Volkswagen, Mac, Ford, and Microsoft

So lately my 1996 VW Jetta (Hans) has been having some problems. He sporadically didn’t want to start on a few occasions the past few weeks, but eventually roared to life. Friday, however, he refused to start. I ended up having him towed to a tire shop (instead of my normal VW-focused mechanic) with the understanding that they would likely fix it the same day. Otherwise, I would never have entrusted my sole source of transportation to them, as they have made it known to me during various routine maintenance procedures that they don’t like working on Volkswagens. (They say “no one” does, but I beg to differ, and so does Wurster’s Foreign Car Service in Franklin, TN). Top notch professional service for imports there.

Long story short, it has been a horrible experience, and I should have sent it to my regular guy from the get go. As I was sitting in my house car-less yesterday, fuming about the situation, something dawned on me. The guys at the tire shop feel about Volkswagens how I, as a computing professional, have felt about Macs. Nothing would irk me more when I worked at the LU computer center than someone bringing in a Mac that wasn’t working well with the network. It was just weird having learned everything I know about computing from the PC standpoint. The difference is this: I would never have over-promised as to what I could fix. If I knew it was beyond my scope, I would hand it off to someone who had the know-how rather than taking a stab in the dark. In fact, last summer while I was unemployed, I had the chance to set up a Mac-based network for a side gig and pick up some much-needed cash, but I did some research, realized I could not deliver good service, and referred someone I knew could do it.

Anyway, I’m not here to start a brand-loyalty war or say that either PC or Mac is better, but I am here to draw out some parallels. I learned pretty much everything I know about computers on the PC/Windows platform. Things are generally predictable, and while perhaps not the highest quality and most reliable tech stack all the way through, it’s familiar. I liken Windows to domestic car manufacturers and Mac to European imports.

Here are some parallels I thought of:

  • Windows, like domestic auto makers, enjoys the status of being “the standard.” Mac, like some lower-grade Euro imports, can be dismissed as a niche attempt at the market.
  • Because of market share, hardware for PCs is cheaper and more readily available just as auto parts for domestics. Mac’s closed hardware system ensures high prices for parts similarly to import makers.
  • The “economic” Windows PC may actually not be a great choice because of such poor performance, kinda like a Geo Metro. But if anything, the Mac symbol means you are paying more for the same hardware, just as a 4-cylinder VW costs more than a 4-cylinder Ford. (Side note, there have been lots of articles discussing just how much one pays for the Apple logo in comparison to the hardware parts that comprise it). I can vouch that from a sheer hardware perspective, you get much more performance from a PC.
  • The emerging truth is that companies like the ones discussed don’t sell products, they sell image. Microsoft – Business. Ford – Common sense. Mac – hip. VW – quirky. If people truly took only the products and their performance into account, the marketplace would be way different than it is. As it is, however, people are emotional creatures who buy into the image, develop brand loyalty, and often care more about the perception of others than the goods they are paying for. How do you think anyone sells brand new cars?
  • In addition to the above factors, imports often require focused training to be able to provide good repair and service, much like Macs. If Windows is the industry standard, then the average CS major emerging from college is the tire shop mechanic. But this too ties into the somewhat exclusive image of the comparable companies.

While the parallels aren’t perfect, I still found the correlations somewhat interesting. So I write this to say that I have found a common ground of empathizing with the domestic-focused auto repair mechanic. He doesn’t like working on Volkswagens because everything is weird, not where you would expect it to be, and different from the norm, and I have been hesitant to work on Macs in my field for the same reason. Does this fact excuse horrible service, over-promising, and under-delivering? Absolutely not. The difference lies in the attitude of growth versus non-growth. Lately I’ve become much more willing to learn how to work on Macs, service them, and interact with them in general, something I will honestly attribute to the rise in market share. But in my interactions with this shop, however, they never said anything like, “I actually do hope to learn how to work on European cars a lot more. We see them in here all the time, and I know it would make me a better mechanic to fully understand them.” It’s part of growing as a professional in your field, and if you don’t show desire to learn to serve well, I will definitely take my business where I know they will deliver just as they said they would. This has compelled me to learn more about fixing Macs, if only so I’m not the IT equivalent of that guy.

Thus wraps up a wandering post about everything from cars and operating systems to marketing, brand loyalty, and customer service.

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