A reply to wasted-bits: airport extreme can bite me

by Marc Hedlund

Related link: http://www.bitwaste.com/wasted-bits/archives/000398.html#000398



Raffi would like to be bitten by Apple (or, at least, one of its products). How could Apple keep the developers streaming towards its OS X platform happier when the products they buy are surpassed?



Apple's proclivity for splashy new product announcements tends to leave people who have invested in their products feeling left in the dust, far too often. Raffi was complaining about the new Airport Extreme cards not working in his not-yet-six-month-old TiBook. Here's my reply:

Are you on a network that gets better than 11Mbps (that is, are you on an T3 or better)? I imagine at MIT you are but I imagine that the vast majority of tibook owners have your home setup (cable/dsl) or a work T1
and that's it. Even if you have that much pipe, could you use it? I bet MIT's network has some rate limiter somewhere that would prevent you from getting over 11Mbps even at midnight on Christmas when the network is dead.


I agree with your post in general -- I think it's totally lame that Apple screws people who just bought tibooks for Christmas or whatever. I think they should have an upgrade path where you could send in your old
tibook and they would upgrade some of the pieces (like say the superdrive) with whatever the latest and greatest is. Even if you didn't get everything at least you would feel like they remembered that you bought a big product from them a month ago or whatever. I bet people would even pay for the right to have their tibooks upgraded if the price was reasonable.


But on this particular issue I think it's not worth getting excited about. Bitch about the superdrive and the wifi antenna on the screen! Those are things that would directly improve your tibook ride.


That's my two bits.


Apple is now attracting a different kind of user (although, it's been a problem for years -- check out this Doonesbury cartoon from May of 1994 -- that's a Mac all right). The mass of developers swarming all over new Apple laptops and OS X won't be happy unless they have the latest and greatest -- and Apple is kidding themselves if they think that means people will buy a new laptop once a year. I think they need to figure out how to tend to the developers who are buying their products. Happy developers == more development on your platform == more customers.



One of the companies that sells the primordial iPod ancestor, the Compaq Personal JukeBox (PJB), has a great program where you can upgrade your existing PJB for a fee. You send them your PJB via FedEx, and they:


  1. Install a new Toshiba 40 GB Hard Drive to in your PJB 100

  2. Transfer all of your existing music to the new 40 GB drive.

  3. Run system diagnostics and reassemble the product.

  4. Upgrade to the latest software.



(Taken from their upgrade offers page.) Then they FedEx it back to you. Most customers report a one-day turnaround. People are ecstatic to be able to renew their investment in the product, and it makes users much more loyal to and appreciative of it. Apple needs to figure this out. They even have a newly-built advantage: Apple Stores that could do upgrades on the spot.



I know that there's an Apple operations executive having convulsions just from me typing these words -- either from fright or more likely from hilarity. Yeah, there were probably only a few thousand PJB owners, and the upgrades probably came in around one a day at peak. But come on, Apple, figure it out -- it's not like you have that many customers yet. Certainly not so many that you can afford to lose a customer like Raffi.


16 Comments

Jonathan Gennick
2003-01-12 15:17:57
Apple needs a standard card interface
It'd help, I think, if Apple adopted some sort of standard for add-on cards in their Powerbooks. Something analogous to PC cards. Is there a technical reason Apple changed their card design so that Airport Extreme cards are different from regular Airport cards? Or did they just change the design to lock out customers who own older notebook models?


Anyone running 802.11b from a PC card in the Windows world won't have any trouble at all plugging in an 802.11g PC card when they become available.

anonymous2
2003-01-12 19:01:54
Trade-in program
I'd actually be pretty happy if Apple offered a simple trade-in program, where I could just bring my current laptop to the Apple Store, and they'd give me whatever market value would be towards a new one.


Sure, I know I could sell it on eBay, but that's a big hassle. If I could easily just walk in with my old one and walk out with a new one, given a fair price for the old one, I would actually be pretty tempted to buy a new one every year or so.

anonymous2
2003-01-13 06:50:51
Buy What You Need
When you buy a computer, buy what you need. That is what you are exchanging money for, not a promise that isn't even implied. Does GM offer an upgrade path for your Vette engine?
Jonathan Gennick
2003-01-13 07:17:58
Buy What You Need
Does GM offer an upgrade path for your Vette engine?


Well, first of all, we're talking about computers, not cars, and computers have traditionally allowed for some sort of upgrade path. Sure there're things you can't upgrade--notebook displays being prime examples--but computers have traditionally allowed for limited upgrades in the form of cards, new disk drives, more RAM, etc.


Even cars are upgradeable to a point. Changing an engine in a car is rarely, if ever, feasible, but it's not that uncommon to swap in new seats, a different radio, install a cell-phone, add a sun-roof, etc. When I was younger it wasn't unheard of to retrofit air-conditioning. In fact, I once owned a car with retrofitted a/c and I was grateful it'd been added.


"Buy what I need" is fine, and that's what most people do. But in a competitive marketplace, someone would differentiate themselves by coming out with a 12-inch model that included a PC card slot. Neither of my kids would be using wireless Internet today had I not purchased notebooks without PC card slots, even though at the time of purchase I had no idea whatsoever what I'd use those PC card slots for.


In the end, I can't say Apple is "wrong" per se for not including a PC card. I can only say that they chose to leave out something that many people would prefer to have. In a competative marketplace someone else would step in and fill that need. But the Apple hardware marketplace is not competative.

anonymous2
2003-01-13 08:37:54
Buy What You Need
"...but computers have traditionally allowed for limited upgrades in the form of cards, new disk drives, more RAM, etc."


Your thread challenges me. 802.11g on a PCMCIA card is doable on a TiBook (original post) but why should Apple be the one doing it? They have given you the ports or slots but have usually avoided after-market feature expansion, leaving it to hardware developers. That is healthy because it allows them to concentrate on new product innovation and gives space in the marketplace for developers.


Tearing the other anonymous' car non-sequitur failed because he was talking the original manufacturer; as he said, GM doesn't tack-on, they leave that to you. We've never had a consumer electronic company sell us a computer (or any other product other than stereos) and then offer an upgrade when they wanted us to buy a new product.


Jonathan Gennick
2003-01-13 09:13:37
Buy What You Need
GM doesn't tack-on, they leave that to you.

Good point. I'll accept that GM doesn't particularly design their cars to be upgraded.


If you go back to my original post, my point is that many customers would like to have an upgrade path. A good way to provide one is to come up with a standard interface and a standard form-factor for some sort of add-on device, and then build a slot for that add-on device into every model of computer you sell.


This is what made PC cards so ubiquitous. Vendors agreed on a size, shape, and interface, everyone built PC card slots into their notebooks, and that enabled third-party companies to offer PC card expansions.

bdyck
2003-01-13 13:37:05
Buy What You Need
The problem is not that Apple used a non-standard interface - plain-jane AirPort cards use a standard PC Card form factor. The problem is that Apple took a shortcut on how they integrated AirPort into the rest of the system...


They decided to make the AirPort slot an older, slower PCMCIA slot (same form factor as PC Card, but slower interface), for one, and two, they attached it to the EIDE bus (at least in the "old" TiBooks - I'm not sure about the layout in the desktops) that the optical drive uses, which can only handle 33 MB/sec. This raises a couple of issues - first, that bus cannot handle the requirements of AirPort Extreme (54 Mbits vs. 11 Mbits for AirPort) in addition to the optical drive. Second, the PCMCIA interface used by AirPort is too slow in any case to handle AirPort Extreme.


In the end, those of us who own the prev-gen TiBooks (I am among that lucky bunch) are out of luck as far as an elegant solution like an upgraded AirPort card to stick in our machines.. The only option is to use an 802.11g PC Card, which are being announced in droves, it seems. Belkin, D-Link and Linksys have all announced products, and Belkin has already committed to Mac support...


As far as this blog post goes, I would like to politely disagree - the argument about Net surfing speed ignores the real issue: network speed in general. With 802.11b, wireless users are clearly 2nd-class citizens, especially given the widespread availability of cheap 100 Mbit gear - who wants to take a 10x reduction in network speed just so they can be mobile? If you use bandwidth-hungry apps on a regular basis (like Microsoft's RDC, which seems to be quite common amongst Mac users I know), that's just not much fun. 802.11g offers the promise of half-decent network performance while still allowing you to remain mobile, and it also opens up interesting options in regards to completely wireless home networks: witness TiVo's announcement of AE support - using 10 Mbit AirPort to move video files would border on the absurd, yet AE suddenly makes that a much more palatable reality.

Jonathan Gennick
2003-01-13 14:23:15
802.11g in the home
and it also opens up interesting options in regards to completely wireless home networks: witness TiVo's announcement of AE support - using 10 Mbit AirPort to move video files would border on the absurd, yet AE suddenly makes that a much more palatable reality.


The idea being that you can move files fast within the home even if the pipe to the outside doesn't support 45Mb, right?


precipice
2003-01-13 15:15:44
Buy What You Need
Shadowfax, Raffi also pointed out to me that he didn't care about network speed to the world as much as network speed inside his home. That makes sense to me, although I do think that's more of an edge case and maybe not the complaint of Apple's primary customers. Still, I think you should be able to get an upgrade if it's physically possible, no matter if your use is an edge case or not.


Thanks to everyone for the replies.


Marc

bdyck
2003-01-13 16:27:37
802.11g in the home
Precisely.


I'm not sure if I fully agree with Marc's contention that internal network speed is more of an "edge case" than an issue with Apple's primary customers... From the reading I've done on the Wi-Fi phenomenon, it seems to still be an "early-adopter/enthusiast" technology, and most people who use it will likely be somewhat network-savvy - if you're a particularly mobile laptop user, you probably become that way out of sheer necessity :). To my way of thinking, most such people would be rightly concerned with the tradeoffs in speed vs. mobility, and see the advent of 802.11g as a pretty big deal in that regard...


To continue in that vein, that's where I think the big source of angst is among Ti/iBook owners - we all feel a bit shafted by Apple, especially since we have these nice laptops with all of the necessary infrastructure for Wi-Fi (built-in antennae, etc) and yet cannot upgrade _cleanly_ to 802.11g. I have no "philosophical" issues with using an 802.11g PC Card, other than the fact that I will now have an unsightly piece of plastic poking out of my previously-sleek machine, and two rather redundant antennae inside the case. iBook users are doubly screwed - they can't even upgrade at all, because the iBooks don't have a PC Card slot!


I know Apple stepped out on a limb to introduce 802.11b in such widespread fashion like they did, but their gamble has certainly paid off, and that's largely due to their customers being willing to take a risk on a new technology. That makes it a bit tough to just sit back and take it when Apple effectively puts a cap on its existing AirPort user base (which I'm guessing is fairly substantial) and shows general indifference to everyone who is suddenly left in the slow lane.

anonymous2
2003-01-15 00:46:10
standard card interface
Jonathan,


Are you sure that 802.11g will work on PC cards? I'm sure the difference between the older Airport card slot and the new one is a bus to get that bandwidth through. It is 5 times as much data.

Jonathan Gennick
2003-01-15 05:21:34
standard card interface
Are you sure that 802.11g will work on PC cards?


I have no idea. I'd assume so, but I wouldn't bank on it. I've read some things that make me doubt.


I'm not saying Apple should go to PC cards per se. In fact, someone recently made a good argument that the PC card interface is outdated, and too slow and inflexible for today's devices. Maybe he's right.


But picture this. Picture a card that's more or less the same size and shape as a PC card, perhaps a bit thicker, and instead of a PC card interface it plugs in via Firewire. But it's not a dongle that hangs off the notebook; it's a card that slides into the notebook and connects to an internal Firewire port. Plenty of bandwidth with Firewire, right? Plenty of opportunity then for future expansion, especially if Apple put that slot on every notebook they made.

anonymous2
2003-01-23 19:18:05
Trade-in program
you wouldn't get 'market value'. Maybe 50% of market. There would be costs, such as testing, refurbishing, etc, and factoring the loss of sales of new machines to people who bought the refurbs/used units. There has to be some room for markup to cover those costs. There are some big retailers in Japan (Sofmap) who take trade-ins of PCs, Macs, digital cameras, etc, and resell them in used sections in thier stores. A more likely model is consignment. The Macmarket in Vancouver does a good trade (it seems) in that way. They take a 20% commission.
anonymous2
2003-01-26 08:09:41
Marc Hedlund can bite me
Marc Hedlund writes:


Are you on a network that gets better than 11Mbps
(that is, are you on an T3 or better)? I imagine at MIT
you are but I imagine that the vast majority of tibook
owners have your home setup (cable/dsl) or a work
T1 and that's it."


Given your background as a P2P "guru", it's not surprising
that you only think in terms of that application, yet many
home users probably also have a server (read "desktop")
they'd happily use to farm out computation or file service.
Evidently you can't imagine how popular the upcoming
MPI plugins for GIMP (and eventually Photoshop) are soon
going to be, and a whole class of clustering applications
will pop up. But you need bandwidth for that to work, and
if you live in a real city like NY, you can't upgrade your
wiring plant.


Even if you have that much pipe, could you use it?
I bet MIT's network has some rate limiter somewhere
that would prevent you from getting over 11Mbps
even at midnight on Christmas when the network is dead.


Wrongo, spasmoid. You're perhaps the only pundit on
the planet who hasn't heard of Internet 2, where the norm
on a weekday is 2 Mbyte/sec halfway across the country.


cheers.

pcadigan
2003-03-20 09:39:58
Apple needs a standard card interface
Not those fortunate souls with Centrino chips...
anonymous2
2003-06-19 08:49:31
Buy What You Need
Indeed, I have an small 802.11b network at home, with an iBook and 3 PC clients, and moving anything > 50Mb takes an appreciable amount of time. I often want to move large vidoe files between machines and I have to go and have a cup of tea whilst it completes. 802.11b is brilliant for me 99% of the time when I am browising the net reading email or sshing (we only have 512KB DSL), but a bit more bandwidth would have been nice. What's annoying is that I can upgrade my intel machines fairly simply, but the only way to get 54MB with an apple portable is to buy a new Powerbook, which is *far* too expensive.