Apple: Sleek, Yet Useless

Especially at this time of year, the word “airport” generally brings to mind long waits, obnoxious staff, pointless routines, and frustration. This is true, apparently, in networking as well as in travel. “Airport” is Apple’s brand name for its wireless networking products. Last week, I bought a new wireless router, an “Airport Extreme Base Station,” and two “Airport Express” units, small boxes that plug into the wall and let you stream music wirelessly, or connect a computer, or share a printer.

I am a Mac lover. I’ve been using Macs since the original 128, and now that they’re Unix machines, I wouldn’t use anything else. But that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of Apple, and the past week has been a painful lesson in the value of open standards versus sleek proprietary hardware.

I won’t bore you with the details of my wireless setup nightmare, but trying to get these devices working was like trying to instruct Dubya on the finer points of foreign policy. A pointless exercise in frustration, trying to find the nonexistent substance underneath the slick exterior.

Apple’s sleek designs are increasingly user-unfriendly. The Airport devices are nearly featureless, with the only status indicator a single unlabeled light. Green means working, and other than that, you need to look in the book to figure out the code. Blinking amber means “unable to connect,” according to the book, although in my experience it actually meant “unable and unwilling to connect, either now or at any point in the future, so go away and leave me alone.” The reset button doesn’t.

The devices were unusually sensitive to interference from cordless phones and other devices. Once a connection was interrupted, it was almost impossible to re-establish without completely reconfiguring the devices from scratch. Configuration can only be done with Apple’s software, which is next to impossible to figure out if the standard-setup wizard isn’t appropriate for your situation. Apple’s support staff is arrogant, yet clueless; at one moment they insist that the device is incapable of doing something that it’s already doing, and at the next, give completely contradictory instructions on how to get it to do something else.

I finally got rid of the whole setup, and replaced it with a couple of Linksys devices for half the price. I can’t stream music wirelessly, but you know what? I’d rather run a cable; it’s less work and less frustration and will work reliably.

I am increasingly skeptical of Apple’s hardware skills and more importantly the philosophy behind everything they do; the iPod at least has the virtue of working flawlessly and being vastly superior to any competing device (at least until the battery runs out) but in this case the Linksys equipment is far superior, even if it doesn’t look quite as slick. And if it has fewer features, well, at least they all work. I held off buying an iPhone mainly because AT&T’s network is so inferior to Verizon’s, but I’m not sure I’d buy an iPhone at this point even if it were made for Verizon’s network. Maybe I’ll wait for the Google phone.

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12 Responses to Apple: Sleek, Yet Useless

  1. rube says:

    Sorry, you’re hilarious. I feel your pain regarding your wifi, though. When I finally did manage to find a setup that would connect, it would only do so for a couple of minutes at a time.

    In the end, I drilled a hole in the wall and sent a cable through. Messier? Sure. But it works!

  2. egretplume says:

    I have no problems with my Airport Express, except when my one neighbor’s network somehow bumps me, but 90% of the time it is fine, and it was easy to set up. Although yes, when you have a problem you have to dive into guru message boards for the arcane facts, because Apple doesn’t tell you; that is true. Most of my wifi problems have been TimeWarnerCable’s fault.

    But I agree wholeheartedly about holding off on the iPhone because
    1. AT&T are an evil company and I will never willingly be their customer again.
    2. How can it be possible that the iPhone does not sync your iCal tasks? *boggles* I thought that at last the iPhone would replace the niche left open by the failure of Palm to migrate well to Mac. If I could have a Mac-like Palm Pilot I would be so happy. But there is none. I know I am not the only person with this desire.
    3. I am just not spending that much money on a phone.

  3. eleanor says:

    Two things:

    1. I lovelovelovelove my iPhone. I don’t know how I functioned without it. I’ts fun. It’s pretty. And AT&T doesn’t suck as hard as Sprint — I can actually use it in m apartment.

    2. I switched to Linksys 1,000,000 years ago, because the price difference was too vast to get a new Airport when the first one died. Many Mac things are better designed than anything else, but a router is a router.

    • ken says:

      I’m glad you like your new phone! Have you given up your book? I believe that AT&T is better than Sprint (having used both) but I still prefer Verizon, not just for voice, but for its data network which is very fast and quite reliable. But I gather this means it actually works, which is encouraging.

      And yeah, the Airport is expensive, but it does a lot more than the Linksys. Or at least, it would if it worked properly. (Printer sharing, disk sharing, music streaming.)

      • eleanor says:

        I’m still have a filofax and an iPod in my purse, although I suspect that as I get more comfortable with the iPhone, I’ll leave those items at home and switch to a smaller handbag!

        • ken says:

          Is what the other poster said, that it doesn’t sync your tasks, true?

          • eleanor says:

            Well, no, not for me, but it requires some explanation.

            In the time between the death of my last Palm until I got the iPhone, a period of nearly two years, I used my much-loved filofax, stylishly clad in its red leather wallet. I had never really used iCal or iContact or anything besdies the problematic Palm desktop software, and when I got the iPhone, I added engagements directly into the calendar function of the iPhone, contacts into my computer, and everything synched up just fine. However, I have not been using a task function, prefering to make to do lists in the note function of the iPhone or putting deliverable dates directly into the calendar, so I don’t know if that’s a problem, per se.

  4. chantalzola says:

    I must admit, I am a mac user myself, and have been since I started playing Lode Runner on my school’s apple IIG…or was it E? Anyay, you replied to my post in so I decided to check out your journal. I added you, I hope that’s alright.

    Take care,


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