My Brief (And Absolutely Perfect) On Line Encounter With Steve Jobs

A few years ago, I needed a new computer.  After getting frustrated in trying to find a driver for a new piece if equipment I bought (a Creative MP3 Player) and believing that the software should be doing the work and not me, I decided to purchase a Mac.  From the moment it arrived to my home until this very day, that 24″ iMac (circa 2006) is still going strong (Tess and Grace share it).  I’ve since moved on to a fully loaded for bear 27″ iMac, 16 gigs of memory and the new Lion OS X 10.7 running the show; but it was that very first introduction to the Macintosh and Apple and the absolute genius of Mr Jobs that was a moment I will never forget.

Imagine: a computer that actually did the work FOR me instead of ME having to do the work for IT!  A computer that rarely crashed (although Lion has its share of issues I will be the first to admit; but it shows promise) and no blue screens of death!  No slow boot up or shut down times as well as no defragmentation!  It was a thing to behold, and as the years went on Apple only got better and stronger and I was there as the iPhone and iPad was launched as a member of the “Apple Family”, because once you go Mac you never go back.  I was so impressed with that computer, we bought a smaller 18″ iMac for the kids (a great deal on a refurbished one and they stood by their product with the same warranty or extended warranty and great service).  That’s how I got into Macs and have become one of their staunchest supporters.

I was also a member of Dot Mac, a service that gave you web space, e-mail, and the ability to access your Mac anywhere regardless of using a PC or Mac.  That was converted to the expanded “Mobile Me” service which is still in existence till next year but there will there be overlap with the new iCloud, which syncs even more programs between all your devices (this will truly be a revolution, and it begins next Tuesday).  However, in moving from Dot Mac to Mobile Me, a lot of the current cutomers such as I had trouble accessing e-mail, files, photos…name it.  It was supposed to be seamless, but it also occurred the first day of the iPhone release.

That may have been a bit more than Apple could handle (and it was), and the lack of a smooth transitionwas quite evident to Mr Jobs who was VERY hands on with the iPhone end, and did something he rarely did with such an important project: he delegated it…and boy, he probably wished he hadn’t.  It was a disaster.

What follows is a letter I wrote to Mr Jobs because I had gotten a hold of one of his e-mail addresses he uses outside the standard flow of things (don’t ask, LOL).  I was a very upset customer, and I had never written to a CEO before and I knew I read his e-mail, but particularly from this box.  And then comes the absolute, priceless response from one of the busiest men in the world, who took two minutes to write me back via his iPhone  Those of you who know me extremely well will be laughing hysterically at the reply I received, because Steve Jobs had somehow managed to get an idea of what I’m like as a person never having met me:

On Jul 28, 2008, at 1:36 PM, Ken Walsh wrote

Mr Jobs,

This is the first time I’m writing the CEO of any company.  I don’t believe in wasting Executives’ time (being a former Vice President at JP Morgan Chase myself) the with trivial complaints, but I feel this time I have to; not just because I need to express my frustration with Mobile Me, but because I believe that Apple may very well be headed down the wrong path at a critical juncture in its ascendance.  

In December of 2006, we needed to purchase a new computer as our old PC was on its last dying gasps. I was holding off on a purchase because I was waiting for Vista to finally be released, and then I could make my purchase with the OS already installed without having to go through the rather nasty upgrade process to Windows XP that I experienced in 2001. After a particularly nasty incident with downloading a driver for a product that had worked not 5 minutes earlier, my patience with Windows was an an end, and I began to seriously consider buying a Mac.

After looking for a few days at the Apple web site, I settled on a 24″ iMac. I was immediately struck by the ease and simplicity of the OS and the quality that went into the machine’s construction and design. Like the ads said, “It just works”. No matter what peripheral I added, there were no drivers to hunt down, and they always worked first time, every time right out of the box. I said then (and will still say, by the way) that an iMac was one of the best large ticket items I’ve ever purchased. My wife and I were so impressed, we decided not even a month later to purchase a second iMac (although the smaller 18″ version) for the kids. Needless to say, my kids were absolutely thrilled, because they could be on line and working on a project in the same amount of time our old PC would initially boot up.

Since those initial purchases, we have bought 4 iPods, iWork 08, iLife 08, Logic Express 08, and upgraded both Macs to Leopard.  We would definitely be iPhone users right now if it weren’t for my current cell phone contract’s prohibitive “opt out” cost.  We have also been .Mac (now Mobile Me) subscribers since we purchased our initial Mac in December 2006. While Leopard was a bit problematic at first, I was understanding because I know that an Operating System is a complex thing and nothing is perfect the first time out of the box. Apple did its best to keep its customers informed of the problems, through e-mails and in the press. The key in this roll out was the timely dissemination of information that would keep customers in the loop as to problems and resolutions. Every problem was acknowledged, and if there wasn’t a solution, rest assured we knew that Apple was on the case given its stellar reputation when it came not only to its products, but the way in which it services its customers as well.

When the conversion of .Mac to Mobile Me was announced, I viewed it (with the exception of the abysmal choice in name) as a potential improvement. As much as I loved .Mac, I felt that there was some improvement (particularly in the sync capabilities) needed. So, it was with great anticipation on the first day of conversion I looked forward to an improvement in the service.

I should have realized that there was bound to be issues with the roll out of several new products on the same day, but I figured that Apple wouldn’t have done that if it didn’t have the technology and support (both in terms of server and human capability) to handle it.

There’s an old adage that only an fool fights a war on more than one front on its borders, and unfortunately Apple seems to have taken a page from this tarnished playbook. The launch of Mobile Me and the iPhone 2.0 on the same day was a problematic at best, a lingering disaster (at least on the Mobile Me front, anyway) at worst.  As I mentioned before, I understand things can go wrong upon any roll out; I’ve had my share of them myself when I was an Executive.  The one thing I always learned from my mistakes is to admit them, acknowledge a problem, assure the customer that a resolution is on the way and deliver on the promise to resolve the situation.  This has always been a standard at Apple, no matter the product; be it in a personal communication to me by a Customer Service Agent or in the Press if the problem was a large one.

While I will not go into my problems with the service (none of which have been resolved by the way), what I want to communicate to you is the level of secrecy and incompetence (or just downright laziness) in the way my issue (and other issues raised by many subscribers to Mobile Me) was handled.  This is not the Apple I have come to know.  This is not the level of professionalism, courtesy and respect that I am used to.  

When I first brought my issue to the attention of Mobile Me support, it took me no less than 15 minutes (by internet chat, no less!) to even have my problem acknowledged as a genuine one, let alone get some type of information as to a resolution.  I have written e-mails, and the responses I have received in return are CLEARLY that of an edited form letter; and a badly edited one at that, made to appear personalized.  I have posted on the Discussion Forums about my issue (an issue with Family Accounts that appears to be widespread), only to have my posts or topics edited or removed by the moderators despite the fact that I have asked genuine questions and have even gone so far as to offer solutions as to the nature in which problems are acknowledged and resolved by the Mobile Me Support Team.  In fact, part of this very letter was part of a Topic I started last night on the Mobile Me Transition Forum ostensibly because it violated the “Unsolicited Idea Submission Policy” and was removed this morning.

I can understand if there are problems with a roll out, but to not acknowledge those problems, to censor Discussion Boards from posts by Mobile Me Subscribers who are just trying to let Moderators and others know about those problems is absolutely infuriating.  All of this on top of not having a resolution to a problem which may even not be acknowledged by the Mobile Me Support staff or the Discussion Forum moderators.

Apple is starting down the very road that its competitors walk: that of pushing product backed with inept or non-existent Customer Service.  This is not Apple; this has been the very thing that has differentiated Apple from its competition in the past.  Apple is much more than its products; its about a lifestyle choice, something that not only makes your life better and easier but is always at the forefront of human technological capability…no matter the product.

I have only been a part of the Apple family for a short time now, and up until this morning I was incredibly proud and happy to be a part of it.  My two daughters pretty much saw me go through the roof this morning when I found out my post was deleted.  I’m a Stay At Home Dad, so I’m constantly teaching them life lessons; and one of them is, “Never start a fight, but always finish it”.  I’m only exemplifying that right now by writing this letter in the hope that something constructive can come out of the less than stellar launch of Mobile Me.  You have pulled Apple back from the brink before, and in turn have given the world some life-changing technology in the process.  Please acknowledge the issues with Mobile Me, if not in the Press, at least with your subscribers of the service.  Most folks will be more than understanding if they are not constantly stonewalled and even lied to about issues and resolutions.  I can understand secrecy when it comes to a product launch, that makes absolute sense; but silence surrounding the issues with a paid subscription service is unacceptable and totally beneath Apple.

I would hate to see Apple’s stellar reputation tarnished by some bad decisions that were made in the past few weeks.  Moreover, I would hate to see Apple become just like its competition.

Sincerely,

Ken Walsh

 

To which I surprisingly received this return e-mail about a half hour from Mr Jobs, in his sometimes brusk and candid style (which didn’t bother me a bit).  He was having a bad day, yet he still took the time to listen to me and care enough to send the following:

From: Steve Jobs

Subject: Re: Yes, Another Mobile Me Letter

Date: July 28, 2008 7:58:52 PM EDT

To: Ken Walsh

Ken,

Relax. We had a very bad last few weeks with mobile me and frankly had bigger problems than yours to focus on. We are making good progress so hopefully we can begin to address issues like yours soon. 

Steve

Sent from my iPhone

This was priceless!  I have never released its content until now nor told many people about it because despite his blunt honesty, just the fact he took the time to write to me blew me away; and I considered it a private conversation that I said to myself I would release whenever he passed away just to show the man’s character.  Yes, he was very human but he was brilliant and I still cannot believe that a modern day daVinci wrote me.

And if you are wondering whether or not that was really him…come on!  Look at his first words and the bluntness of the message.  It was him alright, and yeah some might have considered been taken to task I just considered it an honor to be a part of his brief “Reality Distortion Field” and an honor to have had him read my letter.

So there it is…my brief and perfect Steve Jobs moment.  May he rest in peace, and may the Universe truly find a special place for him as one of Mankind’s truly great human beings ever lived.  His vision was a one in a two lifetime event.

‎”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

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