On the day of Windows 7’s release, Apple reminds me why I’m a loyal customer

Apple Store Mall of AmericaI had a simple objective when I set out for the Mall of America at 9:00 this morning. I was going to go to Best Buy to purchase the Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade along with the new Porcupine Tree CD. Yes, I am a frequent Microsoft basher, but I will admit I do harbor genuine enthusiasm for Windows 7. I think Vista was a joke, but after having tried out Windows 7 RC for the past several months, I was convinced it was (finally) a solid replacement for the ancient Windows XP.

Now, it’s true that the stores at Mall of America officially open at 10 AM, but I’ve learned from previous big product launches earlier this year — Apple’s Snow Leopard release and the Beatles boxed set/Beatles Rock Band extravaganza on 9/9/09 — that when there’s a hot new product out, the stores will often open early. At least half of my interest in heading out to buy Windows 7 this morning was to see whether there would be an enthusiastic crowd queued up outside Best Buy, or milling around inside Best Buy. Would there be huge Windows 7 banners? Would there be a live video feed of Steve Ballmer on all of the HDTVs?

As it turned out, no. Best Buy was still closed, and no one was visibly waiting for it to open. So I figured that as long as I had (probably) an hour, I’d head to Starbucks — which had to be open for all of those mall walkers who were already out in force — and then stop by the Apple Store, to deal with… my problem.

Yes, as I described in excruciating detail, and with photographic evidence, a couple weeks ago, I had a problem with my MacBook: the Mini DisplayPort adapter was… well… jacked up. I had broken the cardinal rule of not using undue pressure to jam a plug into a jack. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Well, I had forced it. And pretty seriously screwed up the adapter plug in the process.

So, as I said, this morning when I found Best Buy deserted, I headed down to the Apple Store. I didn’t have a Genius Bar appointment, but I decided to take my chances. When I entered, I was asked if I had an appointment. I said no, and described my situation. I was told the Genius Bar was booked up until 2:30, but they’d put me on standby, and I should have a seat at the bar. So I did. About 15 minutes later, a “genius” came over to attend to me. I explained the situation, he tried the port himself, and determined that the pin that is supposed to hold the plug in place was bent up. (For some reason, that possibility had not occurred to me — I was convinced all along that the pin was too big.)

He took my MacBook in the back room for a minute to use “dental tools” to straighten the pin, then brought it back out and tried some new adapters in the port — and they worked perfectly. Problem solved. But… there was still the matter of my damaged Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter, which I hadn’t brought with me. No worries, he grabbed a new one off the shelf and gave it to me as a replacement (a $29 value); no need to return the old damaged one. I walked out of the Apple Store 20 minutes after I arrived, with a fixed MacBook and a new replacement adapter. And how much did all of this cost me? Nothing.

Make dubious arguments about Apple’s high prices all you want (though the fact remains that Apple simply isn’t trying to compete in the low end of the market, and other PC manufacturers’ mid-range and high-end computers, comparable in specs to Apple’s, usually cost the same or slightly more), but I challenge you to walk into any other computer store in the land and get that kind of customer service. I didn’t have to buy an extended warranty or a bogus service plan or any other B.S. All I had to do was buy an Apple product in the first place… lifetime Genius Bar support included at no extra charge.

I wonder how the new Microsoft retail store (opening today in Scottsdale, AZ) compares.

Am I really the only person who’s having problems with an aluminum late-2008 MacBook and the Mini DisplayPort adapter?

Once again, unable to find a solution to a weird problem I’m having, I’m forced to write a blog entry in the feeble hope that the solution will come to me instead.

In this case, it’s an issue that is increasingly bothering me with one aspect of my new workstation set-up. That would be, as the title here suggests, the Mini DisplayPort on my late-2008 aluminum MacBook. On Monday I purchased a 20-inch LCD display to use with my MacBook. The display came with a VGA cable (seems they could have thrown a DVI cable in the box too, but that’s one of the corners that had to be cut to deliver a $159 display — another being a non-adjustable stand), so I went to the Apple Store and dropped another $29 on the Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter.

I got everything home and began plugging things in. Everything went well until I got to the step of plugging the adapter into the Mini DisplayPort on the MacBook. It was really hard. I mean, really really hard. I literally (literally!) had to push as hard as I could to force the adapter into the MacBook. As in, I propped the MacBook on its side on my lap, with the connector ports facing up, and leaned in with my body weight to force the plug into the jack. Common sense and past experience tell me that when a plug on a computer component is that hard to insert, then it’s probably the wrong one, or you’re plugging it in the wrong way (think upside-down USB plug). But that reasoning failed on both counts. It definitely is the right adapter, and I was inserting it correctly.

Eventually I was able to force it in place, and the monitor worked perfectly. I didn’t notice initially, however, that my efforts had bent the outer metal piece of the plug on the adapter. But that was what it took to get the plug inserted into the jack.

The next day I went out and dropped another $50 or so on a DVI cable for the monitor, and Apple’s Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter. Once again, the same problem of inserting the adapter into the jack, but even more so. In fact, this time my efforts actually caused part of the plastic inner portion of the adapter, and the ends of two of the pins, to break off.

No, it's not supposed to look like that.

Again common sense and past experience are screaming in my ears that this is just wrong wrong wrong and the adapter must not be intended for my MacBook. Except there are two strong counterarguments: 1) if this isn’t the right adapter, then there isn’t one, because this is all Apple sells, and 2) once I get the damn thing jammed in there, it works, perfectly. Even looking like it does in the photo above.

So… I’m left at a loss here. The fact that no one else seems to be having this problem is the most baffling of all. Did I somehow get stuck with a dud, non-standard Mini DisplayPort on my MacBook? How did this get past quality control? And what should I do about it now?

I’ve considered taking the MacBook to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store to seek some resolution, but I’ve been reluctant because of the time involved, and the fact that, if it really is a problem, getting it fixed would likely require shipping my MacBook off to the repair facility in Kansas City (or wherever it really is) for a couple of weeks, and since it does work once I get the plug inserted, that seems like an unnecessary sacrifice.

Still… I don’t like this arrangement. I know I can and should just live with it, but as long as I’m using a partially-broken adapter with a not-quite-right MacBook, and having to handle the MacBook with kid gloves to ensure that the adapter doesn’t dislodge and disconnect the monitor from the MacBook’s output, it’s just going to keep nagging at me.

So… is there anyone out there who’s having this problem too? Anyone?

To conclude on a positive (though mostly unrelated) note, I am impressed that I was able to snap such a clear photo with my iPhone. Nice.

My favorite new feature in iTunes 9

Yesterday Apple released iTunes 9 and iPhone OS 3.1, and this new version of iTunes addresses one of my biggest few frustrations with the iPhone: organizing your apps.

I cringe at saying “apps,” fearing I sound like Michael Scott talking about something they sell at Dave & Busters. But, given that it’s known as the App Store, I guess that’s what to call them.

Anyway… this is not about what they’re called, it’s about how they’re organized. And up to now, the only way to organize them was to go to your iPhone’s home screen, hold your finger on an icon until they all start to wiggle, and then drag them around. Not bad, when you only have one screen’s worth of apps, or even two or three. But I have seven — and that doesn’t even count the apps I downloaded but deleted from my iPhone.

Trying to keep seven screens’ worth of icons (16 per screen) organized by this finger-dragging method is tedious to say the least. And now that even the default configuration includes two screens, Apple realized they had to do something about it.

But now, we have this:

iTunes app syncing

Brilliant. I love it. The only flaw now is that this layout is too big to fit into the iTunes interface on my MacBook without having to scroll the entire thing, since the iPhone screen is represented at actual-pixel size. (I had to take two screenshots and stitch them together in Photoshop to create the image you see above, which is scaled down slightly from the actual size.

Then again, it’s always something, isn’t it?

Quick Mac tip: unresponsive built-in iSight camera

MacBookI was dismayed yesterday to discover that the built-in iSight camera on my new MacBook was apparently dead. Photo Booth couldn’t find it, and neither could the Flash-based profile picture taker (whatever it’s called) in Facebook.

I figured it was just dead. Disappointing, but it’s not uncommon given the cost-cutting measures just about every modern high-tech company, including Apple, undertakes these days. At least it was just the iSight camera, probably the feature of this computer I use least (other than the video-out port). If it really was dead, I’d probably just live with that instead of the much greater inconvenience of a couple of weeks without my computer.

But before I gave up on it, I decided to do some research and it turns out that resetting the SMC (the new MacBook’s equivalent of the PowerBook’s PMU) should do the trick.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Shut down the computer.
  2. Unplug the power and remove the battery. (That last part is important.)
  3. Press and hold the power button for 5 seconds.
  4. Reinsert the battery, plug the MacBook back in (if you want), and restart.

It did the trick… my camera is working again! (Not that I really care enough to warrant that exclamation point, but… well… at least I don’t have a month-old computer with a defective component. That’s worth celebrating, no matter how irrelevant the part is.)

Seriously, UPS… you had to TRY to do that much damage, right?

The other day I ordered a RAM upgrade for my new MacBook. I had contemplated buying it at Best Buy, but I balked at their price of $199. I went down to the Apple Store (no Internet on the Macs on display at Best Buy, and apparently they have the store wrapped in RF shielding, as I wasn’t even able to get a signal on my iPhone there, either), not expecting them to sell RAM upgrades, but at least knowing I could spend a few seconds on a display MacBook checking RAM prices at Ramjet. $69. So I ordered it as soon as I got home.

The package arrived today. Or at least what was left of it. Fortunately the RAM appears to be intact, no thanks to the best efforts of UPS to destroy it. The question of whether such a tiny product really needed to be shipped in such a huge box is another matter, but at least the RAM was shrouded in bubble wrap.

Here’s what I found at the front door:


And here’s the prize inside:


More photos after the jump…

And now I’m going to shut down my computer and install this RAM!