I know I’m dim, and I know that customers suffer glitches with every tech brand so my complaint isn’t news. But I want to explore it in the broader scheme of brand integrity and business strategy.

My Mom got her first computer a few years ago: a Mac mini, one generation prior to the current model. She discovered the miracle of email via her MobileMe account, and now can’t imagine living without it. Internet search is still a bit of a mystery to her (we crashed her system once because she managed to open over 100 browser windows at one time), but I have no doubt that she’ll figure that out, too.

A few weeks ago her Mac mail program stopped receiving emails, and a little looking revealed that we needed to move her to iCloud, the successor (and infinitely less robust) program to MobileMe. We did it, only her Mac mail still didn’t work. More sleuthing told us she needed to upgrade to Lion OS, which was a two-step move from her Leopard OS. $29 later and we had Snow Leopard working, only to learn that she didn’t possess enough RAM to run Lion. We ordered the memory from crucial.com for another $30 (great service, BTW) but then the guys at the Genius Bar told me they don’t install chips bought somewhere else (this Mac mini model is not customer-friendly in terms of swapping out memory, which I’ve done easily on two newer Macs). I told them they didn’t sell the RAM for the older Mac minis; they said “exactly,” and gave me a printout of “approved” third-party installers. I tried to find the first two on the list, but found myself in front of private residences, not stores. Weird.

And then I got to thinking. What was I trying to fix, exactly?

My Mom’s mail program was running just fine. She didn’t break anything. Apple changed the deal, demanding that we replace her program with one that is far inferior from a benefits perspective (no iDrive, for instance), and I was about to spend over $100 to buy the privilege of continuing to use Mac mail to access Apple’s new iCloud mail servers.

This isn’t the first time Apple has left older customers in the dust (I remember the upgrade from OS 8 to 9 rendered lots of programs inert). They do it on purpose, perhaps not out of spite to longstanding users, but because the math says they can screw them over and make up for it with some greater good. Or perhaps they think loyal customers will forgive them. Our situation wasn’t a glitch, it was the result of Apple’s business strategy.

Nope. I’m not playing.

I’ve got my Mom a Gmail account and now her Apple email forwards to it, so her friends don’t need to figure out how to change her email address. We’ll have to bite that bullet sometime down the road, but right now her now-outdated Mac mail program will run Gmail just fine. When she needs a new machine, I will get her a tablet from a company other than Apple.

I know Apple doesn’t need advice from anybody in the Universe when it comes to branding, but my gut tells me that devices are commodities, ultimately. I’m already having a hard time distinguishing iPhones from all of the other smartphones on the market. Ditto for tablets. What makes Apple (or any tech brand) unique is how it works…not technically, per se, but as a process and relationship between business and users…and it seems that Apple doesn’t care about those activities as much as I’d once thought.

Not even Apple can afford to lose a single customer for no good reason.

Original post: http://baskinbrand.com/?p=537

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/6774171150/