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.

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I looked all over the interface, but there was nothing about setting up a Cloud Connect account. Nothing.

Back to the Cisco site. This time I went into the support pages, looked for firmware, and found out that there was, in fact, a later firmware upgrade. So although this nice, consumer-friendly router said it was up to date, it wasn't.

I downloaded the firmware, made sure Mr. Force of Nature was nowhere near the router and couldn't fiddle with it while the firmware was loaded, and performed a firmware upgrade.

After it was done, I tried connecting in again. Still no account setup for Cisco Cloud Connect.

So I re-ran the Cisco setup software on the laptop. There was nothing obvious about updating the software, the config software announced it was talking to the router, and everything was fine.

Just no Cloud Connect.

Back to the Cisco site. Yep, turns out there's an update to the client setup software. Downloaded that. It couldn't find the router. As far as it was concerned, the router didn't exist.

I went back across the house, crawled back under the desk, found the the reset button, held it down for five seconds, got back up, went back across the house, and tried again. This time the setup software not only found the router, it decided it wanted me to create an account.

Finally!

By this time, it was almost five o'clock. It had taken almost four hours to get the router to work. After that, setting up the printer was a breeze. I just toggled in the network settings, then went from iOS device to iOS device and made sure they were on the network. Printing worked.

But, as far as I'm concerned, consumer-friendly and post-PC failed completely. Here's the list:

  • The first AirPrint printer couldn't be set up without a PC. Period. The Apple store people actually recommended my elderly friends go out and buy a $300 cheap PC just to set up printing on the iPad.
  • The second AirPrint printer, though it did have a setup panel, was too complex for my friend to use, and was stymied by a service-person-modified router.
  • The Cloud Connect router feature advertised for the router I bought wasn't available on the brand-new device.
  • The "am I up to date?" feature inside the router wasn't able to tell if it was, in fact, up-to-date. Worse, it lied, saying it was.
  • There was no obvious messaging telling consumers who visited the Cisco web site that they might have a router needing updating.
  • In order to perform the firmware update, you first had to bypass a doom-and-gloom warning that implied you'd possibly brick the thing
  • When the firmware was finally located and downloaded, there was no indication that the client setup software also needed modification -- and you still needed the client setup software to make it work.

My friends had to wait a few months until I was able to free up enough time to take a six-hour round-trip drive to do a service call. Although all these products had been advertised as consumer-friendly and ready to run, they were not up-to-date, had conflicting messaging, and didn't work properly with each other. Even the Apple store failed miserably.

I've long used and enjoyed Linksys and Cisco products (and some of my best friends work for the company). But a FAQ item a few pages deep into the Web site, with a link in a corner that says How to manually upgrade the firmware of the Linksys EA-series router to Cisco Connect Cloud is not the same as a big friendly box in the middle of the main page, telling consumers that they will almost definitely need to upgrade their brand new device before it will work.

Plus, to do a manual upgrade, you have to click past a warning page that says that if you do, you could disable your network. Sorry guys, I know you can do better.

We may be at the point where consumers are ready for post-PC. My friends would have liked to just be able to bring this stuff home, plug it in, and use it.

But 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. All the so-called consumer-friendly add-ons actually make these systems far more difficult for technicians to troubleshoot and maintain.

PCs are still necessary to make things work, and vendors are still not diligent enough in their product management and support to make the process seamless.

Eh, at least I got some some very yummy pastrami out of the deal!

P.S. Yes, I know there are ways of printing from an iPad to a non-AirPrint printer. But you shouldn't have to do that if consumer friendly and post-PC are really real.

Topics: SMBs, Apple, Cisco, Cloud, Consumerization

About

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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103 comments
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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.
    gbjbaanb2
    • 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?
        hrlngrv 
        • Apple and Cisco suck

          Gewirtz rules and gets his pastrami
          markbn
    • 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.
      riffdex
      • 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.
        kennyrosenyc
        • 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.
          T1Oracle
          • 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.
            Splitlocked
    • 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.
      HypnoToad72
  • 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.
    toddbottom3
    • 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.
        hrlngrv 
    • 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...)
      HypnoToad72
      • 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.
        T1Oracle
        • No connection

          Jobs hired people to do the selling.
          Splitlocked
    • So

      Scraping the bottom of the barrel are we old boy?
      athynz
  • 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.
    kenosha77a
    • 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.
      cornpie
      • 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.
        kenosha77a
        • 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?
          Emacho