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  • The State of Mac Reliability: Where Do We Stand?

    June 4th, 2007

    When I saw that recent issue of Consumer Reports containing a reader survey that lumps Mac notebooks together with their PC counterparts when it comes to reliability, I felt serious concerns. Does this mean that Apple is losing its knack for great quality control?

    Certainly you can easily come to that conclusion. After all, the first production runs of MacBooks and MacBook Pros had particularly irritating problems of one sort or another. The former had the issue of cases developing stains, and let's not forget about those swelling batteries, or just some that would stop holding a full charge. In fact, I had one of the latter, although it was promptly replaced under warranty.

    You can add to that equation the complaints that they all run a little too hot, although ongoing firmware updates that are designed to make the fans run more efficiently may have helped some.

    When you add all this to the various and sundry extended repair programs for earlier Mac notebooks, you can see why the survey results aren't so favorable anymore.

    Now I don't pretend to know just how accurate those Consumer Reports surveys might be. They are evidently sent to all paid subscribers, so it hardly qualifies as a random sampling. The exact demographics in terms of how many own Macs and how many own PCs should not have any impact, however. After all, it's all based on a percentage of the owners of a product reporting some sort of debilitating problem.

    I've responded to the survey myself from time to time, and while the questions are, typical of Consumer Reports, overly general, I fail to see any evidence of an innate bias towards one product or another. You report whether the product has encountered problems or not. Period.

    But when it comes to Mac OS X, you can't really find the answers to its reliability in any magazine I know about. Instead, you go online and check out the sites that carry troubleshooting information, or just look over Apple's own discussion boards to see what's going wrong and, sometimes, why.

    But those reports, troubling as they may seem, don't carry the weight of a product reliability survey. You see, folks who don't encounter any difficulties, or just minor ones, have very little interest in visiting such places, unless they are morbidly curious. They are otherwise occupied using their Macs rather than complaining about them.

    I know that I still provide onsite guidance to a small number of Mac users in my area, and I can't recall that any of them have reported even a fraction of the issues that rear their ugly heads on Mac troubleshooting sites and discussion forums.

    This isn't to say the reported problems are not real, that some Mac users -- or maybe a few Windows users hoping to start a little trouble -- are telling tall tales just to stoke the fires. I'll assume that, in large part, the issues are genuine. At the same time, they may only represent a subset of a subset of the Mac user base.

    More to the point, you'd probably have to do a really thorough statistical analysis, with plenty of random surveying, to get a true picture about the state of Mac operating system reliability. That would hardly be a casual undertaking, and it's probably one that is not likely to exist outside of Apple Inc.

    Indeed, I'm fully convinced that Apple pays very close attention to every single complaint they receive or perhaps read about. Maybe the customer service people will claim ignorance of many problems that seem persistent, but it all goes into the database. Apple's quality control people are keeping close tabs on these matters, and if there's a trend -- or perhaps the threat or the actual filing of a class-action suit -- you can bet something will be done to address the matter.

    You only have to witness the ongoing extended repair programs, system updates and so on and so forth to see real evidence that Apple is doing what seems to be necessary to rid itself of worst issues, and satisfy customers of course.

    Alas, the process of gaining satisfaction isn't always so easy if there's no immediate software update or hardware fix. This isn't to say Apple doesn't care. Anything that potentially hurts customer satisfaction with their products -- and certainly the bottom line -- will be taken seriously.

    When a real problem is found, sometimes it's not so easy to find a solution, particularly one that doesn't create its own set of troubles. That makes sense, but sometimes I feel Apple could react just a little faster to some situations before they seem to get out of hand.



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    15 Responses to “The State of Mac Reliability: Where Do We Stand?”

    1. Something I run into occasionally concerns the Mighty Mouse scroll ball — it gets gummed up and quits working. Design flaw? Or hygiene-challenged? :)

    2. Something I run into occasionally concerns the Mighty Mouse scroll ball — it gets gummed up and quits working. Design flaw? Or hygiene-challenged? :)

      You mean the little button? It is awfully uncomfortable for me. Go look at a wireless mouse from Logitech and (believe it or not) Microsoft. Both make really good input devices.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Bill Burkholder says:

      Gene, what about the phenomenon of the 17-inch 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 with deteriorating LCD screens? There are hundreds of documented cases of these G4s, made 18 to 30 months ago, with one-pixel wide, vertical colored lines popping up randomly all over! I have one with 25 such lines on it (20 last week), and counting. Do a Google search for "Bridget Riley Powerbooks" and watch the videos referenced on YouTube. Then visit Crosspond.com/apple.php and view the reports.
      Apple should do the right thing here, warranty expired or not, Applecare protected or not. I don't want a new machine, just one with a clean monitor!

    4. Gene, what about the phenomenon of the 17-inch 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 with deteriorating LCD screens? There are hundreds of documented cases of these G4s, made 18 to 30 months ago, with one-pixel wide, vertical colored lines popping up randomly all over! I have one with 25 such lines on it (20 last week), and counting. Do a Google search for "Bridget Riley Powerbooks" and watch the videos referenced on YouTube. Then visit Crosspond.com/apple.php and view the reports.
      Apple should do the right thing here, warranty expired or not, Applecare protected or not. I don't want a new machine, just one with a clean monitor!

      I've read about this and I want to explore it further. I've had older versions of those PowerBooks with no such problems. But you have to be concerned.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Bill Burkholder says:

      Apple is pretty mum about it. They've locked or deleted forum entries on their site regarding this issue. A grassroots effort to develop a class action suit is in the works. 
      The phenomenon also affects certain Dell laptops, as well as certain iMacs! Dell's response has been a lot more progressive thus far than has Apple's.

    6. Apple is pretty mum about it. They've locked or deleted forum entries on their site regarding this issue. A grassroots effort to develop a class action suit is in the works.
      The phenomenon also affects certain Dell laptops, as well as certain iMacs! Dell's response has been a lot more progressive thus far than has Apple's.

      Wouldn't be surprised if they both sourced the same flat panels. There is a lot of commonality to these parts nowadays. Yes, we are going look this over carefully.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. steve says:

      I've had the scroll ball in the MM quit working at least in one direction for a time, but the problem went away fairly soon. I don't think it is a hygiene issue. Maybe people do cleaning until the problem goes away, and then they believe they solved the problem by cleaning.

      I like the little ball. It's out of the way, unlike the big honkin' clumsy wheels that most PC mice sport. You can ignore it or use it at any time, whichever seems handier at the moment. And the various buttons on the MM can be disabled, so you can pick up the mouse by the sides without invoking goodness knows what actions. And with the right "button" disabled, you can click with a rock of the whole hand without getting all carpel-tunnelly with individual fingers, so the hand doesn't tire and the wrist get sore by the end of long sessions at the computer. The shape of the mouse fits my size hand well, so it works better for me probably than for those with tiny or giant hands.

    8. Brad says:

      hi,

      just took my imac 17" core2 duo in for screen turning PINK. They replaced the logic board under warranty, but a week later I discovered the iSight camera did not work. Obviously they did not test it.

      Took it back yesterday and it was fixed while I waited.

      I have mixed emotions about this. On one hand they fixed it, but returned it in less than perfect condition, which required me to make yet another trip out to their store for a repair.

      On top of that I get a call from customer relations stating they want to extend some good will. I was asked if I would like a wireless keyboard and mouse. I say why not, but does it have to be the apple brand? They say no what are you thinking about. The item I wanted was less than the combined price of the apple wireless keyboard/mouse. However they refused to do that and then offered me $30 off my next $100 purchase at the Apple store.

      I declined.

      Considering I spent a great deal of my personal time, I had to take off work, and with gas prices at around 3 dollars. I think they could have done better than $30.

      I have never had a Mac that did not have at least one debilitating problem. I have owned 5 iMacs over the last 9 years. This may be my last.

    9. I feel for your problems, but Apple rates at the top of the PC industry when it comes to reliability. So whatever you might get instead is apt to be worse.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Brad says:

      Hi,

      I hear ya, I really do. I want to stay with Apple but I don't know if I will. They have the best OS hands down, but the hardware I have owned, has been spotty at best. maybe I am just un-lucky, but I don't think so.

    11. steve says:

      For a warranty repair, if it is too much of a ride to an Apple store, they'll send you a box to ship it back in.

      I needed a monitor repair when I lived about 50 miles from the Charlotte store. They told me on the phone to take it in, and I said that would be at least 200 miles of driving (with 2 round trips), so they said they'd send a box, and it came the next day, as I recall.

    12. Bill Burkholder says:

      Well, I took my 17-inch G4 PowerBook with 38 one-pixel vertical colored lines on the LCD to the Apple Store here in Charlotte last Monday. My original intention was just to show it to the Genius Bar guy and see what he said, and to get it registered in their AppleCare case files in case there is a recall. I casually mentioned that the phenomenon has been noted all over the web (crosspond.com is the registration site if you have the problem or know someone with it). But on examination, and after showing it to the store manager, he offered to fix it at no charge. It's in repair now. (I don't have AppleCare on this machine, but will definitely get it on my next Macbook!)

      I'll see whether everything works when I get it back, and let you know how long it took! They said 5-7 business days, but it just got to their repair depot on Thursday and the status shows it waiting on a part.

    13. Bill Burkholder says:

      Follow-up on funny colored lines phenomenon... Okay, my PBG4 mentioned in earlier threads here arrived yesterday from AppleCare Service with a new screen and bezel, but minus 1GB of third party memory the AppleCare folks said was defective. (It came back in a pink anti-stat bag.) They hinted that it might have caused the problem, and that it was also not "approved" for use in the machine (!?!--- It's DDR SDRAM PC2700, to Apple specs, so what else do they want? Do you have to buy Apple's RAM for these things? Naw!).

      I called Kingston, and they're replacing the memory DIMM under warranty. Also, their web site lists the exact DIMM I have as still the current recommendation for the PBG4-17 I have. I will run every memory test I can find on the new RAM once I get it installed, just to be sure it is clean.

      The new screen is great... but a 512MB machine is creepily slow... If you have the "Bridget Riley" phenomenon on your W85 serial number PBG4-17", test your RAM!

    14. manymoods says:

      I AM A W85 VICTIM! HAVE YOU BEEN SHANGHAIED TOO?
      Read the full story on http://www.manymoods.org and join the PB Group on Facebook http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=26228848170&ref=share
      My last check on Petition Online shows that we are at least 1225 suffering victims worldwide as per today. If you haven't signed the petition yet, go there now: http://www.petitiononline.com/maclines/petition.html

      WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT to proceed the APPLE BATTLE!
      Thanks for your attention/Kerstin

      Well, I took my 17-inch G4 PowerBook with 38 one-pixel vertical colored lines on the LCD to the Apple Store here in Charlotte last Monday. My original intention was just to show it to the Genius Bar guy and see what he said, and to get it registered in their AppleCare case files in case there is a recall. I casually mentioned that the phenomenon has been noted all over the web (crosspond.com is the registration site if you have the problem or know someone with it). But on examination, and after showing it to the store manager, he offered to fix it at no charge. It's in repair now. (I don't have AppleCare on this machine, but will definitely get it on my next Macbook!)

      I'll see whether everything works when I get it back, and let you know how long it took! They said 5-7 business days, but it just got to their repair depot on Thursday and the status shows it waiting on a part.

    15. Bill Burkholder says:

      Well, It's over a year later. That PB-G4 17 is still going strong, with no more issues. It's semi-retired, now, since I've added a MacBook Pro to my arsenal. But it works great with the new screen and new RAM.

      I have to remind you that Apple did fix my machine for nothing, and Kingston did replace the RAM for nothing. I was inconvenienced by the colored lines, but they treated me like royalty.

      Actually, that was the second of several opportunities they've had to show what stellar service they can provide at the Apple Store when you act like a reasonable person and merely state your case. The first time, my PB-G4 17 failed with a broken power switch, three days after I bought it from MacZone. I took it to the Apple Store. They replaced it, no questions asked, with a brand new machine. They even transferred all my data over from the dead PB's hard drive. Two years later, they put a brand new screen in that same machine. Free.

      Recently, my wife's iPod Touch died during an update. I was completely dark (bricked). Following all their web sites' recommended techniques to revive it did nothing. I took it in during Apple's crazy iPhone 3G release week. The concierge met me at the door of the Apple Store (SouthPark Mall, Charlotte). He called a Genius Bar guy over, who took it from me while I waited outside. About 35 minutes later, he walked out and handed it to me. "Works fine," he said. No paperwork. No charges. Nothing else said. Perfect.

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