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MacBook Honeymoon Over, Apple Still Shines

Welcome To Apple Support

Day 4 of being a new Mac user and so far it is going well, considering.

My Hidden Talent

For people that don’t know me very well my “hidden talent” is the ability to break ANYTHING related to technology  with astounding efficiency.   All of my seasoned developers at the software consulting business I ran a few years back knew it well.    Whenever someone felt their project was ready for the customer one of my lead tech guys would say “let Lance play with it, if he doesn’t break it in less than 3 minutes you are close”.     Suffice to say that I don’t recall a single project that passed “the Lance test” on the first go.  Or second for that matter.

My favorite anecdote and my crowning achievement to date was breaking a regular ATM machine, and I’m not talking a 30-year old one build on Windows ME but a modern nearly-new ATM, within 30 seconds.  Pull up to the drive-up ATM, put in card, withdraw…wait…no… check balance (while withdraw screen is rendering)… POOF… system crash.   A BSOD on an ATM machine.  Sweet!

Sad Technology
Windows 8 Frowney-Face. Yup, that about sums it up.

I give that background because it applies to my MacBook experience for a few reasons.  First, I have become VERY familiar with technical support lines with every type and size of technology company on the planet.    Second, I have  also learned that there is NO technology I cannot break, even without trying, no matter how solid the platform may be.    My high-end HP laptop, less than 24 hours.   My teched-out 2014 BMW?  Less than 6 hours.    If something lasts more than a day under my full-fledge “run this thing at full throttle abuse” that is impressive.

Macs Are Not Lance-Proof

My MacBook Pro?   Lasted just over 48 hours.   That is somewhat impressive given the fact that I want from vanilla MacBook Pro setup to upgrading the packages software, adding proprietary Logitech unity wireless drivers, proprietary Wacom table wireless drivers, 3 external monitors on 2 display port adapters and a HDMI connection, a 5-year old inkjet, added a pro backup service, 3 virtual box machines, a security dongle, an Android phone, and installed several developer-heavy software packages in that time.     The MacBook survived all of that, ALMOST.

It Worked Great, At First

The AMAZING part is all that stuff worked exactly as I expected with minimal fuss.    Getting 3 external monitors (2 display port and 1 HDMI) on an HP notebook with a docking station SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to run “5 monitors (sales lie, it really can only do 3)” took over a month including a BIOS update, video driver update, and 3 days of level 2 technical support on how to configure and hook everything up.   MacBook?  Plugin in all 3 monitors and BOOM… they are all up and running including a FOURTH if you included the laptop display.  Sweet.

Adding the 4-port USB monitor hub on these HP monitors to the MacBook?  No problem?   Cascade them with monitor 1 USB into monitor 2 into monitor 3?   No problem.   It shouldn’t be.  USB buses, when powered like these HP monitors are, should be able to daisy chain up to 128 units on a single USB chain.      With the HP?   It rarely could find devices on the first 4-port monitor hub.   Daisy chain them?  NO WAY.  NOTHING would be found and the system would crash corrupting files along the way.   The MacBook handled it with aplomb and to put the icing on the cake it recognized a 5-year old inkjet printer, installed it with the right drivers, and was printing through the 3rd hub on the 3rd external monitor in less than 30 seconds after connection.    Under Windows it was a bitch just to get the thing to print in under 10 minutes and only with a direct printer-to-laptop USB connection. Anything else was futile.

Overall I am impressed.

Breaking A MacBook Pro

But I DID break the MacBook Pro.

Somewhere along the way one of the software updates or installs (I’m fairly certain it is software related) caused my external monitors connected to the display port connects on the MacBook started to “flicker”.   By flicker I mean go completely black for 1 or 2 seconds then turn back on.  Sometimes this would happen once every hour.   Sometimes it would happen once every 5 seconds for 5 minutes straight.       When that didn’t happen I got what the Apple community has coined as “video ants”.   “Ants” are horizontal or vertical bands of pixel artifacts that are similar to “snow” you would find on analog TV years ago (for the young kids that don’t know what analog TV or “snow” is, go look it up… I’m sure YouTube has a video).     Needless to say, these issues made it impossible to use my external monitors and get anything accomplished.

Apple’s Stellar Support

What I found was that Apple Support, thus far, outshines Microsoft and just about EVERY vendor in the Microsoft-centric hardware space that I have ever used.    I’ve purchased top-of-the-line equipment from Sony, Dell, Toshiba, HP, Asus, Acer, and Lenovo.   Few can compare to the general engineering finesse of Apple but NONE can come anywhere CLOSE to Apple in regards to customer service.   NOT EVEN THE SAME PLANET.

I did some homework and tried various online remedies.  Nothing worked.    I decided to take advantage of Apple Support that comes FREE for the first 90 days with any Apple computer purchase.     I got online and opened a chat session.     This is where Apple starts to blow away the rest of the market when it comes to support.    Just getting started with support was painless.      Because I took literally 30 seconds to sign up for an Apple ID when booting my laptop I only had to enter my email and password for that ID and Apple could start building my support case.

It only took a minute and involved 3 simple questions before I had someone on  live chat.   The questions start with “your Apple serial number”.   This is easily found from an on-screen menu in the OS.  No flipper over the laptop, or looking under a desk at the back of a tower, or rebooting to the BIOS.  Just go to the main menu and look at System Preference/More Info.   There it is plain as day.  Now THAT is an novel idea… ANYONE in the Windows world paying attention?   The other questions? Your name and a brief description of your problem.

Support Personnel Using English?

So I have someone on chat.  Guess what?   They actually READ AND WRITE PERFECT ENGLISH.  Holy cow, does Apple actually employ Americans for support?    Maybe.    If not they do a GREAT job training people how to communicate in perfect English for the American users like myself.    Not that I’m a xenophobe but I just cannot stand reading blatantly horrid streams of grammatical and syntactically incorrect English for an entire 20 minute chat session.     I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to not be reading or listening to “Yoda-speak”.   I had ENOUGH of that with Microsoft premium customer support for their cloud services last night.   “If you press now please button on computer” or “Hold now down the control button, you shall.”   Really?

And Can Use Their Brain?

Guess what else?  They are ALLOWED TO USE THEIR BRAIN!   They actually are REAL PEOPLE WITH A REAL BRAIN.   I just about had a God-damned heart attack when they literally said “Can you tell me what debugging you’ve already done?  I don’t want to ask you to do things you tried already.  Your time is too valuable to be wasted.”.     HOLY FRIGGING CRAP… YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!  That is NOT how customer support works in 2014.   APPLE…  do you realize you are completely screwing with the customer support paradigm?   This cannot possibly be good for business!!!     That one simple interaction, that has now happened not with ONE but with TWO Apple support people in a row is one HUGE reason why I don’t think I’ll ever stray from Apple from this point forward.  Not unless they decide to be just like everyone else on the planet and go to a 100% check-the-box-while-reading-the-script support model.

I told them all the steps I had taken from swapping cables, ordering new cables, swapping monitors, uninstalling software, reboots, swapping ports, and a myriad of other options.     They read it all, and actually came up with some things I DID NOT TRY.     They did so nearly instantaneously.  Like they actually knew what the hell they were talking about.       Yes, they did have me reset PRAM which did not help.      They also had me reset SMC and run the Apple Hardware Test (AHT) which did not show any errors.      MAYBE the SMC reset did help, though at first I was not convinced because the login screen immediately showed screen flicker, but I will tell you that as soon as I powered off all 3 monitors, turned them back on after trying one more cable swap trick THE MONITORS WORKED.

What is not most impressive is the fact that my monitors are now working again as expected but the fact that I was not asked a bunch of dumb-ass questions or told to “did you reboot”, “did you power off for 30 seconds”, or other obvious options.     They could tell I know a little something about computers and went STRAIGHT to the uber-technical stuff.    They came up with some new analysis and debugging steps nearly immediately.    I was truly impressed.

Just as impressive was the team communication.     After my first contact with Apple Support I was told “this is your support ID in case you need to call back so the next person can pick up where I left off”.   True enough, the next support person after my system reboot and PRAM reset did not work picked up EXACTLY where he first person left off.     That person never needed to ask for my case ID, they looked at the history and said “is this related to the monitor issue”.  Yes.   Moving on to the next item.       That is how support should be.

Hey World – Copy This!

In my book, Apple knocked it out-of-the-park when it comes to technical support.  Why?

  • 30 seconds with a FEW simple questions to get registered for online support.
  • No more than a 2 minute wait for a LIVE support person.
  • Support people are ALLOWED TO THINK, they are not script-driven.
  • Support had a CLUE even with a less-common problem.
  • Support ALWAYS made me feel like they WANTED me to use the service.
  • Every support person said “please let us know if this doesn’t fix it, we want you to be 100% happy with you Apple experience and won’t stop working on this until you are”.
  • They actually UNDERSTOOD the problem and came up with what appears to be the right solution.

Not This!

After a month of dealing with Asurion to get my HTC phone fixed and an entire evening with Microsoft Azure support  I am absolutely blown-away by the fact that Apple has real old-fashioned technical support.

Asurion?  100% script based to the point of absurdity. “I just did a factory reset an hour before calling you, it didn’t help.   them: That doesn’t matter sir, if you DO NOT do a factory reset now I cannot help you.   If we don’t see the phone re-register we will not proceed.  me: Can you see it re-registered 90 minutes ago?   them: sir that is irrelevant, if you don’t do it again now while I am on the phone I cannot help you.”

Microsoft? 4 techs, 3 time zones and at least one guy that my disk failure problem was related to an IP address change (WTF, really?) Don’t forget this guy too: “I am not an expert in that area, I will refer you to someone that is” from the guy that I was originally referred to as an expert in that area.

Apple Fan Boy?

A month ago I thought Apple users where just zealots that had buried their heads in the sand and ignored the myriad of problems that come up on their devices.      I used to think “well they are not overly technical and just don’t push the systems like I do”, but that notion was dispelled a few years back as some of the uber-geeks I know were also raging Apple fans.      Now I’m getting a taste of the Kool-Aid.    If this support experience is any indication of what it is like being an Apple Fan Boy, I’m all in.

And just as I finish writing this… the first monitor flicker on my display port devices in over 3 hours.  Maybe this is not 100% fixed so we’ll see just how deep the Apple Kool-Aid Punch Bowl is.    But wait, it looks like it was the VirtualBox guest going into and out of sleep state while in full screen on my other monitors.    Very like just a VirtualBox bug not an OS/X or MacBook hardware issue after all.

 

 

 

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Becoming A MacBook User

After 25 years of system crashes, dozens of laptops failing under warranty, months of lost productivity in patches, system reboots, and restores I have finally had enough.    You might call it being stubborn.   I call it 25 years of retained knowledge that I refused to let go.   All the Windows shortcuts.  The black magic required to find system files and bend them to my needs.   Navigating system security.   Knowing nearly any app that existed so I could find the right tool for the job.

Then came Windows 8.   Half of that knowledge was now useless.    Even the decades-old F8 key press on system boot to get to safe mode to recover a broken PC was gone.   I learned that last week when my HP laptop went AWOL for the FIFTH TIME since December.    A $2500 high-end enterprise class HP laptop turn out to have been my second all-time productivity killer right behind my $3800 Asus top-of-the-line gaming laptop I bought a few years ago.    Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a Windows Laptop it will break and the more costly it is the longer it takes to get parts to fix it.

The Camel Surrenders

This weekend was the last straw.    I literally spent nearly every hour of the past 4 days trying to get my primary development system, that HP laptop, back online.    What did I do to break it?   Installed a CRITICAL HP security update from their laptop-specific HP Support Assistant software.    When it rebooted the only thing I got was the Windows 8.1 version of the “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD)… the inevitable frowny-face which means 2 more auto-reboots to end up at the “Restore Your System” state.    Sadly system restore, system fresh, and even the Factory Restore Disk applications did not work.    That last one, Factory Reset was the best.  The ONE application that is the “nuke it all, restore the system to Day 1 status” did not work.   It could not run because there was a problem with the primary Windows installation.  AWESOME.   Why do you think I wanted to do a Factory Restore?  Because I was bored?  Because I had so much fun installing 5 days of downloaded apps to get my system setup the first time around?    Because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Windows 8 Frowny Face
Windows 8. Yup, 🙁 just about sums it up.

Well, that last statement may be true given my opening remarks in this article… but I digress…

I had now added SIX MORE FULL DAYS of lost productivity to my lifelong count of 1,356.9 days lost trying to restart a broken windows PC.

Midway through day FOUR of lost productivity I had enough.    I called the local Apple Store to see if they had the newest MacBook Pro available.   Sadly they were out of stock, but my favorite online shopping site, Amazon and their Smile charity program, had the laptop I wanted and at a LOWER PRICE even after the $5 overnight Prime shipping!

New Toys

Today the MacBook Pro arrived.

My old HP laptop, that sat their in defiance all weekend with that damned frowny-face on EVERY ONE of the 18 RESTARTS, I wish I was exaggerating, booted up like nothing was ever wrong literally 90 SECONDS after I opened that MacBook Pro box.    I swear I heard a wav file playing from it’s speakers in  whispered-voice that sounded an awful lot like “Oh shit, he wasn’t kidding when he said 25 years of Windows was enough!”.

MacBook Arrives And HP Plays Nice
As soon as I booted up the MacBook and took the HP out to take some size-comparison pics the HP decide to play nice. Too little, too late HP-Z. It was real… and by that I mean a real PITA.

The Apple Package

My brand new MacBook Pro 15″ laptop.    I had forgotten the great job Apple does packing their products.   I remember being impressed the first time I opened my first-generation iPhone some years ago.  I did notice other companies started to copy the “Apple style” for gadgets-in-a-box and I thought the most recent laptops and phones I got from other brands were “just like what Apple was doing”.   Turns out Apple has pushed the envelope even further as they continue to refine the product packaging.    Yes, it is a small thing, but it show how Apple seems to iterate over every element of the customer experience until it is perfect; until tomorrow when they come up with something better.

Apple Packaging
Apple packaging is clean & simple. Others try to mimic but Apple just has that little-something extra.

A Laptop For Laps

Immediately I noticed how THIN this new Apple laptop was.   It has just about the same technical specifications as the HP ZBook 17″ I’ve been lugging around.     Nearly identical processors,  identical RAM, the same video ports, and a 512GB SSD drive (far faster) on the MacBook versus a 768GB SATA on the HP.   The MacBook screen is a touch smaller at 15.4″ to the HP 17″.    But DAMN is this Apple machine so, so, so much smaller and lighter and easier to tote around than that HP.    Even bringing the HP into the living room to hack around was a chore and after 15 minutes on my lap I could feel my legs going numb from the weight and the heat that thing throws off.

Lightweight MacBook Pro versus Heavyweight HP
This MacBook Pro is going to be SOOOOO much nicer to haul around. A true portable PC. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it. Come to think of it I just decided I want to travel more…

This Apple is going to be FAR easier to travel with this fall.     I’m going to truly enjoy how much less size and weight I carry around both around town and to the various conferences I hope to get to around the country this year.

External Displays

I must say that the Windows display system is far more flexible than the OS/X system.   However the OS/X display system in this MacBook actually WORKS right out of the box.     Within minutes I had 2 external HP ZR2440W monitors, which are really nice monitors by the way, connected with the proper resolution and display placement.   What did I have to do to get my 3-up display system working on the new MacBook?  Plug them in.    That’s it.    Nothing more.

On that high-end HP laptop that claims “out of the box support for 5 monitors”?   Turns out that is a lie.   It can handle 3 monitors.   Even with the “simple” 2 external monitors + the laptop display, same setup as my new MacBook, it was far from “plug-and-play”.    I had to download and install a new BIOS on the brand new HP laptop.   Then I had to install a new Video BIOS.   Then I had to install new drivers.  Upgrade Windows.   The entire process required 3 reboots and even then it did not work properly.  Any time the system went into sleep mode one of the  monitors, a random one each time, would not come back.    I got a patch from HP 2 months later for that, which required another download and reboot process.

3 Displays No Problem
3 Displays. No driver installs. No BIOS updates. No reboots. Winner? Apple by a mile.

The Out Of The Box Display Support winner is the MacBook Pro 15″ by a mile.

The next display test?   Connecting THREE external IPS displays to the MacBook.   Rumor has it this is “no problem” according to the Apple Store.   When my mini-displayport to display port cable comes in later this week I’ll let you know, but we’re off to a good start.

External USB Ports

The MacBook Pro is a bit shy on USB ports.   It has a couple, but that’s one less than I need and one less than my HP laptop.     Actually 5 less if you count the HP docking station but I’m sure I can buy a $300 Apple accessory that adds more ports if needed.     Instead I tried to do something that NEVER WORKED properly on the HP laptop; use the 4 USB ports that come with EACH ZR2440W monitor.

With my older HP laptop I went through over a DOZEN USB driver updates, monitor driver updates, and even had a full monitor replaced before I could get even HALF the USB ports working that are built into the displays.    Supposedly you can connect a USB cable from the laptop to the monitor and immediately have all 4 ports recognized by the USB bus.    The high-end HP enterprise-class laptop connected to a high-end HP enterprise monitor was a bust.     When the ports did work only half would work properly and any device attached would drop off the USB bus at random intervals.    I could never use my keyboard or mouse with that setup.   I had to buy that HP docking station to give my system 4 additional STABLE USB ports.  The ports in the monitors were useless.

With the MacBook Pro I decided to give it another shot.  I connected a port on the laptop to one of the monitor ports.   I connected my keyboard, Logitech unify dongle, and Wacom table dongle to the monitor.     Everything worked beautifully, perfectly, and with ZERO configuration on my part.     I’ve now written this entire article without a single dropout from the keyboard or mouse.

External USB device support winner?  Apple.  By a mile.

Getting My Stuff

Over the past few days I’ve had my development environment scattered between the Mac Mini, a broken HP laptop, and some USB drives.   Now I need to get tens-of-gigabytes of files, install packages, and data over to my new laptop.

Getting ANYTHING on Windows 8.1 to talk to anything else is a disaster.    It has been since all the way back to Windows 7 when NT server-class security technology crept into the desktop OS.    Getting any Windows PC to share anything is an exercise in patience.    That is why the entire hokey “Homegroup” sharing thing came about.   It work, but it is SLOWWWW.   Somehow Windows managed to find a way to throttle their own Windows-To-Windows network transfers with some fancy restart-where-you-left-off transfer protocol.  The entire thing is FUBAR.

On the MacBook Pro I found that getting anything from my Mac Mini was blissfully easy.    HOLY SHIT why can’t Microsoft make it this easy.     On the MacBook I went to Finder and immediately found my MacBook mini (where I had turned on File Sharing from System Preferences early in the week by checking a box… no driver or security configurations needed).    Click on that MacBook Mini listing and it asks for my username and password on that system.    I turn it on and guess what?   All my shit is there.    Quick, easy, and accessible.

Installing Sonos From Remote Mac
Honestly, I never expected it to work. I guess that is the norm for a shell-shocked Windows user, but installing things from my older Mac Mini downloads folder was quick and painless.

So what did I try next? Something super crazy that just NEVER WORKS RIGHT on Windows systems.   I decided to run the Oracle VirtualBox and Karabiner installs from off that Mac Mini without copying the files over to my MacBook Pro first.    It ran fast as heck and perfectly, just as if I had run it from the local disk.     HOLY CRAP.   I though for sure it would barf all over itself and require a system reboot and restore like so many remote Windows installs I tried over the past 25 years.

Bluetooth Sharing

This is something I tried to do for months with the HP laptop, and several other PCs before that.   Send a file using bluetooth from my Android phone to the laptop.    On the HP I could get the devices paired and the send/accept file started but it NEVER finished the transfer.  It always aborted no matter the file size.

On OS/X Mavericks?   Pair the devices.  Go to sharing in System Preferences and check “Bluetooth sharing”.    Go to the phone and share via bluetooth.    The “accept file” dialog shows up on OS/X and guess what?  The file actually APPEARED in the downloads folder just like it should.    No extra drivers to install.  No security warnings.  It just plain worked.   Nice!

Summary

Yes, this is all little stuff, but in my first HOUR of working with the MacBook Pro I am already impressed.   Yes I’ve used OS/X before but never have I had much interest in getting things DONE quickly and exactly the way I wanted.   My prior forays into OS/X have been purely as a secondary system to my Windows development boxes where OS/X only existed to supported some IOS development as needed.    But this time around I’m going “all in” and thus far I am impressed enough by the “simple little stuff” and how much better it is than the Windows experience that I had to share.

Yes, all things will likely go to hell soon enough.    I have a unique ability to break ALL THINGS that use spinning electrons to do their magic. But so far I’m liking this new toy.  If it holds together for more than a week without my breaking it I will be truly impressed.    We shall see how good this Apple deal really is.

If it doesn’t work out you may find me tending bar somewhere around town in the next few weeks.

If it does work out, on the other hand, Apple may have just converted another Windows user and I could be one of the biggest “Apple Fan Boys” yet.

 

 

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WordPress – Enterprise Application Platform

http://lizardwebs.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/wordpress-logo.png

Just this morning I read an email from a technologist at a Global Fortune 500 company.  Turns out that WordPress is not an approved standard for the company and work on their new project, that happens to use my Store Locator Plus product, has been put on hold.    As a C-Level consultant that has provided services for a multitude of companies from small “mom and pop” type operations to international powerhouses, I can understand their trepidation but also had to put in my two-cents on why I thought WordPress should be approved as a web and mobile development platform.  Here is a recap of the message I sent along:

From a c-level perspective WordPress is one of the most solid web deployment platforms there is.    It is not longer just a blog nor just a CMS.   In discussions with Matt on the WordPress dev channels it has become clear that he wants WordPress to be a full web/mobile application development platform.   The core of WordPress will reflect that push.   IMO you cannot choose a better web deployment platform when considering current and future state of the technology.

From a technology perspective the platform is being developed with sound principles behind it.   A fully modular approach to avoid bloat yet be highly customizable.   Open source to not create vendor lock-in.   Stable with the largest worldwide development and testing team I’ve ever seen.    Oracle should be envious.

I’ve provided consulting at all levels for various Fortune 500 companies, including executive level, and would have no qualms about recommending WordPress or making it an approved tool to add to the corporate tool belt.

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Unlocking Your Phone Will Be Illegal

In the United States a new law is about to go into effect, unless this Whitehouse Petition reaches 75,000 electronic signatures by February 23rd, that will make unlocking (aka jailbreaking) your phone illegal.   The fine for jailbreaking your phone? $ 500,000 for the first offense!   Ouch?!?

To me, this is  one more draconian law that the big corporations have pushed through their political connections to get on the books.  Much like SOPA just over a year ago, this law infringes on personal rights and liberties.    Learn more about this law by checking out these news articles as posted online:

The Atlantic – The Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far): It Is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/the-most-ridiculous-law-of-2013-so-far-it-is-now-a-crime-to-unlock-your-smartphone/272552/

PC Magazine – Unlocking Your Cell Phone Will Soon Be Illegal

 

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Corporations versus Consumer Influence

consumer-versus-bi

Today I had the joy of experiencing the quintessential element of  consumerism in America, HORRIFIC customer service.    It is easy to see why the label “customer dis-service” is thrown around so much these days.    While it is easy for me to scream out “HP sucks” this morning, given my very recent experience with their version of customer dis-service, the problem of poor customer service goes well beyond HP.    As a small business owner for years I’ve had the displeasure of arguing with and fighting with a number of vendors over the past 2 years including Apple, Asus, Comcast, Dell, and Windstream to name a few.   Every one of those companies provided horrible customer service in an effort to protect and maximize profits.  However this article is not about specific bad experiences, it is about consumer influence over corporate giants in the modern era.

Are You Influential?

The question is fairly simple, how influential ARE YOU?   Decades ago, possibly even just a few years ago, consumers did not have a voice.  The only way anyone would listen to you was to call the 800-number on the back of the product package and hope you got someone that could speak English.    Those few lucky lottery winners that happened to get Abish-Jahmad-Abdula Misnakov on a good day might actually get them to click the button on their screen that gave them a positive result.    However for most of us we would get one of the responses listed on the “10 Excuses To Get Rid of Customers Quickly” sheet that was taped to Abish’es monitor.    Corporations didn’t care or even pretend to care because they knew you were a nobody.  You had no voice.  Who would you tell?  Your 10 friends that you’d talk to that week?   “Ha. I will squish you like a bug” they would say as the ran another $25,000 TV spot and make everyone forget your pithy little story about bad customer service.

Today, things have changed.   You post on Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter and dozens if not hundreds (or for a select few THOUSANDS) of people hear you.   Not only are you given a megaphone to broadcast to EVERYONE you know, not just the 10 people you would come into direct contact with that week, the comments stick around.   People that you don’t interact with every day will still see your comments days, weeks, or even years from now.    If you make the comments public, then the “stickiness” goes up 10-fold with Google, Bing, and others grabbing your comment and cross-referencing it 1,000 times than archiving it for decades.

But does this make your more influential?  Do your comments have ANY impact on the decisions of the corporate giants?

Corporate Intelligence Is Numb

While all those rants and raves may make you feel better, how much influence do you really have.   Sure people like Oprah will have an influence with millions of followers reading her every word, but what about you.   Your influence over other people’s decisions is certainly more extensive than it was a decade ago, but is it strong enough to change corporate behavior?

Yes and no.  In my opinion you have more power and direct influence over corporate revenue and profit than corporations realize.    However corporations are much too large and their business intelligence systems too “numb” to feel it.    Most corporations are reactionary and only change course after their quarterly earnings report shows they are failing.   By then it is much too late to change course.

Big companies that spend millions on business intelligence and even more on marketing to influence YOU and your purchases are missing the mark.  They are relying on 80’s era tools to operate in the modern highly-social-high-velocity era.   They have it all wrong.     Instead of focusing on customer relations and social marketing they continue to run formulas that dictate whether or not it is OK to lose you as a customer by not providing the best possible customer service experience.   Those old formulas drastically under-estimate your influence.

An Influential Example

As an example I present a simple case from my experience today.    In my particular case an HP Direct sales agent made an error.    At the end of the day HP will decide whether or not I should “eat” the $277 extended warranty purchase or whether they will “own up” to their mistake and replace that purchase with the correct product at no charge to me.     The formula is simple, is keeping me as a customer worth a potential adjustment on their books of $277 (sadly the REAL cost for HP is more like $50 when factoring in the production cost differential between the correct and incorrect product).

In this case the customer has a potential loss of $277.    That is more than a six-pack of Sam Adams, my preferred measuring stick for economic activity, by a long shot.    Enough so that it activates my “rant button”.     On to the blogs, forums, and email lists I go.   I tell people about my horrible experience and thus my influence has begun.   However the potential corporate losses are MUCH, MUCH greater and chances are they don’t see it.

Directly Underestimated

HP tries to figure out what this means to them financially.   The first mistake in the formulaic approach?   Looking at customer history.    Sadly even with the modern business intelligence tools they have at their disposal they will find just ONE lonely record of my purchases with HP.   A $277 warranty.    Already they are starting off on the wrong foot.    I am currently looking at thousands-of-dollars in HP equipment purchased in the past 12 months alone, and that is just right here on my desk.   Several high-end HP monitors, a top-of-the-line laptop, business office printers.  None of which register in the HP intelligence database because they were purchased from a 3rd party and never registered formally with HP.    Then there is the corporate influence.   Last year I owned a few companies and provided CTO consulting to several more.   Total HP purchases in the past 12 months is unknown but is in the tens-of-thousands range.    Because they were purchased through buying agents at each organization HP never connects the dots.

Ripples Versus Waves

OK, so maybe it is easy to understand WHY they would underestimate my purchases in the past 12 months.  However they do this with “normal” consumers as well.  Chances are you rarely, if ever, register your products online or with the warranty card that came in the box.   I know very few people that do this for anything but what they consider “large” purchases or for items that might break.     However there is a second error that is even more significant.    The ripple effect.

Another part of a good risk assessment tool for a large corporation is determining influence of a consumer.  How likely are you to purchase products in the future based on how egregious the error and lack of customer service.  More importantly, will it have a direct impact on sales not directly attributed to the consumer?   When I was actively running a corporation I could easily give them a corporate account number and they would see that this was not just ONE purchase that I influenced, but dozens.  In fact I’ve use this card in the past when not getting personal attention and depending on the vendor BOY did this create  a change of attitude.    Back when I was buying 6-figures worth of equipment from Dell their screw-up on my personal laptop purchase was IMMEDIATELY rectified with apologies only AFTER I cited the corporate accounts to which I was linked.

But that thinking on behalf of the corporation is flawed.  Today we ALL have a lot more influence than they realize and it starts with a ripple.   While my corporate purchases were more akin to a wave, a noticeable disturbance in their revenues, my tiny little personal purchase and the dozen people I reach on my personal Facebook page is but a ripple.    The direct revenue is minimal and even if you multiply it by the dozen people on my personal connections list, let’s say 36 people as that is the average active friends for a typical Facebook user, it is still nothing compared to the wave of a corporate purchase order.

Sphere of Influence

However this is a grossly underestimated sphere of influence.    To go back to my $277 example, my influence goes WAY beyond the $277 and can quickly form a big enough ripple to almost be a wave.    Even in my case with a dozen direct contacts on Facebook there are at least a FEW that will second-guess buying an HP product if I write a scathing review and back it up with facts that point to an unquestionable failure on behalf of HP.    Those few people that let me advice and input influence them tend to purchase $500 – $2500 every-other-year in electronics.  If I tell them “buy HP” like I did 6 months ago, they buy HP.   If I say “stay away from HP and Dell”, they stay away.  That is thousands in sales that shift, ever-so-subtly, to another brand.   HP will never notice.

Then there are the public Facebook posts via my software releases.  Those are NOT directly linked but reach hundreds if not thousands of technical users.  Then there are the tweets.  And the comments on public forums that discuss HP products, and every now & then an online RSS feed for a major publication picks up blog posts like this one.  Suddenly a “small guy” like me reaches tens-of-thousands of people.  Granted not all, in fact MOST, of the readers will not give a damn about what I say.   However SOME will think twice about HP and if there is a close decision it may be enough to persuade them to choose the other brand.

Ripple + Ripple = Wave

Now the REAL issue here which the corporate giants miss is what happens when ripples meet.   You write a short tweet about a bad HP experience.  I blog, tweet, and Facebook (is that a word now?) my experience.   Soon dozens of people that have no direct connections do the same.    Eventually there are people “in the middle” that are “touched” by two or more ripples.     The effect is a multiplication of the intensity of the ripples.  Before you know it all of these ripples have become a wave and since corporate business intelligence systems are too numb to feel the influence of individual ripples they MISS IT.    By the time it has become a wave and that wave has crashed into their quarterly revenue and earnings report it is too late.     It is very hard to mitigate the effect of thousands of ripples with a big marketing push.

Make Ripples

So there you have it, my theory on the influence of the “small guys” like you & I.    The modern era of online social interaction has given us the tools to create the ripples that can grow into waves.    When you have a good or bad customer experience with a company, tell people.     The good companies will take care of their customers and turn negative ripples into positives.   Those that don’t will be blind-sided by the wave of negativity.

Maybe the corporations will catch on soon, but I doubt it. The large behomoths of the 80s and 90s are likely to die a long lingering death as they spin in circles trying to figure out what is going on.    In the meantime those companies built in the modern era that understand “the small guy is in charge”, companies like Google and Amazon, will continue to grow and thrive.  Until the next paradigm shift comes along…

So what do you think?    Are you influential?  Share your thoughts!

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iPhone versus Droid Incredible

Yup, here it is, another Droid versus iPhone comparison. If you read my last post on this topic you’ll know that I already played with the Motorola Droid about six months ago. The fact is AT&T coverage in Charleston sucks. It is by far the worst network in the area. While all my friends & coworkers are able to make & receive calls I am stuck in a zero-bar-zone-of-hell. It’s not just me and my phone either. Anyone else that visits with their iPhone in tow has similar connectivity problems. In fact someone just told me last week that they saw a comedian on stage held up his iPhone and said “they should just call it the ‘I'” to which he received a hearty round of applause and cheers. Guess it’s not just a problem in Charleston.

Anyway, I digress. The point is I need to use my ‘I’ as a business tool. It does me no good to have cool apps sitting on my desk next to my full fledged computer with 24″ widescreen HD monitor. What I need is a PHONE, not a 320×240 computer with cool touch screen apps. Since I get ZERO bars at our new office location it is time to revisit the iPhone versus ‘something’ debate once more.

Lucky for me, less than a month after relocating our office to yet another AT&T dead zone, the HTC Droid Incredible hit the market. Even luckier was the fact that I found LetsTalk.com had the phone in stock while every other store including ALL the area Verizon stores as well as Best Buy were on backorder for 3 weeks. Even better, LetsTalk.com had the phone for $50 less than Best Buy and $100 less than Verizon. Plus it came with a FREE 2GB microSD card. Can’t beat that!

First Impressions

Packaging

The first thing I noticed was the packaging. Small, neat, and very cleanly designed. Very much on par with the quality packaging Apple provides. The manuals are well written, not some obvious Chinese-English-Chinese Censors-English translation. Everything was well packed and in it’s hermetically sealed plastic bag. No cheap used bread bag twisty-ties either, the USB based power adapter had a nice neat black rubber band. Yeah, I know, piddly little details nobody really cares about, but it is obvious from the start that HTC put some thought into the packaging.

The same attention to detail was obvious when cracking open the case to install the battery. The entire inside of the case is a bright red with very clean lines and an easy-in/easy-out battery setup. The micro-sd slot is easily accessible on the side of the unit so no pulling out batteries to upgrade the SD card like some other phones. Again, details people don’t really care about, but still made for a good first impression.

Power On

After a brief charging session, to ensure I had plenty of juice to play with my new toy, it was time to power up. The very first thing I notices was the quality tactile experience with the buttons and the rubberized backing on the phone. While I wasn’t sure I’d like that rubberized feel, it actually makes it much easier to work with this phone. Unlike the iPhone which I always felt I needed to be extra careful with so it didn’t shoot out of my hands and across the room, smashing the $500 screen – the Droid Incredible feels firmly planted thanks to that backing. And the backing doesn’t feel cheap, in fact much to my surprise it feels surprisingly high quality.

Power button in… phone on. That fast. Yeah, this phone is WAAAAAYYYY faster than my iPhone. The iPhone takes about 1-2 seconds to just show the Apple logo, then another 15-20 seconds, on a good day… sometimes much more on a bad one, to fully boot. This Droid Incredible instantly shows signs of life & is ready for action within a few seconds.

The Screen

And when it comes to life you know it. That screen is bright, at least as bright as the iPhone. While I read some early reviews complaining about screen brightness, I didn’t notice. Maybe because it was evening, but side-by-side with my iPhone the Droid Incredible screen stands out. Not only is it bright, but the screen is exceptionally clear. The higher resolution stands out as do the bright vibrant colors.

Not only is the screen bright, has great resolution, and good color representation, it also has a very responsive touch screen. This screen is the first touch screen on a phone that is on par, or possibly even MORE responsive than the iPhone. HTC has really nailed this. While the on screen keyboard appears smaller for some reason, it is easier to type on. I find I type much faster on the HTC on screen keyboard than either the Motorola Droid slide out keyboard or the iPhone on screen keyboard.

The Apps

Wow this Incredible has a lot of cool features right out of the box. One of my favorites is the “HTC Scenes”. These are pre-set layouts for 3 or 4 of the 6 home screens that come on the phone. Each has different layouts of what apps or widgets appear where. It is not just a background changer, but an interface changer. While you can setup the interface to use any combination of full screen widgets, apps, and other utilities on your own – for people like me that don’t want to spend hours playing with those things… at least not yet… the half dozen options for “Scenes” that HTC gives you is perfect. A big full screen calendar on one page, a full screen message center on another, and a myriad of icon apps on a third… perfect for what I need right now.

That’s another thing I really like about this interface. You can take various widgets and plop them on a home page in full screen mode. When you flick between the screens, one of them will have that widget up and running in full screen mode – ready to go. You can’t do it with every program (at least not that I’ve found yet), but the built in widgets like the full screen calendar and message center are a great start. This saves at least one “click” compared to the iPhone when accessing oft-used applications.

Can I Use It As… gasp… A Phone?

The quick answer, HELL YEAH. I was actually able to make calls from my house and not drop the line after 2 minutes or less. That feat was absolutely impossible on my AT&T based iPhone. Next challenge… this morning at our new office. If nothing else, AT&T was consistent. As in AT&T NEVER had coverage here. This morning, 2 text messages and 2 calls on the Droid Incredible. No drops, no missed calls. Perfect. A phone that works as a phone! As I sit here looking at my iPhone with “no service” in the top left corner I can’t help but think “when is my docking station for the Incredible going to arrive… it will look so cool sitting there with it’s 3 bars”.

iPhone versus Droid Incredible

Droid Incredible iPhone (1st Gen)
Pros
  • Excellent touch screen response
  • Intuitive controls
  • Multiple screens for apps (6)
  • Great camera with usable flash
  • Video recorder
  • Call Clarity
  • Network Coverage
    better, but still does not have a
    signal at the home office 100% of the
    time, but always have a signal at the
    corporate office
  • App Store
    almost identical to the iPhone store
  • Available Apps
    seems to have most of what I want
    even some the iPhone doesn’t like
    Google Listen
  • Only $150 from LetsTalk.com
  • Excellent touch screen response
  • Intuitive controls
  • Multiple screens for apps (5+)
  • Plug it into the dock & it’s ready to talk to the PC
  • Tons of 3rd party device support
    it talks to my blu-ray surround sound system
    for example.
  • App Quality
    not all the apps are great, but none
    crash my phone
  • Available Apps
    There isn’t an app I can’t find, or at least
    a close enough clone. Except Google Listen.
  • MP3 Sound Quality
  • MP3 Equalizer
Cons
  • Can’t power on by touching the front of the device
    Pressing the “home” actually a scroll ball,
    or other button on the front should wake up
    the phone IMO, instead I have to find the
    power button on the top edge.
  • Network Coverage
    it sucks, plain & simple. less bars in more places.
  • Call Carity
    I thought it was OK, until I used the Droid
  • No Videos
    yeah, I can fix this by upgrading to the 3GS for another
    $300 and 2-year contract, $600+ if I want to stay
    month-to-month, ouch! Expensive!

Comparison : Head-To-Head

Feature Motorola Droid iPhone 1st Gen
Application Quality green_check_32x32
Application Selection tie tie
Apple has more, but both have
what I need.
Home Interface green_check_32x32
Photo Quality green_check_32x32
MP3 Sound Quality green_check_32x32
Network Coverage green_check_32x32
Screen Resolution green_check_32x32
Text/Media Messaging green_check_32x32
Touchscreen tie tie
Video Recording green_check_32x32
Visual Voicemail tie tie

Summary

I’ve only had my hands on the Droid Incredible for 24 hours now, but I am almost certain that my AT&T service is not going to make it until June. The fact is I NEED a phone and WANT cool mobile apps. The Droid Incredible is the first device to deliver both. Whether I was in the market for my first touch screen phone or looking for some way to get off the AT&T network without sacraficing all those cool features I’ve come to love on the iPhone… I think this is it.

My prediction: Verizon and the Droid Incredible are going to be eating one big chunk of AT&T and Apple’s pie this year. Good thing AT&T sat on their laurels when it came to customer service & network coverage… and Apple opted for a slice of the greed pie that AT&T served them the past 3 years. What’s better than some good solid market competition to give us, the customer, better choices.

HTC Droids offered by Lets Talk

I purchased my latest cell phone (a Droid Incredible by HTC ) from Lets Talk. Everyone else was sold out, yet they claimed they had plenty in stock. While I was a bit skeptical at first, my phone arrived in perfect condition in just 3 days for $50-$100 LESS than any other retailer I could find. Sweet!

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