About Apple Hardware and Buggy Systems

December 9th, 2016

You can say the launch of an all-new Apple gadget may at times be troublesome. While some of you may feel that Apple’s quality control has taken a nosedive in recent years — and you want to blame Tim Cook for it — that’s not quite true. Every so often a new Apple device arrives that has defects that require a software update, or perhaps a hardware fix or replacement.

I remember that PowerBook 5300ce I bought back in 1996. It was actually introduced the previous year, but production was halted, or never started, because Apple had to change out the battery configuration. They wanted to introduce lithium-ion batteries, but some early production units began to smoke. In other words, display symptoms similar to those that dogged Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 earlier this year.

So Apple had to switch back to a nickel-hydride battery which offered a shorter lifecycle, but at least it worked reliably. I received it months late, and I paid something in the mid-$5,000 range for it; there were evidently configurations that cost as much a $6,300. So when you complain about a fully-outfitted Late 2016 MacBook Pro costing upwards of $3,000 when all the options are selected on a custom order, don’t forget how far we’ve come. Still, the average Windows notebook these days has a mid-three-figure price tag.

What made matters was is that my 5300ce had to go back to Apple several times to fix different bugs. One fi required a new logic board, another involved some adhesive that kept leaking into view from the bottom of the display bezel. In fact, I kept returning the unit to Apple, for the leaking adhesive phenomenon was never fully repaired. It seemed almost ghost-like when it reappeared a few weeks after the unit was returned to me.

I finally sold that PowerBook to a friend at a discount, warning him of the potential problems. He ended up sending it back to Apple one more time before selling it to someone else, he said, for the same price he paid me. So you could call us even!

Yet another Mac notebook I owned, a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2006 or thereabouts, had some sort of battery swelling problem, but it was easily replaced. You could actually change batteries in those days in a matter of minutes. The last MacBook Pro I acquired was a similar 2010 model. I still have it, and I’ve boosted performance with more RAM (8GB) and a 500GB SSD. It works pretty well, though I can see the joys of a Retina display.

Since it continues to run reliably, I haven’t thought about replacing it.

I recall when a client’s iMac G5, first introduced in 2004, developed a power supply failure, not once but twice. The first time he paid an independent repair shop for the fix. When I pointed him to Apple’s extended repair announcement, he called up support and arranged to have the repair done at an Apple Store. In turn, Apple arranged to refund the money he paid on that first repair.

As I read about battery problems with an iPhone 6s, and view an assortment of other issues on Apple’s support site, it’s clear to me that there have always been defective products out there from Apple. Other tech companies have also encountered various and sundry issues.

Most often problems of this sort aren’t caught during the early test stages, and don’t show up until millions of units are in use. They may involve premature failures of one component or another, and it may take time for Apple to confirm that something more significant than an isolated issue is involved. But they’ll usually do the right thing and make the repairs free of charge.

When I bought my son, Grayson, a loaded black MacBook in 2008, I made the decision — a smart one I realized later — to buy AppleCare. During that three-year support period, Grayson replaced nearly every part on that notebook. A couple of hard drives failed, a keyboard or two, the logic board, and there were also LCD failures. After three years, nearly every component had been replaced one or more times.

After he received that computer, he took up residence in Madrid, where he began his career as a teacher. He teaches Spanish students English. For the most part, I learned of his frequent visits to an Apple dealer via email. But I didn’t press him on whether he was being unduly abusive to his Mac. He’s always impressed me as being reasonably careful about handling breakable machinery.

But after three years of fixing everything, AppleCare expired. Yet another failure occurred, and so I followed up with Apple to convince them that this computer was a lemon, and probably should have been replaced long ago. They did agree to repair it yet again, and one more time a few months later, before informing me that enough was enough. If the MacBook developed any more problems, it was on Grayson’s dime.

He hung out until earlier this year, when something stopped working, most likely the logic board. I don’t know what he did with it. He probably handed it off to a friend, and bought a new MacBook Air.

Although it sometimes took a few telephone calls to executive support people to convince Apple to continue to provide free support, in the end they acted above and beyond the call of duty.

As I write this, there are reports of graphics glitches and poor battery life on some of the new MacBook Pros. Apple is evidently in the final stages of readying a macOS Sierra 10.12.2 release to fix the graphics issues, which apparently impact both 13-inch and 15-inch models. I don’t know about the battery life, but none of this comes as a surprise to me. Not at all.

It reminds me of what some day about buying a car. Don’t purchase a vehicle in its first model year. Give it a year or so for the kinks to be worked out. Consider the second year and beyond to get the most reliable performance. Perhaps that’s also true about Macs.

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2 Responses to “About Apple Hardware and Buggy Systems”

  1. Energizer Bunny-man says:

    Good column! It’s worthwhile reminding people that things weren’t always roses under Jobs’s watch, either!

    Not sure, though if it’s just “some” of the new MBPs that have poor battery life or MOST (ALL?) of them– that is, an inherent characteristic of the new Touch Bar laptops!

    Let’s hope not!

    Agreed, first editions can be problematic, although we immediately took the plunge for the original iPad and loved using it for years– without any problems whatsoever.

  2. DaveD says:

    I have to consider myself to have better luck with my later Mac notebooks. My 1998 PowerBook G3 Series, a new model that I had to wait for two more months died after three and a half years and of course, after AppleCare expired. My friend was unlucky with iBook and an aluminum PowerBook. A number of requests for shipping box to the repair depot. Fortunately, AppleCare took care of the expenses. I do recall it was all or mostly about the graphics issues seeing that the main logic board was replaced. I do agree that it is best to wait several months before buying that new shiny Mac model on Day One.

    Reading the comments from yesterday’s Commentary, I find myself slow to notice this. The 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro is Apple bringing it up to the same level of iPhone and iPad manufacturing. No internal upgradability after purchase. What you bought is set for the life of the product.

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