Apple Support: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

on November 7, 2013

movie poster (IMDB)See update below

Apple is a company that inspires both delight and dismay in its customers, sometimes both in the same person and on the same day.

First the good news. My 27″ iMac had been acting weird since I installed Mavericks. It would occasionally lock up for no reason and then would take forever to reboot.Then it started loading an obscure process at bootup (something to do with mounting an audio CD) and I could watch in the Activity Monitor as it swallowed up all my physical memory. I decided to try reinstalling Mavericks, but it would repeatedly hang during the installation. I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back.

I made an appointment at the local Apple Store, where the tech at the Genius Bar said that if I had a current backup, the simplest solution would be to reformat the hard drive, reload the OS from the store network, then restore from backup.It took less than 30 minutes to complete a clean install, and was free.

Try doing that with any Windows machine. Apple Store service is, without doubt, one of the best reasons for buying an Apple product. If Apple charges a premium for Macs–and that’s a dubious contention on a feature-for-feature basis–the Genius Bar alone is worth it. I’m pretty good at fixing Macs, but it has saved me several times.

Then there’s the bad and ugly: Apple’s total lack of transparency or honesty regarding problems with its software. Mavericks users have reported a range of issues, not terribly surprising for a new OS release, and by far the worst of them seem to involve the Mail application. Gmail users reported that the new application was incapable of handling Gmail folders properly. Whether this was a bug or a feature is not entirely clear–Mac Mail has always had a tenuous relationship with Google’s idiosyncratic approach to the IMAP protocol. But it obviously left a large number of Mac users upset. The official response from Apple: silence.

snell_tweetThere were reports of many other issues. Jason Snell, the editorial director of Macworld was horrified to discover that the entire contents,of his Exchange mailbox had simply vanished. I found that Mail was no longer appended a signature to my outgoing messages on one of the two Macs I have updated. When I tried to fix the problem, the program would not let me choose any of the signatures it knew existed.

A search of Apple support forums showed I was far from alone. But if Apple monitors its own forums, it doesn’t bother to respond. I tried a couple of the workarounds other users suggested, but so far no happiness.

Microsoft may not be willing or able to help you with a malfunctioning PC, but it is a lot more forthright about bugs. Serious issues get acknowledged in the Microsoft Knowledge Base, along with word on fixes and, if necessary, workarounds. In particular, Microsoft is far more forthcoming about security issues. (Apple typically issues security patches once a month without detailing what has been fixed; Microsoft issues patches on a similar schedule, but publishes a detailed list of what issues are addressed.)

Apple Insider reports that Apple has begun letting developers test a new version of that addresses problems whose existence it has not yet acknowledged. Hopefully, it will show up someday soon as OS X 10.9.1 with little or no explanation. And maybe it will fix the Gmail problem and maybe it won’t.

It’s amazing that a company that is so good at delighting customers at the Genius Bar can be so pigheaded about helping users with the sorts of software problems that plague every major new release. A simple acknowledgement of “we know about it and we are working on it” would go a long way toward assuaging frustrated users. But that’s not the Apple way.


About the time I was posting this, Apple began pushing out an update to Mavericks Mail. As usual, Apple did it without announcement (other than this terse bulletin posted at Apple support) and this update notification (if you are subscribed to auto updates):


Preliminary reports suggest it addresses most Gmail issues. It does not fix the signature problem I encountered.

While I salute Apple for addressing the Gmail problem promptly, I continue to be puzzled by the company’s insistence on being so damn mysterious about such things.