Apple Calls

This morning I had a call from an Apple Europe Area Sales Manager, during which we discussed at some length my iMac G5 saga. I will not quote his name because I forgot to ask his permission, but the bottom line is that it was a frank, practical conversation - very polite, professional, but above all, honest and straightforward.

Later this afternoon, I had another call from Apple IMC Portugal. We had already exchanged contacts via e-mail beforehand, and by the time we started talking, there was already a good deal of common ground. That conversation was also very honest and straightforward, and put a definite stop to any concerns I might have at this point regarding the local distributor's position.

Nobody's perfect, but they are definetly trying to improve. And after having spoken to them I'm confident the new management is doing their best to deal with the situation here in Portugal, most of which is, at this point, largely of historical curiosity (a lot of the local lobbyists will have trouble with this sentence, but that's my opinion, not theirs).

As always, candour and honesty go a long way toward solving any problems.

Let's get down to brass tacks, then: It is generally agreed at this point that FNAC has a significant part of the blame, especially since it is not at all clear that they even placed a custom configuration order in the first place.

Surprise, heh?

As to Apple's side of the issues, the difficulties in supplying enough iMac stock to meet demand in Europe are something they are attempting to solve in earnest. Remember that I did not expect to get the computer before Xmas, for I was aware that there was a backlog even before I placed the order.

They are on the ball on this one, and things are looking to improve (don't press me for specifics, my disclaimer takes precedence here, and out of respect for my callers, I will keep the details of our conversations in confidence.)

Also, my last rant was not wholly justified. I was given a short overview of how Apple distribution works, and there is a bit more flexibility in terms of local stock that I was aware of.

As usual, there is a lot to be said for hearing the other side of the story.

In effect, this means that:

  • I might be able to get a G5 with the Bluetooth module after all
  • and (this is the important bit) without any sort of special treatment - something I have always been insistent upon.

Astroturfing Debunked

So it looks like I can further discount a lot of the negative feedback I got about Apple distribution. I have also confirmed some of my previous insights as to where some of that negative feedback has come from, and I now have to own up to having made the mistake of not being aware that I was being manipulated by a few proeminent figures that resent having lost their little kingdoms over here.

I can attribute part of it to my being largely cut off from the larger Apple user base (my usual correspondents are all on the UNIX side of the fence), but the folk tales concerning issues are plentiful and have never really gone away, so I was led to accept quite a bit of negative feedback as truthful.

(Add to that the fact that the Portuguese national sport is rumor mongering, and you have an idea of what my inbox looked like during the last couple of weeks.)

I will go after those naysayers later in order to try and present a balanced overview of the sort of petty lobbying that has been going on around here. I am tempted to reproduce a manifesto-like e-mail I got on this topic, but that would be stooping down to their level.

I will also try to figure out a timeline for the past few years of Apple distribution, since some of that negative feedback was based on situations that occurred prior to some recent changes in the local distributor. Changes that were explained to me in a clear, honest fashion and that, when put together, make a lot more sense than some of the things that landed on my inbox.

After all, there is a big difference between swapping e-mail with naysayers and talking to people who not only have facts at hand, but can also reply to my questions objectively.

Remember, I have never before dealt directly with them - the mass of feedback I got, however, supplied me with ample reason not to, and I will freely admit to being wrong.

What I Did Wrong

In fact, I was wrong in several counts:

  • I did not approach the local distributor in a formal fashion (I merely called them before Xmas and asked for an informal estimate of delivery dates).
  • Despite my attempt at cross-checking the feedback I got from FNAC, I should have pressed them a bit further earlier on (the only justification I have is that I was sick throughout the holiday season). I should have gotten the store manager involved in the process earlier, and he is the main reason I insisted on still receiving my iMac through FNAC - simply put, he made a difference and deserves the sale.
  • I should have made an effort to seek out positive references to counterpoint the negative feedback that was piling in my inbox.

I'm not a journalist (and I seldom have enough time to write about my own experiences as it is), but if I try to be balanced about the other things I write about here, I have to be consistent and try to be even more balanced about my experience.

As I pointed out only this Saturday, blogging is not journalism, but there is a degree of objectiveness to be had. Nobody is perfect, of course, and I will most certainly not stake a claim to that effect.

Channel Noise

But let's get back to the matter at hand.

The bottom line is this: Yes, Apple does care about your buying experience.

Even though it is impossible for them to control it directly through a multi-layered retail network such as the one here in Portugal, the feedback I gathered during the past few days is important to them, and although I have taken care to discount most of the negative feedback as hearsay, there are still some things that they will look into.

I did not maintain an exaustive list of contacts (and even if I did, those wouldn't have any real significance), but any company would be concerned if a random customer calling their retailers got the sort of feedback I did (even though I am known for being a particularly persuasive caller, thanks to my pre-sales experience).

In an attempt to even out the retailers' criticism, Portugal is a small market where niche items are routinely troublesome, and small retailers tend to have difficulty making ends meet (especially this past year, where sales of anything related to tech had somewhat of a slump).

Of course, that doesn't mean they should "pass the buck" with such verve to the distributor, but few small companies train their phone staff in any way these days...

Lobbying Can Be Biased

Just to make things a bit worse, there is also an active lobby that has apparently chosen to ignore (or even boycott) the new management's attempts to improve relations with retailers, and, from what I've seen, the local Mac community has a lot of lobbying power (at least in terms of generating noise).

Thankfully I have no stake in either issue, so I can still try to be impartial, own up to my mistakes (not least of which is believing some of the most outrageous claims without cross-checking the facts) and move on.

To further cut down on idle rumor and speculation, one of the interesting things that might be of interest to most people is the fact that all Mac mini-related dates that I was quoted on the phone are bogus - the actual dates haven't even been released to European retail, so bear in mind that retailers are throwing wild guesses.

Bottom line: If you have any sort of Apple-related issues, try the local official contacts first - skip the retailers.

Consistency Checks

Given all the above, I will be revising my earlier posts on this topic to add a link to this one and noting the places where I was wrong/should have confirmed information/etc. - I think it's the least I can do to make sure my account is as correct and balanced as possible.

People following my RSS feed shouldn't be surprised at seeing old posts re-appear, and, as usual, all edits will be visible by checking page history.