Friday, March 16, 2018

Buying an Apple

As happens eventually with all things modern, for the last year my technology has faltered, aged, and eventually in some cases just quit working. In a move of complete brilliance I decided to replace my computer (which had died, or to be more precise, had been strangled by it's power cable) and my cell phone (the one with aspirations to be smart but, being Windows-based, couldn't summon up the will to actually be smart) at the same time.

I maintain that I need constant and careful supervision especially when things are going tough. I'd been in turns frustrated, angry or ballistic about my technology. It never worked when I wanted it to, much less when I actually needed it to. The phone took crappy pictures and I couldn't read an entire news article without being booted out to the start screen. I could only use the Beta version of Instagram and by the time I stopped using the phone, Facebook no longer let me see entire comments or post any myself. Phone calls required precise locations....and only those precise locations or I had no reception. My computer was slower than my phone (!) and the cord only worked in one position, one probably not recommended by the manufacturer, and was one step away from me holding the cord at a 30° angle from my body while sitting on the second cushion on the couch and holding my other hand towards the window (effectively stripping me of the power to type), unless it was raining in which case touching the cord at all was disaster regardless of where I was sitting or how many hands I waved in the air.

First we ordered my cell phone online from a big box store because they were clearancing out cell phones. I do love a great deal and we could go to the store to pick it up saving us even more money and the need to sit at home waiting for the delivery. (For those unfamiliar with the Italian post, if they can't deliver to you on the first day you have to go to the office specified on the ticket [not necessarily the one closest to your house] on the day and hour specified [not necessarily the next day nor when the office opens] and wait in line to get your package. It's not something you want to do on purpose.)

The next day we (my darling husband came for moral support and potential translation) took ourselves to the local Apple store to buy me an iPad. I'd done my research, knew exactly what I wanted so I couldn't get talked into random weird stuff and was ready to spend the money. Well, mostly ready to spend the money. It's a lot of money.

The staff were helpful and excited to get me into my first Apple product. I pointed to the things I wanted, the guy typed on his phone and ecco! my desired items were hand delivered to us by silently efficient gofers. And that wasn't even the most exciting they sat me down to help me set up my new computer. All I'll say at this point is "THANK GOD". Me and easy apparently never, like ever, go together.

All went well with the first part: fingerprints, passwords, preferred language. My  computer worked! Next (and to judge from their attitudes not even something they needed to help me with because it really does the work itself) the pairing of my English keyboard to my iPad. And due to all the magnety things going on, attaching the keyboard is child's play. With a flourish the techie guy invited me to type things into my new computer with my snazzy new keyboard. Perhaps because I approached it with less flourish than it had been presented, the keyboard refused to work.

And this is where the simple purchase of a computer turns into something of a farce involving multiple associates and experts sporting serious looks (and often serious moustaches) under the curious gaze of other customers.

"It doesn't work?" Techie #1 asked, clearly surprised that I wasn't euphorically typing nonsense words into my new device. He frowned (overly dramatically it seemed to me) and pulled it toward him, madly searching for something in "settings"  that could explain why things weren't working smoothly. Thus began the long process of searching for answers and attempting a fix that always resulted in one minute of success to be quickly followed by failure and requiring me to re-enter my password.

The next hour+ found me entering my password over twenty times as they tried various hardware (trying keyboard with demo iPads to make sure it worked, and when it did swapping out iPads, which meant repeating the whole setup process) and software (updating it, which was really confusing as it came straight out of the is it even possible to need an update before it leaves the store??!) Techies #2 & #3 were brought in to consult as the Spanish family across the table from us tried to cheer me up by asking about where I was from. Unfortunately they couldn't drown out the rather desperate, whispered consultation happening around my iPad. The floor manager had joined the three tech guys and anyone wearing an Apple shirt and not currently helping someone had gathered at a respectful distance to check out what was happening (while appearing to straighten cords or clean screens). A sigh in four parts brought me out of a daydream in which technology actually liked me, and Techie #1 slid the iPad towards me. "Try it now," he encouraged me with an aprehensive smile.

As I typed I could feel the tension slide off the Apple contingent surrounding my table. "It works!" was all I could say. Bystanders trickled off to their various posts and the Spanish family gave me a thumbs ups. After presenting me with a small gift for sticking with them through the difficulties the original salesman escorted me to the door and assured me that should I need any more help (and surely, his look implied, I wouldn't be back as all my problems had been solved) they were there for me. I hefted my backpack of Apple products and boxes over my shoulder and we left for home.

At home later that night I took out the iPad, hands shaking only slightly, and turned it on. That part worked perfectly. I wanted to quit there, you know, while I was ahead....but no. I went ahead and tried the keyboard. Holy cow! It worked! It was a Sunday evening miracle! I closed the cover, opened it up and tried the keyboard again. Holy cow! It didn't work!

Wait, what? I fiddled with it for another ten minutes, unable to get the keyboard to work again. I muttered to myself about the lunacy of an Apple product not being able to interface with another Apple product (that being the whole point of works with it's own shit and not so much with anyone else's) while listlessly poking at the keyboard with one finger. Leif watched from a distance, oozing sympathy while being smart enough to stay silent. I calmly (at least in my head it was calmly) said "We WILL be going to the Apple store first thing tomorrow morning." Leif poured me a shot of whiskey. I accepted it.

The next day we walked into the Apple store as they opened. The floor manager recognized me and with a tentative smile asked how things were going. "It doesn't..." was as far as I got before his smile melted off his face and he exclaimed "But no! How is this possible? Come..." and led me to the same table I'd spent so much time at the day before. He tugged at the arm of an associate as we walked by, unleashing a stream of Italian I couldn't follow but was obviously the equivelant of "All hands on deck!" as he dropped what he was doing and followed us to the table, smiling bravely as he asked to see my iPad.

"Show me," he said. I set it up and showed him. He started with a thoughtful look. Asked permission to touch my computer and did whatever it is computer dudes do in "settings" and tried it. Looking a bit self-satisfied he typed some more. He started to spin it in my direction but stopped halfway around. With a frown he typed some more, then started to wiggle the keyboard around a bit. Typed. Wiggled. Typed. Frowned some more. Asked if he could try a few things....kind of a strange question as I came there specifically for them to try things....anythings.

He walked away with just the keyboard, an only slightly contained "Incredibile!" bursting from him. The manager slid next to him, reminding him that this is my first Apple product and it was their sworn duty to make me happy (said in Italian possibly in the hopes that I wouldn't understand what he was saying...) The techie returned quickly, assuring me that the keyboard seemed to work with the other iPads so perhaps it was the iPad itself. The manager, who had been hovering nearby, quickly told him that we'd already tried replacing the iPad so perhaps instead we should try a new keyboard. An English keyboard.

At this point Leif left to do some work as I had no idea how long it would take and I didn't care if my meltdown had to happen in English and rudimentary Italian. I felt up to the task if the occasion called for it. Tears transcend language.

The new keyboard fared no better than the original one. A brief moment of success before failure. New techies were recruited, I believe these would be the big guns, brought out only when something truly unusual were to happen. The words incredibile (incredible)and mai (never) were repeated often and by everyone. The Trenitalia guy setting up his new phone across the table from me sent me sympathetic looks and the occasional sardonic eyebrow lift. He wanted me to know we were kindred souls even if his set up was going smoothly. We had reached the point where highly trained techies who love a good problem were tethering (note the Computer Savvy Vocabulary) my iPad to various phones and computers while interfacing (again note the CSV) with help desks halfway around the world in a last ditch effort to make things work.

The Trenitalia guy took out a package of crackers and I cursed my short-sighted planning. I must have looked hungry because he offered me a cracker, not enthusiastically but possibly with the thought it could prevent me from going postal while he was still in the store. I refused. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the cracker. I don't function well when hungry and this was turning into a situation requiring me to be more functional than usual.

While I sat waiting and watching the techies doing their respective things, business as usual was happening all around us. People bought, set up and left with their new Apple products never knowing the drama unfolding around my iPad.

At one point the techie (number unknown) leaned over and with a small smile said "Look over there, we have a priest in the store. Should we ask him to bless your computer?" And then he immediately looked horrified and said "Oh no! I was only joking!" I'm not gonna sounded like a great idea. It had as good a chance of working as any of the other things they were attempting. I bit back a snort/laugh and said that maybe, no, we shouldn't bother him on his day off. The techie (number unknown) looked confused and then concentrated on the computer again.

Not long after I refused divine intervention the manager came to me with a sad expression on his face. "We are unable to find a solution to make the English keyboard work with the iPad. Can you be happy with an Italian keyboard?" He waited expectantly while I thought. I had to think. Leif's old computer had an Italian keyboard and I spent an inordinate amount of time searching desparately for punctuation and shouting "Dammit!" as I pounded on the delete key. Some keys have three symbols and the one I want is nearly always used in tandem with something other than the shift key and there are extra vowels sporting fancy accents where my puctuation by rights ought to be. But I really, really didn't want to spend my life typing with two fingers on the screen of the iPad either. Hunger may have also been a factor. So I agreed. Reluctantly. And for my reluctance they gave me the keyboard for free.

Many people would call that a win-win situation. I got my iPad and a free if confusing keyboard. But I want a little bit more. I want to know how a product developed and made in the US can't interface with an English keyboard made by the same company even if it's sold in Italy. How is it even possible for something Apple to be incompatable with another something that is also Apple? I didn't buy some aftermarket off-brand keyboard off the sidewalk from an unlicensed vendor. I didn't download some third party app that would magically turn my keyboard English and plant some virus inside my computer. I bought products who are the very essence of compatability, in a city teeming with young Americans who don't buy anything that isn't Apple. How has this never occurred before?

I suppose I could binge watch Downton Abbey, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, maybe even a little rugby on the iPad while eating fish and chips, possibly scones? and drinking Guiness and tea by the gallon in the hopes that the keyboard will begin to think it's English. But in my dream world, Apple learns of this fiasco and, horrified, sends me an English keyboard that works. And like $20 in the itunes store to blow on whatever strikes my fancy. Dream big I say.

Also, Apple should give those guys at the Florence store a bonus. They did everything they could to make me happy. It's not their fault I'm only mostly content rather than ecstatic.

PS: If you're wondering about my phone, it went much better than the iPad. My initial freak out when I discovered my sim card was too big to fit into the slot on the iPhone was eased when the lady at the phone store we use (I just didn't have the balls to go to the Apple store for help. I mean, damn, they'd totally recognize me and know I didn't buy it there) showed me how to make it smaller and set everything up so I could use it. There was a tense moment when she couldn't get the phone to connect to the wifi and I very nearly had a panic attack right there in the store because it wouldn't surprise me if I got the one bad phone out of the 5,000 shipped to that outlet. Luckily, she had a cooler head than me and went to plan B immediately, which worked and I walked out the door with a working phone in a language I could function in. It's a giant leap forward in technology so my learning curve still involves a lot of swearing and confusion but the phone itself works.

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