Thursday, 13 September 2018

An open letter to Tim Cook

I sent the following to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, yesterday.

Dear Tim;

I love Apple products. My first was a Mac 128, and I had a Mac SE on my office desk in 1989. I have owned a PowerBook 1400, an original blue clamshell iBook, a slate gray iMac, several MacBooks and MacBook Pros, and my beloved iPhone 4. My current slate includes a 2012 MacBook Pro (probably the best laptop you’ve ever made, your current claims notwithstanding), a 2011 MacBook Air, a 2008 iMac (still happily running OS 10.5), an iPad Mini 2, and a 2018 iPad 9.7.

My current iPhone is a 128 Gb 6, and while I like a lot of things about it, it is just flatly too big for my hand. I can’t operate it with one hand, which is critical for me; I am always dropping it or fumbling with it. I loved my iPhone 4, until it got so slow and so unable to run current apps that I had to retire it. I had high hopes for my 6 but... I hate it. It’s just too big for me.

Let me say that again: I, an Apple fan since the beginning, HATE an Apple product. I never thought I would say that. And the only reason I hate it is that it’s just way too big.

The 4” form factor on a phone is awesome for me; I can not use a bigger size. I appreciate that you try to continuously improve the customer experiennce, security and provide other features. But the short answer is that, as you make your phones bigger, my reluctance to use them increases.

Today, you announced a whole new range of iPhones in a bunch of X forms. Good for you. As an Apple shareholder, I appreciate you trying to improve the company.

But you discontinued the 4” form factor of the iPhone SE.

I was SO hoping you would continue it, and improve it. I would have been the first to buy one. But you didn’t. Now, the smallest phone you make is bigger, physically, than my iPhone 6, which is already too big for me. It would have taken nothing for you to introduce an iPhone SE based on the 7’s innards (much as it would be nothing for you to upgrade the pathetic processor and 7 year old technology in the Mac Mini — but that’s another conversation). You didn’t. You didn’t introduce a highly profitable, slightly better, moderately hobbled 4” iPhone for those of us who can’t stand bigger screens that make a phone impossible to use with one hand (your “double tap to cause the screen to move down” is a joke, you’ll have to admit). I cannot, and will not, buy a larger phone. From you, from Samsung, from anyone. 

So tonight, with the big announcement of your new XS, XR and others, do you know what I did?

I went on eBay and bought a 128 Gb SE. That’s practically no upgrade from my iPhone 6.  I bought it on eBay because, as of today, you stopped selling them. I would have happily bought a new iPhone SE 2 from you (or my local carrier) at some inflated Apple price. It is, after all, what I have been doing since the 1980’s.

But not today. As of today, you no longer make a phone I can use or now want. I would sooner have 6S technology in a form factor I can hold in my hand, than your state of the art technology, because the XS/7/XR/8 technology you offer doesn’t fit in my hand. Kinda basic.

I remain a shareholder. I think you will do well. After all, there’s more billlions to be made.

But, if I may make a suggestion or two: bring back the form factor of the SE and make it better. Upgrade the Mac Mini, finally. Keep the MacBook Air and make it better. Don’t take 3 years to make a Mac Pro. These are things that are SO simple, SO basic, and would be SO profitable, shareholders like me would appreciate them a bit. And users like me would appreciate them a lot.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Death of Greatness

As I wrote a while ago, I own a few watches. One of my faves that I have been using since I bought it in 1994 is my Avocet Vertech Alpin hiking/ski watch.

My trusty Vertech
As I wrote in that post:
When I moved to Houston in 1994, I took up flying ultralights, since the nearest gliding club was so far away. No ultralight I flew had any instruments, so I bought this watch on a lark: a Avocet Vertech Alpin, about $250 US when I bought it. It has an aircraft grade altimeter in it, and I flew with it for a year. It turns out this watch was designed for skiing and hiking, not flying. And it turns out I'm a skier and hiker. The watch records elevation, elevation gained, ski runs, and a bunch of other stuff. I have used it faithfully since I bought it 22 years ago. It's on it's second case and it's 4th set of straps (there's a strap for for winter and one for summer). Every 2 years I have to splurge ~$75 Canadian to send it to California for service and to put a new battery in it (it's gone for 4-6 weeks at a time when I do that). So since 1994, I've probably spent $800 keeping this watch running. Vertech sort of does but sort of doesn't make these anymore, so it's kind of irreplaceable. And besides, no other ski or hiking watch does what this one does.
My Vertech's battery died this year near the start of the hiking season (on the "bright" side, I'm not hiking these days because I'm broken, which is the subject of a separate post. So in July, I did what I always do when I needed a battery replacement: went to the Vertech website to download the latest info and form to send my watch in for service. Except...

Vertech is now officially out of business. As I type this, Vertech's website is now down completely. At least in late July, it was still shutting down. The repair dude -- Craig Maynard -- retired, and that was the end of the company.

I was lucky enough to get to Craig just before they disappeared. Here's what he told me:
Since I decided to retire, Avocet Service has closed it’s doors. Yet I am still servicing Vertechs for many long term customers.  The new ship to is:
Craig Maynard, PO Box 2288, Menlo Park, CA. 94026
Assuming you need just the basic service of a new battery, caseback o-ring and recalibration, the basic service is as before, $25 for USA residents* Cash or Check payable to me, which includes postage back to you. No credit card. Be sure to include your contact info including your ship to address, phone number, etc.  Also, let me know if you want it set for hiking or downhill skiing mode. 
*International customers, add $13.00. Canadian customers, add $10.00
The trick I see is that, as of this moment, if you're a "long term Vertech customer", you can't find Craig. All attempts I made today to find out how to get a new Vertech battery do not lead you to Craig, but to HTTP 404 Page Not Found errors. This is an issue, because to properly initializing and calibrating the altimeter, only Craig should be the one putting a battery in your Vertech.

Maybe you have a Vertech that just died and needs a battery. My hope in making this post is that it helps you find Craig, whom you can reach at vertechcraig[at]

I understand why Vertech ceased to be. As killer an altimeter and watch the Vertech was, its technology has been significantly usurped by various GPS based wrist devices including Apple Watch. That having been said, my brother's Apple Watch barely has battery life to track a whole ski day, never mind 2 years like my Vertech.

I hope this helps other Vertech owners.