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  • The Mac Hardware Report: Buggy as Hell?

    September 5th, 2006

    Consider that Apple sells more than four million computers a year. Now consider that a very small number of those computers develop defects of one sort or another. Now consider that everything Apple does is under a magnifying glass, that insignificant matters that would be ignored if it happened to any other PC maker suddenly take on gigantic proportions.

    So is Apple’s quality control slipping? Did they rush into Intel-land too quickly in order to avoid a sales slowdown, and allow all sorts of irritating problems to occur? More and more tech writers and bloggers are wondering, but I think it’s time to look at the matter in a more sensible fashion.

    Understand that I am not about to suggest that these problems don’t exist, but maybe it’s time to put them in perspective and see how they fit in the larger perspective.

    First, despite the simple, understated look that signifies Apple hardware, and the occasional use of exotic construction materials, the parts inside are more and more in line with industry standards. Today’s Mac uses the same processors, hard drives, optical drives and many other components that are used in a Dell, a Gateway or an HP. LCD displays are sourced from the same Asian suppliers. They are often built in the same manufacturing centers. So any problems that afflict a Mac are likely to afflict these other products as well.

    Take those infamous lithium-ion batteries. The ones that have triggered recalls in recent years come from such makers as LG and Sony, companies that also provide batteries for other PC makers. While some might suggest that such companies as Apple and Dell ought to test their OEM parts more carefully, don’t forget that the number of instances of smoking or flaming note-books is exceedingly small. We’re talking about a dozen or two out of the 5.8 million batteries that have been recalled. Even one incident too much, of course, but the production mistakes that caused these problems posed a low risk and were quite possibly easily overlooked. We are all human, after all.

    Then there are the recent reports of sudden shutdowns with some MacBooks. It’s not yet certain just how widespread the problem is, but remember, all it takes is a few vocal people to garner lots of attention really fast. The main cause, however, is still undetermined. According to MacWindows.com’s John Rizzo, “motherboards, heat and batteries” are being implicated. Another post talked of a software problem, so the issue still remains open.

    It is, however, a little premature to attack Apple; that is, so long you can get an affected MacBook serviced without complaint. Unfortunately, as is almost always the case, if there is a factory defect, it may take weeks to find out what it is, and additional weeks to find, test and roll in a fix.

    Remember that when a company is building hundreds of thousands of products, a few dozen or even a few hundred failures may seem like a lot, especially if many of those issues are reported online. But in the scheme of things, it’s perfectly normal. Annoying, but normal.

    More to the point, while Apple may seem slow to respond sometimes to reports of problems with their products, if there is a provable defect, they do extend warranties, where needed, and make sure that you can get your computer fixed if you encounter any of these problems.

    Look, for example, at the current listing of known recalls or repair programs and the problems they cover:

    Battery Recalls

    • 15-inch MacBook Pro
    • iBook G4 and PowerBook G4

    Repair Extensions

    • PowerBook G4 Memory Slot (15-inch)
    • PowerBook G4 Display (15-inch)
    • iBook Logic Board
    • iMac G5 (Video and Power Issues)
    • eMac (Video and Power Issues)

    Notice that only one of these special programs, a battery recall, covers an Intel-based Mac. You might say, with perhaps a little justification, that Apple was dragged kicking and screaming to institute these special programs. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

    If Apple rushes a solution into production, and it’s the wrong one, what would you say then?

    Yes, it may very well be true that Apple worked overtime to deliver Intel-based models into the store shelves, and I’m sure the pressure was very high. It may even be possible that they made a few mistakes along the way that had to be fixed later on. But as you can see, this is nothing new. When machines make all the production decisions, maybe things will be perfect. For now, although there are customer support lapses here and there, maybe it’s time to cut Apple a little slack.

    I know if you have a few war stories to tell, you won’t agree, and I would feel for you. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you’d post your tale of woe in our Comments area. But if you expect perfection from Apple, or anything close, it’s time to lower your expectations.



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