Hate my iPad2: a lesson about sourcing

News Flash: Steve Jobs kicked me in the nuts!

Here is how he did it.


The other day I set out for the local mall in Shenzhen with a budget of 300 RMB to pick up an MP3 player for my daughter’s birthday.  The IPad2 came out in China the very same date and the mall was abuzz. Despite being priced significantly higher than in the USA, IPads were selling like hotcakes in China and I get swept up in the hoopla thanks in part to my shopping sidekick Whit Kelly’s songs of praise for Apple products.


When I say “got swept up”, I mean I really got swept up in the slick marketing and great service of the Apple store. My 300 RMB budget ballooned to 6000+ RMB for the big GB drive, nice leather case and even key board. I walked out of the store thinking I’m the greatest Dad ever, envisioning my daughter using the iPad2 to help with her homework, download cool educational apps, listen to music and maybe even playing a few games now and then.

It’s déjà vu all over again

In a surreal replay of when my father brought home an Apple IIe for Christmas in the 80’s, there was a lot of delight and surprise on my daughter’s face when she opened the Apple product, but just like the Apple IIe, the excitement quickly turned to frustration when it came to getting the iPad2 set up and running.

My daughter was anxious to download some games and music and put this iPad to task, but in order to download stuff you need to have an account with iTunes. In order to have an account with iTunes you need a credit card. Fair enough, but Apple set things up so the language and content of your Apple store must match the address on your credit card. In this fashion they can manipulate and monitor your activity.

Big Brother has a name. It’s Steve and he is watching you!


The problem is that my credit card is from my USA bank but my family is based in China and the primary language around the house and for the iPad apps would be Chinese.  Of course my wife was none too happy that I unilaterally expanded the birthday budget from 300 to 6000 RMB, so as you can imagine it was very painful for me to ask her to let me use her Chinese credit card to set up our daughter’s iTunes account.

When making a purchase online, the billing address entered must match the address in the system. One wrong number or digit and the transaction can’t be processed.  Not such a big deal back in the USA, but in China, addresses can be very long and there is no standard for when to use Roman numerals and letters and when to use Chinese characters.  And to make matters worse, the bank wouldn’t tell us the correct address over the phone for so-called security reasons! Ahhhh.

After an hour of trying every possible combination of English and Chinese letters for the address the bank had for us in the system, we finally got it right and could now open an iTunes account if we just click “agree” to the terms and conditions.

Holy shit… I have seen some long-ass T&C from my days representing NY Lawyers sourcing in China, but the length of the Apple terms and conditions was insane.

No way was my wife going to take the time to read it and agree. Especially after what we had just gone through.  So knowing that some apps are for purchase but many are free, I assured my wife that there would be no problems or hidden charges.

My wife’s bank account is such that if a transaction is made it sends an SMS to her call phone.  So she has the phone sitting next to the new iPad2 and a facial expression like “I’m watching you Mike like a hawk.”

And like an idiot in red white and blue, I even said “Honey, this is the world famous American brand Apple, we can trust them, and they won’t hit us with any hidden charges. Relax. ” Keep in mind I am in the dog house already with my wife for over spending (to the tune of 20 X original budget) on the gift.  As soon as we agreed to the terms and conditions and opened an iTunes account for our daughter my wife’s cell phone gets a SMS that an automatic 1 USD charge has been made for “set up fees”.

Remember one of the “Superman” movies that had Richard Pryor’s computer program taking fractions of a penny from millions of transactions and diverting it to him to get rich? At least he was doing it in secret and taking just a fraction of a penny. Apple is sticking everybody for one whole dollar. That’s got to add up!

It’s a matter of principle

The principle of having to give me credit card to get “free downloads” and then still getting hit with a charge rubbed me the wrong way. Especially as we were told at the Apple store there were plenty of great apps for free and we need not worry about our daughter running up a bill by accident.  Even before I could put the iPad in my daughter’s hands, we had started to unknowingly run up a tab.

Despite the mental scars left from my Apple IIe, when I recently walked into the Apple store I was ready to give Apple another shot and I was honestly open to becoming an Apple convert, but this 1 dollar charge coming at this particular moment in the Apple experience, felt like Steve Jobs, rather than returning my goodwill, took a running start and kicked me right in the balls with a heavy boot.

No Gain,  Just Pain

With my tenders hurting, I officially ended the birthday party which 3 hours ago had turned from fun to frustration and everybody went to sleep with the promise that I would fix things the next day and find some value for the family from this expensive demon pad.

Just a few more examples of why iPad2 sucks before we get to the stuff on sourcing

Because I can’t explain properly how the events unfolded the following days without using profanity, in the interest of keeping this blog family friendly, let me just give you some highlights of just one of the many reasons why I hate my iPad2.

I knew in advance that Adobe wouldn’t function on the iPad, but I was shocked it wouldn’t allow access to any music formats outside of iTunes. For example, my daughter studies English via her school’s official website. There are downloads in streaming MP3 format that she needs to study.  iPad’s Safari browser won’t allow it. And having to “crack” my new iPad or set up some work around is an insane thing to ask a technology cave man like me (and many other iPad buyers in China) to do.

My daughter loves to read mysteries and science fiction e-books while listening to steaming downloads of music and radio stations. Can’t do it on an iPad.

These days my family lines up for time on the old desk top while the iPad2 sits in the living room like a 1000 USD paper weight. At this point we are referring to this piece of sh&% iPad2 as the “Dad-been-had-Pad”

Thank you sir, may I have another….

OK, I know I said just one reason why I hate my iPad2, but please let me give you one more before I talk about how this story related to China sourcing.

Getting back to my so-called-friend Whit Kelly who pushed me into the Apple store…

When I told him about my mess, he said he’d come over and show my family some cool apps. Like some Apple apps crack dealer, Whit got not only my daughter but even my wife hooked on Fruit Ninja and Vegetable Samurai. Two stupid games where items are tossed into the air and you try to slice as much fruit and vegetables up as possible before they fall to the ground. Homework is not getting done and my meals are being served cold thanks to the Whit’s ninja and samurai. Every time I hear the noises made by that damn game around my once quiet and peaceful living room, it makes me envision my 6000 RMB tossed up into the air and sliced to pieces.

Trust me there is a point in here about China sourcing. This is not merely an iPad2 frustration induced ramble.

I’m a professional purchasing agent. I even wrote a book on the subject. How in the world did I let this iPad2 mess happen?

Unfortunately, I made the same mistake with my purchase that many new buyers make when sourcing from China.

1. Lack of product definition & lack of focus on desired supplier attributes

Every buyer has a unique set of attributes for the ideal supplier. There are so many Chinese factories to choose from, it is essential to be clear about what you want to buy before you start the request for quotation process.

It is not uncommon for foreign buyers to come to a trade show in China planning to buy X product, but walk out of the show having placed and order for Y because they got swept away in the fancy promotions and/or what appeared to be a great price.  Later they learn the supplier was not reputable or in one case my friend couldn’t import the product into his country because the product doesn’t meet the safety standards of his market.  My point is the buyer needs to define in advance exactly what they are looking for, because if you don’t care where you are going, every road will take you there. And in China the average road is very dangerous.

Visit “how to select a supplier”,   “launching production in China” and “seconds from sourcing disaster” to learn more about how to conduct the vendor selection process.

I went out looking for an MP3 and came back with an IPad2 that doesn’t meet my family’s specific requirements for a pad or even an MP3 player.  My fault for not forcing myself to define and focus.

2. Lack of due diligence

In my blog and in CSIC’s China sourcing seminars we preach the commandment that buyer shall do due diligence before entering into contract with supplier.  This often involves getting references from other buyers of a factory.  But make sure you get a reference that is relevant. If you are importing to Japan and your factory reference is a Jamaican buyer, you may not be applying the same standards of design, price and quality. No offense to my Jamaican and Japanese friends, my point is that different buyers have different preferences and one preference is no better than the other.

In the case of my iPad2, Whit Kelly gave Apple high marks based on his experience as a US based consumer.  After I made the purchase, I asked Adam, one of my tech savvy friends from the USA who is based in our Shenzhen office.  He hates Apple with a passion and showed me his non-Apple pad that is doing everything my iPad2 can’t in China.

My fault for not getting relevant reference when doing my due diligence on what electronics to buy for my particular family.


I never thought I would be able to do a mash up of topics like Apple products and Clayton Bigsby in my blog on China Sourcing, but I close with

“Sir, my message is simple… Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iPad2 and all kinds of different Apple products STINK and I hate ‘em.”

As David Chappelle’s mixed up character Clayton Bigsby said “if you have hate in your heart….let it out!”  Writing this particular blog post has been very therapeutic!

BTW, if you are a Apple-hater like me…

Look for future posts about my experience with the old iPod. This picture should give you a hint about how things worked out.

ipod soon to be iPoo'd

white iPod soon to be brown iPoo'd

Wishing you successful China Sourcing!

Mike Bellamy

Author, “The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing” (chinasourcinginfo.org/book/)

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