Dear Apple: Goodbye!

Our first major technology shift was from Microsoft to Apple. We, like almost everyone else in the world, used computers mostly at work, and they were all Windows. Eventually Bryn got a Dell laptop, and years later I got a nice Windows Mobile cell phone from work. We were firmly in the Microsoft ecosphere, even though no one called it that at the time.

Our shift to Apple’s ecosphere was slow, occurring in small increments. It started with music, as we migrated from the Diamond Rio to an iRiver and eventually to an iPod around 2005 or so. In early 2007 I bought a MacBook. In 2008 I bought an iPhone. The shift went exponential from there. We have now owned and resold so many Apple products that I’ve completely lost count. Our workhorse computers during these first two years of travel were our MacBook Airs.

And now we face another ecosphere shift. The end result may be much less focused on any one hardware or software manufacturer, but the shift will be quick and rather shocking. We are going to sell both MacBook Airs and both iPod Touch units. Our new technology will be two Google Nexus 4 phones running Android and two Acer C7 Chromebooks running both Chrome OS and Linux (Ubuntu). The timeframe for this shift?

Approximately 60 days.

In so many ways it seems that the story of our adult lives will be told as a constant progression from majority to minority, swimming against the flow, breaking taboos. Or, to put it another way, doing a lot of things that make people say things like “wtf is wrong with you?” and “What are you thinking?” Our technology shift is just the latest example. But why, you may ask? What is our motivation? A good question: allow me to explain.

Blame it on Mexico

Right before we left the country for our year-long journey through Mexico a problem developed on my MacBook. I took it in to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and they ended up having to send it off for repair. As our travel deadline approached, I noticed that one of the screws on the bottom was loose. I returned to the Genius bar and was told that it was stripped. They tried to tighten it but said it would require another shipment to the repair center. Unfortunately we were leaving in a couple of days, so I opted to wait, knowing that if the problem persisted I would be able to get it repaired under warranty. Mine was about to expire, and I intended to get the extended warranty — something we always did on our major Mac purchases. Except that I forgot!

Eventually the screw loosened again and fell out. The case didn’t seem to loosen or make any noise, so I decided to wait for any repair work.

Several months later Bryn’s MacBook Air developed a problem. The only way it would stay on is if you clicked on a popup window every 15 seconds or so, or if you held down the Option key. I tried all of my IT magic tricks, but nothing fixed it. And this is when we discovered that we had forgotten to purchase the extended warranty on BOTH of our Airs! I felt completely stupid. But when I looked my computer up on Apple’s site it showed that it was, in fact, still on the original one-year warranty. This seemed strange, given the fact that it was almost two years old. I found out that when they had originally repaired it they had replaced the logic board. This is the guts of the computer, and replacing it evidently resets the warranty! I successfully extended the warranty for another two years and breathed a sigh of relief.

So we took Bryn’s Air in to the regional Apple authorized repair center in Tuxtla-Gutierrez and they gave us a diagnosis: the logic board. The repair estimate was $800US. We balked. A brand new Air w/ one-year warranty wasn’t much more than that, and we wouldn’t get more than $200 for the old Air for parts. It was a big financial setback. In the end we decided to wait until we got back to the States for repairs. In the meantime we bought an iPad w/ wireless keyboard as a temporary replacement. It didn’t work out so well either, but lasted for a few months.

The Fix

When we got back to Texas we sold the iPad and took the Air to the Genius Bar. We utilized the flat rate repair service (only available state-side) which meant that the repair would cost no more than $280 (+ tax). But when the Air came back, one of the keys had been smashed down and was, in fact, broken. Back to the repair center it went! Fortunately a customer service supervisor felt bad about this and completely refunded the repair costs! So by waiting to come back to the U.S. we saved $800.

Now by this point in the story you might be thinking that it sounds like Apple has great warranty and service, right? Yes, they do! But this decreases drastically once you leave the States. Repair times go up as well as costs, even under warranty. Depending on the country, you might not even find an authorized repair center for a few hundred miles. Based on our experiences, our observations and our thinking about where we would go next, we were getting a bit uneasy about taking off again carrying two expensive Macs, one without any warranty, into parts of the world where Macs were scarce. And that’s when things got crazy.

The Change

First, I bought a Google Nexus 4. It will replace my iPod Touch and works with any carrier. In each country I can just purchase a SIM card and use it. In Mexico we used cheap basic phones, but they won’t work in other countries. Second, I took my own Air back in to see if they could fix the screw thing. By now an additional screw had started loosening, and I discovered another one just flat missing! The repair would take the usual 5-7 days turnaround (although it usually happens much faster than that). I decided that this would be a good time to test out one of the new Chromebooks. I could buy it and then take it back after the Mac returned.

I had been touting them to people ever since I had seen them at Best Buy. The Acer C7 was only $199 and had a 320GB hard drive! I think they are the perfect home computers for the vast majority of people. So I bought one and brought it home on a Friday evening. By Monday morning I had given it a pretty thorough workout, and it seemed to do everything I would need it to do. Monday morning I took the Air in for shipping. Tuesday evening I got a contract to fix a busy WordPress site!

Trial by Fire

I spent most of Tuesday night and all of Wednesday working on this project. But eventually I hit a wall. I needed to do some things that were either very difficult or impossible to do with a plain Chromebook. Thursday morning I picked up my Air. So many parts had been replaced it was almost brand new! I fully intended to switch all of my work back over to the Mac, but I decided to install Linux on it and try to finish the job on the Chromebook. After all, it was doing so well that we had decided that if our MacBooks ever experienced a meltdown on the road we would just replace them with Chromebooks. Time for a thorough test.

So I did, and in fact it worked rather flawlessly. Linux was a bit much for the installed 2GB of RAM, so I ordered an 8GB stick. But overall it worked well, and the additional software tools I installed were all open source and free. And then I had this crazy thought. I talked to Bryn about maybe selling my Mac now instead of at some future point. I told her that my Mac would never get more money on eBay than it would right now. She not only agreed, but she blew my mind when she said “Why don’t we sell both of them now?” Zoiks!

So as soon as I finished my project and sent off the invoice, I had a new project. I had to figure out how to fully replace everything we were doing on the Macs with a new way of doing it on Linux. Photo editing, video editing, iTunes, blogging, playing Spanish tutorial DVD’s made for Windows/OS X, computer backups. Everything. And if that wasn’t enough, we decided to take some of the proceeds of the Mac sales and use it to get Bryn her very own Nexus 4 phone. We’ll sell both of the iPod Touch units with the Macs. The change will be complete.

The Benefits

There are several things we hope to achieve here. First, we want to minimize expenses. By selling the Macs now we minimize the cost of the switch. We also minimize the future cost of repairs and upgrades. The C7’s utilize a standard notebook drive, available all over the world. And in a worst-case scenario we could just buy a new or used laptop for a couple hundred. We’ve already priced these things on the ground in Mexico.

Second, we want to minimize repair or replacement turnaround time. By sticking with Acer, Samsung or other laptop vendors our parts supply will remain rather ubiquitous. In the big cities you can find plenty of Windows and even Apple vendors, but in smaller towns things drop off. So-called ‘developing’ nations make do with cheap laptops and netbooks. Switching minimizes our downtime.

Third, and this is a minor point, but we reduce our theft risk. Small laptops and smartphones are everywhere now. Macs are still viewed as a premium item and have a premium resale value to go with it.

Fourth, and now we’re into philosophy, I kinda like the whole concept of owning my own software and hardware. If I get the urge, I can hack my phone and do anything I want to it, including changing it from Android to full Linux! There is no one to tell me I can’t install some app, for any reason. My laptop will be run by open source software, free and fully configurable. We will keep Google’s Chrome OS intact, and Bryn will probably use it a lot, but we at least have a choice in the matter.

So that is the plan. I will probably write an update on this topic, especially after we get back outside of the U.S., but right now I have a lot of work to do to make all of this happen as smoothly as possible!



Retired I.T. nerd - expat in Mexico