Wednesday 9 June 2010

Some problems a future Apple (South Africa) should tackle.

Written for South African Apple Mac users and prospective buyers.

Thinkertoys is a book with many "thought experiments" one can practice to improve one's creativity. An exercise I've found particularly useful in management is "drawing a trouble tree". The idea of this exercise is simply to list all the problems one could potentially face in a situation and to identify those that should be tackled first. Ideally one would work through all the branches until the tree is just a
"trouble-free" trunk :) .

As an Apple user, I've begin to wonder whether its benefits are worth the high premium one pays for it locally. Particularly given the difficulties one faces in finding well-priced, compatible accessories and appropriate, speedy technical support. If Apple ever plans to represent itself directly in South Africa, here are the trouble-tree's branches I humbly suggest it hacks away:

1 High premiums for products that do not offer the same advantages for users from developed markets: 
  • Whether its thanks to the taxman, transport fees or a greedy local distributor, it's a lot more cost effective to order a Mac in the US and courier it to SA than to hope to find a reasonably priced Mac in your local supplier's shop.
    Once you've got your Mac, some Apple software offers limited functionality in the local context:  
  • iTunes South Africa only offers iPhone apps, so iTunes only offers value if you own an iPhone and are interested in purchasing its widgets.
  • You have to organize a foreign iTunes account if you want to buy music, videos, etc. While this results from local licensing problems, the fact that Apple does not communicate about its intentions to improve this locally is a silent PR problem. 
  • Like the Macs themselves, .Mobile Me membership is completely over-priced for the local market. The fact that the price shown to customers is in Euros simply reflects how little Apple is interested in pricing .Mac for locals. This is particularly problematic, given that the "freemium" competition from Google (and other web2.0 services) and Apple's seeming disinterest in providing a competitive "tiered" service that offers users lower prices for less use.
2 The availability of technical support for Apple products is weak.
  • Apple only offers technical support for the iPhone in South Africa. If one has a problem with any other product one can only rely on support from local resellers. 
  • If a reseller (or third party) cannot fix the product you bought for them, you effectively have to find a backyard Mac repair specialist... or pay for a new product. 
  • Effectively, this means that Apple may not deliver on its brand promise of high reliability to you, since the high premium one pays may not include a warranty and/or a maintenance agreement.
My bad experience in the branches of point 2!
The motivation for this post is my recent poor experience with a Mac laptop I bought locally online, just two years ago: in the past month, my laptop's airport network service inexplicably began either to turn itself off or simply disconnect from my home network, refusing to reconnect. Since I'm a researcher, being connected to the internet is highly important and its a big time-waster to have to power down and restart several times, just to have web access!

Since I occasionally saw error messages indicating my laptop could not see my airport card, I organized that my authorized Apple reseller replaced the card. This took two weeks, but did not fix the problem. My reseller then offered to reinstall my Operating System. Again, this did not fix the problem. The reseller's technician said that "a circuit on the motherboard has lost integrity". He suggested three options to me: 
1. Replace the motherboard for about the cost of new laptop.
2. Pay a technician to replace and/or re-solder the faulty processor chip.
3. Organize a wireless adapter.

Since I assumed that the last option would be the cheapest and simplest, I bought a Linksys wireless adapter, as recommended. Unfortunately, though, its boxes claims to be Mac compatible only extended to pre-Snow Leopard versions of the Mac OS! The reseller then organized a more recent Linksys wireless adapter. Although this one claimed to be compatible with my laptop, it did not produce readable packets when the technician tested it. The reseller is currently trialing another wireless adapter; while I hold thumbs and hope I don't have to try the 2nd option...

As a South African consumer, I blame Apple's lack of consideration of the local market for this brand failure; not its resellers. While I have enjoyed the benefits of being in Apple's walled garden (especially great product design, durability, no viruses and automatic back-up), this experience has led me to question whether I am being reasonable in only using one operating system at home. I'm now giving serious thought to a new option 4; buying a netbook running either Canonical's Ubuntu or Google's Chrome OS!


  1. Travis, I agree with you totally, it's very sad that Apple's attitude is like this. There seems to be a lot of feelings or anger over this and similar stories amongst Apple users around the world who have moved away from Apple for similar reasons. As hard as it may be for an Apple user to change to Microsoft, windows 7 actually offers a much better user experience than any previous Microsoft products. I thought I would never say that ,as I used to belong to the anti Microsoft camp ,but have found that many of the horror stories I experienced in the old days have been taken care of with Windows 7 including virus issues, crashing, blue screens of death etc - try it, you will be suprised, as I have been - Dr Michael Hunt

  2. Trav

    Steve did us in in the mid 80's. He's doing it again.

    Once bitten.......

  3. Trav, I suggest 1 quality travel laptop and 1 cheaper desktop replacement; both microsoft. Ubuntu is for charity cases and chrome os is for people who live in glass houses.

  4. Travis, Sorry that it has taken so long for you to realise that Apple just doesn't cut it. I spent so much money trying to make it work and I used to love apple and still like the ipod but for computing unfortunately Apple just doesn't cut it, I am embarressed that I defended Steve Jobbs and apple for so long only to be let down time and time again - fool me once.....shame on you apple

  5. Looks like I'm not alone in blogging about Apple's authorized distributors providing poor delivery to South Africans: see post and comments at

  6. this person is living in some crazy world: "ubuntu is for charity cases". i'm not going to bother with reasons or a huge defence, but i will say that you'd be being pretty silly if you didn't at least trial windows 7 and ubuntu and pick whichever one you preferred. many, many people - especially those moving away from a mac - would far rather use ubuntu than windows.... even if you made them pay the same price for the ubuntu as what the windows had cost.

  7. Another reason not to buy an Apple Mac in South Africa is that locals are charged the second highest price for them in the world! Learn more at

  8. I have never used Ubuntu but have been a MAC user since the 70s and have always considered myself a Steve Jobs supporter and often turned a blind eye to things that my colleagues would point out to me as "stupid mac things" and work around the issues. Unfortunately my die hard Mac user attitude has I hate to say it stifled my business. The high costs of repair, the limited software options and quite frankly some thing about MAC that are just not thought through have turned me into a windows user, something that I never thought would happen. I am of course just waiting for the disappointment, however so far, so good, I think Windows 7 is a game changer - sorry Steve, I was loyal, but you let me down

  9. Ubuntu and BSD are good operating systems Win 7 is unadulterated crap! That Alisrair is an idiot! He probably still raves about DOS!

  10. The markup on PC prices is worse in SA than on Apple's: read comparisons on


This blog is moderated due to problems experienced by a few readers who could not submit unmoderated comments. Please keep your comment length under 300 words; any longer and you will struggle to submit it. Ta, Travis.

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