Mac beats all comers on reliability, support ... again

And Vista is 'more reliable' after service pack, says chain of computer repair shops

For the second year running, Apple Inc.'s computers are the most reliable, and its support is the most dependable of all computer makers selling in the U.S., a national chain of computer service shops said today.

Apple's Macs beat machines sold and supported by Panasonic, Lenovo, Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard, according to Rescuecom Corp.'s third annual reliability report. Apple, which took the top spot last year, more than doubled its score from 2007 and again trounced the competition, this year posting a score 43% higher than next-best Panasonic Corporation of North America.

Rescuecom comes up with its scores by comparing the percentage of each vendor's support calls with its U.S. market share, said company CEO David Milman. The greater the difference between the two, the higher the score. For instance, Apple received its record-setting score of 700 because Macs made up only 1.1% of all calls to Rescuecom, even though its estimated market share was 7.8% for the year.

Apple's 2008 score soared because as its market share increased -- from 5% last year to the 7.8% in 2008 -- the percentage of Mac-related calls to Rescuecom actually dropped, from 2007's 1.4% to this year's 1.1%.

"Apple has a very strong game in this market," said Milman. "This year it's like last year, but even more so. The combination of its online support and the support at local stores has been a big winner for Apple."

Key to Apple's success, he argued, is the support the company provides at its retail stores. "Apple is essentially giving away support," said Milman, referring to the free consultations that any Macintosh owner can schedule with tech-support personnel at Apple's brick-and-mortar stores. "That's a great way to neutralize Windows' [dominant] place in the market. Even though Apple claims that Macs are easy to use, to a long-time Windows user, switching might be a daunting task."

Panasonic, which placed second on Rescuecom's list with a score of 489, and Toshiba Corp., in fourth place with 299, are both new to the company's top five list. The pair surged past rivals by boosting their U.S. market share while continuing to account for low percentages of support calls.

"Laptops are getting sturdier," Milman maintained, "and the move toward laptops and away from desktops has helped some laptop providers." Both Panasonic and Toshiba are best known in the U.S. for their laptops.

However, some laptop makers fared poorly. Sony Corp., for example, placed seventh on Rescuecom's list with a score of 114. "Its U.S. share grew 31% last year, but its share of the repair calls grew at a similar pace," said Milman. "Sony's laptops are built more on elegance and aesthetics rather than reliability."

Dell Inc. fell off Rescuecom's list for the first time, even though it improved its score, from 2007's 94 to this year's 129. "It's not that Dell dropped, but that some very strong players -- like Panasonic and Toshiba -- came in," Milman said. "Dell's problem was that it didn't improve as much as [its] competitors." Two years ago, Dell was in fourth place, while last year, it came in fifth.

Lenovo Group Ltd., which was second last year, slipped to third place in 2008. Like Dell, Lenovo's score improved in large part because it lost 10% of its market share during the year. "It's no surprise, since the marketing engine for the company is no longer IBM," said Milman. "But they kept their reliability strong."

Milman also noted that Windows Vista-related calls have dropped off. "Vista has gotten a lot more reliable, with its patches and the service pack. [2008] didn't have the rush of calls we got when Vista first came out," he said.

"And I expect that the new release of Windows will embed all those improvements, so it should be reliable, too," Milman added, talking about Windows 7, the in-development successor to Vista.

Netbooks, the small, low-priced laptops that are gaining market share as consumers increasingly look for bargains, are also starting to show on Rescuecom's radar. "When people call up and find out that it will take between $88 and $100 to fix [a netbook], they'll say, 'But I only paid $400 for it,'" Milman said. "If you buy a cheap machine, expect it to perform as a cheap machine."

Some netbook sellers are at an additional disadvantage, in that they don't have a support infrastructure that can compete with the likes of Apple, HP or Dell, Milman added.

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