This Motley Fool series usually examines things that just aren't right in the world of finance and investing. Today, though, we're replacing the "Shame" in our Walk with "Fame." Feel free to spread the love in the comments section below.
Today's subject: With all the many head-shaking moments Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) has given us -- from irresponsible disclosure to bludgeoning advertising patents to draconian developer policies -- it's easy to forget the Mac maker is among the very best in the world at delivering on the high-quality promise of its products. I'm writing today because I got a reminder recently.
The catalyst? An unexpected problem with my 4-year-old MacBook Pro.
Fools who've been following my writings here may know I upgraded that machine with new memory and a fast drive last year, hoping to squeeze another three years out of the system. No such luck. After screen freezes began occurring every three hours, finally resulting in what techies call a kernel panic -- i.e., a comprehensive system failure in which the only option is to shut off the Mac manually -- I opened a credit line, bought a new MacBook Pro, and took the old one in for a comprehensive system check. As it turns out, my Mac was suffering from bad memory.
But that's not really the story here. RAM goes bad, and so do computers. Apple knows this well enough that in recent years it built a software program called Time Machine to make it easy to back up an entire system: software, preferences, libraries, everything. I'd been using Time Machine daily for more than a year when my old Mac crashed, so when I brought my new MacBook Pro home, I just plugged an external hard drive into the machine and told Mac OS X to restore the system I'd been using.
And it did so within an hour. I haven't had a problem since.
Why you should cheer: If it seems like I'm the guy who just loaded up on snacks and beer at the local grocery, the one who's just dying for any excuse to throw a party in Apple's honor, it's because, as investors, we've had precious few opportunities to celebrate quality these past months. To the contrary, we've been subject to:
- A downward spiral of earnings revisions for Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) leading up to Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ ) $1.2 billion bailout of the business. There still isn't much to like. Short of giving away the Pre, H-Palm lacks the installed base to make webOS a serious player in any of the device markets. Boooooo!
- Ludicrous grandstanding by Sen. Dick Durbin in the wake of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) throwdown with China. The fist-pounding Durbin promised to haul Internet companies before Congress to reveal details of their Chinese operations, effectively avoiding any real effort to confront the Sino superpower about censorship. Hiss!
- Industrywide hissy fits over the state of Flash technology, which have raised doubts about Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE ) future cachet as a standards setter. Oy!
In an environment like this, simple things are worth celebrating. Software that works as advertised becomes like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day.
Windows users of the "I'm a PC" variety will tell you that Apple isn't the only one offering reliable computers. They'll say restoring a PC isn't difficult. They'll also tell you that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) has made huge improvements with Windows 7. You know what? They're right.
The difference is that Apple's Time Machine assumes you'll want the most comprehensive backup possible, and therefore runs every hour. Even one megabyte lost is one megabyte too many. Mac users like me expect quality. Mostly, that's what we get.
We've come to see Apple as a device company, a software company, and an entertainment company, and in the process we forget the Mac maker's core expertise is in simplifying the computing experience. Making it "magical," to borrow a term from CEO Steve Jobs.
Of course, when Jobs talks of magic he's referring to features and design. It's why he speaks of the iPad in hushed tones, as if making a color alternative to Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle is a mystical event, even though the leading e-reader is slowly being repositioned as a software platform. I don't buy that argument.
But I do buy the idea that there's something magical about making computing accessible. Or, for that matter, restoring several years' worth of data and workflow in an hour, at the touch of a button. Apple did that with good, solid software design. Craftsmanship that, to me and a few million other Mac addicts around the world, is worth the few dollars extra it costs to buy from Apple.
I'll keep buying, and so will others. So long as we do, the Mac will deliver billions of dollars in earnings to Apple's already fat and fast-expanding bottom line. Investors could hardly ask for more.