Apple II companies are people


Filed under Musings;
3 comments.

I engage in as much online commerce as I do offline. Whether I'm buying a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop or going to the movies to see the latest Marvel movie, or I'm buying a book on Amazon.com or a mobile app from Apple, I don't personally know the people handling my transaction. We're polite to each other and treat each other with respect — as any decent human being should — but we don't take the time to address each other by name or inquire as to each other's wellbeing. Once the transaction is complete, the interaction is concluded and the relationship ends.

The Apple II industry is different. The size of each company is proportionate to the size of the community — that is, small. While my credit card receipts may show me to have patronized such companies as RetroConnector, a2RetroSystems, and Manila Gear (to name a few), I never saw it that way. Rather, I was supporting Charles Mangin, Glenn Jones, and Jon Co & John Valdezco. Each of these technical geniuses have long been members of the Apple II community, supporting it not just with their inventions (off which they rarely, if ever, profit), but with their camaraderie on IRC and Twitter and at KansasFest. Through their long commitment to the platform and their people, they've earned our trust, friendship, and patronage.

This reputation isn't reserved to the privileged few who are able to make their way to KansasFest and meet these vendors; for example, Glenn Jones and Jon Co have yet to make their way from Canada and Australia to our Midwest convention. Given our geographic diversity, a lot of community-building is instead accomplished online. For my part, it's not enough to let the Juiced.GS store's automatic receipts be a new customer's first impression. I personally email each new subscriber to ask them how they came to our publication and what their history with the Apple II is. You can say that I'm doing so to build customer retention or to scout potential content contributors — and you wouldn't be wrong. But that alone would not be enough. I cherish my quarterly mailing parties where I get to see the name on each mailing label and recall the stories of each person this community has introduced me to.

I've grown so accustomed to these personal interactions that, when I have the opposite experience within the Apple II community, it's noticeable and jarring. Such is the case with 8bitdo's recent Kickstarter to create the AP40, an Apple II-themed game controller with Apple II-compatible wireless receiver. While I was excited by the prospects of the hardware, I was surprised to see it come from an organization our community had never heard of. I've since exchanged several emails with the AP40's creators, but I never once had my inquisitiveness or enthusiasm reciprocated. When I mentioned possibly reviewing their hardware for Juiced.GS, they glossed over it; their emails are always signed with their company's name, not an individual's; the campaign had few progress updates; and the pitch video featured none of the talent responsible for the product. They seem utterly uninterested in the Apple II community or being a part of it.

If this were Amazon.com, a coffee shop, or Apple, I wouldn't bat an eye at such behavior; it'd be expected. But in the Apple II community, AP40's outsider status and indifference is unmistakeable. I was so disappointed and dissatisfied that I ultimately requested that my Kickstarter pledge be cancelled [see comments below for more details]. Maybe I'm a snob for refusing to associate with those outside some Apple II "inner circle". But I was always taught to "support those who support the Apple II" — and support takes many forms.

  1. Although I no longer have any Apple // or Mac equipment, the wellbeing you speak of is something I do associate with the Apple // and 68k Mac community. I do have the feeling that where two associates are dealing or talking Apple //, there is usually a genuine and mutual "how can I help you" situation between the parties.

    I have never dealt with 8bitdo or any of their products, but I do associate them with retro computing and remember seeing the controller on Kickstarter (but not examining it). Perhaps for them, the Apple // integration was just a nifty value-add.

    I do understand why you would choose to withdraw your pledge, but I also feel that you may have done yourself a dis-service and that you are going to regret it later on. No matter, with the flood of arduino, raspberry pi and such projects out there, surely someone else will eventually create a general purpose USB/BT interface for joystick/pad to Apple //.

  2. Steven,

    One thing I neglected to mention in my original blog post was that I did not get good customer service from 8bitdo — it was very difficult to get exactly the products I wanted, and their responses telling me so were weeks in coming and were rather unsympathetic. I suspect once they get their Kickstarter sorted out and have made these products commercially available in an online store (which Kickstarter is not), I'll be more easily able to get my hands on what I want and need without so much rigamarole. In the meantime, my pledge didn't make or break their campaign, so they don't need (or possibly even want) my support.

    -Ken

  3. Hi Ken,

    You're spot on with your post about a big reason to deal with Apple ][ vendors. Although I don't buy every product available, I do buy more than I normally might that relates to my europluses to support the people who are supporting the Apple ][ community by releasing new products. This applies especially to those who are "known quantities" as far as quality and innovation go.

    I've been very lucky to have not had any bad experiences so far – that's not to say I haven't had faulty products, difficult technical challenges, or just felt that maybe I didn't really need another solid state storage solution (one of my favourite product categories): but when I have had those challenges, the vendors have been responsive, helpful, and, if unable to sort the problem, have offered refunds.

    That said, I go into these transactions knowing that these vendors _are_ people, not superglobalmegacorps, and for any number of reasons, things might go sour. I'm prepared to be more forgiving of members of the community who either aren't good businesspeople or not great at customer service – I'm very much in the caveat emptor camp for those vendors. I think your experiences with 8bitdo, however, warrant your response.

    Great post, and I appreciate your efforts as a "vendor" to continue to support the Apple ][ community in an area I doubt is high yield (financially, anyway).

    europlus