Consumer-friendly products suck and post-PC is a fantasy

Consumer-friendly products suck and post-PC is a fantasy

Summary: While consumers are ready for post-PC, and while vendors are kinda-sorta offering solutions they say are suitable for average consumers, the system is still very flawed.


I've talked to you before about my elderly former neighbor, the force of nature who managed to download half the malware on the Internet to his PC last year.

Since that incident, he and his wife moved about three hours south of where I live, and I don't see them very often. Talking them through the steps over the phone, we got him off the PC and put him on an iPad, thinking that ought to keep him a little safer. He's not thrilled, but he was also pretty scared when all the threatening messages started popping up on his PC. No octegenarian needs that crap!

Anyway, time has passed. We've brought his Word documents and Excel spreadsheets onto the iPad through Dropbox and an app. But he wants to print. Simple request, right?

I sent Mr. and Mrs. Force of Nature to the local Apple store, where they picked up an AirPrint-enabled HP printer. They brought it home, and couldn't set it up. When they called HP, they were informed they needed to run the setup disk. Since they only had the iPad, that didn't work for them.

Finally, they brought the printer back to the Apple store -- and here's where the consumer electronics really break down -- the Genius told them they'd need a PC or Mac to set it up. I know the Genius probably meant well, but I was shocked when I heard he'd recommended they go buy a cheap PC just to be able to configure their printer to work with their iPad.

To replace the printer that wouldn't work without a PC, they wound up buying an Epson I recommended. They brought that home. Although, unlike the HP, it had a console where they could toggle in wireless network settings, they still couldn't get it to work.

I talked to my ex-neighbor's wife, who finally decided to purchase a cheap laptop at Radio Shack. She liked using Windows better, anyway, and she was a much, much more careful online user than her husband.

She picked a login password he wouldn't know so he couldn't reinfect the household with every PC virus on Earth again. She, at least, managed to print using Windows 7 and a USB cable to the printer. But still no printing was available from his iPad or her iPod touch.

I tried to remotely connect into the router via her laptop and GoToAssist, but, apparently, in one of the cable company's service calls, they'd changed the router's password and we were all locked out. So I couldn't get into the router to see if I needed to do anything special to allow the printer to talk to it wirelessly.

So much for post-PC.

They still wanted to print from their iOS devices. After a while, the begging for help (and the offers of fresh pastrami) got to me, and I decided to take the three hour trip down to their home. I got up Saturday at 6am, took a few hours to wake up, shower, have some coffee and breakfast, and gather all my troubleshooting gear together. I got there before noon.

The week before I drove down, I bought a month of LTE for my iPad (just in case), and then spent $139 on a Linksys EA3500 router.

The defining feature of this router is a new gimick called Cloud Connect. It allows many of the router's settings to be adjusted from the cloud, rather than via a dangerous external connection from an open Internet port. Since I clearly can't take the road trip down south to visit my old friends every week, I thought this would be a good way to administer their network remotely.

Have I mentioned I hate supposedly consumer-friendly products?

Keep reading. There's more to this story.

Topics: SMBs, Apple, Cisco, Cloud, Consumerization


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Steve Jobs is spinning

    right now, there's a serious problem with Apple if you need a (ahem) Windows PC to configure the apple printer ( :) ). Not only should you complain to Apple and get it up their chain of command, they should be beating themselves up over this - Steve would have gone nuclear on them if he was around.

    Mind you, couldn't you have taken the printer to the Apple store and have a Genius set it up for them in-store?

    The problem is, of course, software. My TV works just fine despite being full of GPL software and doesn't need updates. You'd think a printer would be in roughly the same category of make-it-work-without-updates. I guess the problem is too much "new" stuff being made all the time - too many new ways of doing things that should be solved problems - like printer drivers, they should be mature code that might need a little tweak to run on the iPad, but otherwise send the same data and commands to the printer in the same networking way as all other printers, but I can bet there's so much updating going on, with rewrites and new protocols and fixes... that the problem will never be solved.

    The cult of the new and shiny is an illness in modern computing, I'd have hoped it would sort itself out over time, but it looks like we're still not a mature industry.
    • The iPad's dependence upon a PC or Mac predates Steve's death

      The problem here is that Apple partnered with printer makers (predominately HP - not known for the quality of their consumer products) to make this work rather than selling their own printer with the proper software pre-installed.
      M Wagner
      • wise choice

        Isn't HP the only computer maker which also makes LOTS of printers? How's that working for HP? Why would Apple want to go down the same path?

        Apple used to make Apple-branded printers, but it clearly wasn't a money maker, and while people may buy costly Macs and iToys, seems they won't pay premium prices for printers.

        Pardon an ignorant question: why can't wireless printers be configured by devices? Not possible to make such apps? I have to ask because there are iPad/iPhone apps which allow those devices to work as TV remotes, so what's the deal with printers?
        • Apple and Cisco suck

          Gewirtz rules and gets his pastrami
    • serious problem

      "right now, there's a serious problem with Apple if you need a (ahem) Windows PC to configure the apple printer"

      But it isnt an "apple printer". These are printers built by the OEMs (HP/Epson/etc) who seem to never make a simple device that is user friendly. The problem is Apple doesnt take much control of how the airprint printers function. They simply allow OEMs to make them work however they want. I would hope that if Apple started making printers (again) but with Airprint functionality, they would work out pf box with no configuration/PC required.
      • Apple is no different from anybody else.....

        Apple products are never actually 'better' at anything. They are better in regards to how they work with other Apple products because that's Apple's strategy. A Dell printer works just fine out of the box with pretty much any computer, so long as it's not an Apple computer. Does this mean that Dell makes bad printers? Of course not, it's obvious the problem lies with Apple. If you bought a set of tires for your car and found that, although they worked fine with every other car on the planet, they don't work with your car - you wouldn't blame the tire company. You would blame the car manufacturer. Apple has always created products that work together seamlessly until a product from an outside vendor is introduced. This allows them to charge outlandish prices for the simplest of things (see the $50 Thunderbolt cable) and turn an amazing profit. There's no magic recipe for any of this stuff. Open up a Mac Book Pro and you'll find pretty much the same stuff as an Ultra Book (minus the retina display). The only difference is the Mac Book parts are welded to the case so you can't upgrade it which, of course, means that you have no choice but to buy a new one every few years (or whenever Apple decides to cancel support). All of that having been said, Apple has a horrible history with anything 'server-esque' and I wouldn't bet a roll of toilet paper on that changing anytime soon as the iCloud is STILL running on Microsoft's Azure, Amazon's Cloud Platform and a warehouse full of HP servers. The reason why? They're not the greatest solutions but they are the best we have right now and Apple has nothing. Now, the idea of giving someone who is obviously not computer savvy an iPad - bad idea. Apple is riddled with the bullet holes of hacker guns. Your friend's data is not, nor will it ever be, safe. This applies to cloud computing in general and is not an attack on Apple. If Uncle Sam walked up to you and asked for access to your email in an effort to catch a terrorist, you would almost certainly give it up so long as you hear the words 'National Security'. Apple will do the same. Microsoft will do the same. Google will do the same. Your data is not safe. The Cloud is like a neighborhood. Yeah you're house may have billion dollar security but, if it comes down to it, a fast runner with a sledge hammer can still steal your TV.
        • Un true

          I tried to configure HP wireless printers from my Linux machine after I renamed the SSID, and while one worked the other required that I use a utility that only works in Windows to disable the auto USB install feature. So, using something other than Mac isn't always enough.
          • Apple isn't *best*

            "" So, using something other than Mac isn't always enough.
            He didn't say that anything but Mac works - he said that Apple products doesn't work better than equivalent products from other manufacturers.

            That being said, the setup routine for anything not platform specific should never require any native program for one platform. If your wireless printer required a native Windows program then its manufacturer did a bad job.
    • Maturity?

      The supply-side demands people buy, or else they have no incentive to make it better. No profit in it. A pity, then, that wages continue to spiral downward, which means less incentive for anyone to get the college degree and/or other credentials businesses demand, but I digress...

      So it's not about maturity. It's about our current economic paradigm. Without the demand-side having enough money to buy this stuff, get further education, etc, nobody can keep up to keep buying, the supply-side slows down and stops, and since the cycle is supposed to be fluid the moment it stops it shatters. The paradigm is approaching that point.
  • Steve WOULD have gone nuclear

    "the Genius told them they'd need a PC or Mac to set it up"

    That employee would have been fired for not saying:
    "You must purchase a Mac Pro in order to setup your printer."

    Steve Jobs would have been furious that the Genius was unable to parlay the sale of an iPad into the sale of a Mac Pro.
    • I don't think so ...

      Jobs would have been unhappy that the Genius didn't set it up for the customer before the customer left to go over to Best Buy to buy a Windows PC. Remember the customer who wasn't allowed to pay CASH for their iPad. The Apple store insisted that they set up an iTunes account with a credit card. The customer left the store without a sale. Jobs WAS upset about that!
      M Wagner
      • one one hand and another

        The iPad story does sound like a GFY moment.

        OTOH, if Apple's main interest is in app sales, and the only way to buy apps is with an iTunes account, I can kinda see why the store was pushing this. Doesn't make it better, just more understandable.
    • Steve was known for yelling at customers

      "YOU'RE HOLDING IT WRONG!" despite his being told by an engineer, long before the iphone's release, that there was a design flaw with the antenna. Had there been no easy fix by little rubber bumpers, Steve would have gone nuclear because his lie would have done far more than backfire in his arrogant, anti-customer face, but his company would have been shuttered for good.

      No CEO in his or her right mind would EVER be so disrespectful to a CUSTOMER, regardless of how minor the issue is. Customers might not always be right, but if you know something and hide it and then try to blame the customer, that's truly warped.

      You make a great point, actually, Steve was known at being good at compelling people into buying what they believed/were told they needed. There is no reason a competitor to the PC, using the same commodity off-the-shelf parts, and integrated with open source (FreeBSD as the core of OSX/iOS) should cost twice as much as everyone else (depending on product, some are price comparable...)
      • Not good enough

        "Steve was known at being good at compelling people into buying what they believed/were told they needed"

        Yea? Please refence Mac/PC markeshare.
        • No connection

          Jobs hired people to do the selling.
    • So

      Scraping the bottom of the barrel are we old boy?
  • There are "Geniuses" and then there are Geniuses!

    One thing I don't understand about the HP AirPrint printer episode.

    To recap - if I read correctly - the following events occurred.

    1. An iPad was purchased at an Apple Store.
    2. An AirPrint HP printer was purchased at the same Apple Store.
    3. That printer needed a firmware update and to accomplish this task, a host computer was required.
    4. The Apple store "Genius" wouldn't update the printer (sold at his store) with the needed firmware?

    I know there are procedures in place at Apple stores to assist in setting up iOS devices for the customer.

    Your story implies that this particular Apple store would not offer to utilize one of their computers to download the firmware on this particular HP printer for your ex-neighbors?

    Even if it was store policy to charge for a "service fee" in order to perform this task (and, at this point, this is purely speculative), the fee could not have been more than the cost of waiting six months and your time (and theirs) to accomplish this task - not to mention gasoline costs incurred by you on your visit of mercy.
    • You missed the point

      I think you missed the whole point. It wasn't the printer that needed a firmware update, it was the Cisco/Linksys router. Even if the "genius" had had both the iPad and the Printer sitting in front of him he probably could not have set it up for them since in the store he would be on a different wireless network.
      • Your right. Instead of a firmware update, setup software needed to run

        from a host computer to enable communications between the HP AirPrint Printer and the iPad. (I don't drink coffee in the morning. My embarrassing mistake.)

        However, everything that followed was a direct consequence of this first step not being successfully performed. Had the iPad been able to print to the HP printer, a PC laptop would not have been needed nor would there have been a need to purchase a new Cisco Router. Nor would the David's friends need to wait six months and a visit from him to enable printer functions. (That was the real issue involved - an inability to print from the iPad to the printer. The Cisco Cloud apps - and the problems associated with getting them available for use - was a different issue entirely.)

        I assumed that the original router used by the ex-neighbors was still functional and, as such, a home WiFi signal would have been present for wireless printer functions.
        • Maybe I'm wrong,

          but the point was that a PC was required to make this post-pc ability functional.

          Does it really matter if the PC was used at home or the Apple store?