of its newest products at the Worldwide Developers Conference, I'd been equally breathless since Sunday afternoon, when my wheezing, whirring, demonically clicking Macbook froze into a gray screen of indifference. Again.

iPhone, schmiPhone. I whisked my laptop -- "Stay with me, buddy! What year is this? Who's the president of the United States?" -- to Tekserve, an independent Manhattan repair shop, squeaking through the door a minute before closing time. I'm getting to be an old hand at this, unfortunately. Even at Tekserve, famous among New York Mac users for its gentle bedside manner, a staffer gave me an ominous, low whistle when I told them how many times -- and how frequently -- my hard drive has crashed.

The first failure came right on time: the day after my one-year warranty expired. Tekserve consulted with Apple, which took pity and covered the hard drive. But not the $900 data recovery. I use MobileMe, Mac's subscription-based storage cloud, which costs me $200 a year for 60 gigabytes and infinite peace of mind. Most of my data was backed up to MobileMe -- emphasis on "most." Were the missing photos -- the months of my young daughter's life, vanished -- worth nearly a thousand dollars? Sigh ... Here's my money.

When this replacement hard drive, in turn, failed in late February, I was ready. I'd backed everything up to MobileMe and to an external LaCie drive. Replacing it cost me no anxiety but did put me out another couple hundred bucks.

That hard drive is still under warranty, Tekserve told me on Sunday. (Three months old and change: it's only fair.) But a third crash in less than a year really makes me wonder just what is going on with Apple's computers. Have I been unlucky with a lemon, or is Apple paying too much attention to its most attractive revenue stream at the expense of its flagship line? Maybe the thrill is gone -- maybe the nuts and bolts of selling me a functioning hard drive is, well, boring.

As for me, my eye isn't yet wandering over to the PC side of the aisle. Until a competitor starts running Apple's operating system -- Snow Leopard? Cheetah? Siamese? I can never remember -- I don't imagine I'll be switching. But three hard-drive failures in a year would test the patience of the most devoted apologist. Macs are notoriously dear, but Apple's customers pay for an intuitive operating system and for ease of use, along with, of course, a very costly team of developers, designers, engineers and programmers -- all backed by a brilliant ad campaign that still hasn't run its course.

I suppose that means its customers are paying for cool. Microsoft seems to want us to think so; its latest advertising salvo of 30-second cinema-verité spots includes one execution featuring a bewildered young computer shopper who sniffs, "I guess I'm not cool enough for a Mac." But each time I sit in the all-too-familiar waiting area at Tekserve, anxiously awaiting the solemn call, the grim prognosis, I find myself muttering yet again: "Apple, this is so not cool."

Read on to see DailyFinance's coverage of the Worldwide Developers Conference.

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