How I became a Mac
For most of my life I have been a PC guy. Then along came Vista. My wife was in the market for a laptop, and on the PC side all I could find were Vista systems. I had been working with the Vista beta for about a year and half before it came out, so I already knew what a turd it was. It was a huge resource hog (of all resources: RAM, disk, CPU cycles), and in fact up until then, the history of Microsoft OS’s has been that each one uses geometrically more resources than the version previously. If you ran Win98 on a modern machine, it would be blazingly fast (there are numerous reasons why we don’t, chiefly that Microsoft stopped support of it and you can’t get drivers for modern hardware; another reason is security of the kernel). The cost of ownership would be high because of the extra memory, disk, and beefier CPU you needed to run it at a level of expectation required. Vista also had new and complex driver models, and getting support for old peripherals would be next to impossible. Aero was also not battery friendly, and would guarantee fast drain of any laptop it was enabled on. And all versions of Windows were renown for their snail slow start up, shut down, standby, and resume from standby times; not good for a laptop. In short, Vista was a showstopper.
After meticulous research, I decided that the best laptop to get would be a Macbook. This was not a popular decision with my wife, who would be the primary user of this machine. She was also a PC person, and had very specific requirements for software. After much cajoling, I managed to convince her that this was the right decision (and it still is in retrospect), and we would install Parallels to run whatever Windows software that she need to run. So in late 2007, we got one.
For most of our ownership, we were very happy with our purchase. It started up fast, went to standby fast, and seemed to run more or less smoothly. We had to learn a new UI, but so what, we are fast learners. I was a strong mac advocate at that time. We had some minor glitches along the way, but that is expected of any computer system.
- There was a bug in the OS that prevented my Canon camera software from working properly. As a result, any kind of time lapse sequence would fail and crash after about 50 or 100 frames. I tried to get it working for several OS updates, but eventually gave up and never did get it working. I wound up buying a cheap $20 intervalometer as my solution.
- It would not play any video format except for Quicktime (which is crap because it is poorly optimized and often has poor scalability (depending on codec)). Hunted around, found VLC player to play other things.
- It would intermittently connect with other computers in our home network. Sometimes it could see those other PC’s, sometimes it couldn’t. Never did figure this out. When it could connect, the mac could read/write to those systems, but not vice versa. Probably some built in software limitation.
- Safari was crap (but then again so is IE), couldn’t wait to download Firefox and later Chrome.
- The wifi strength indicator did not correlate well to the actual strength and connection speed. It was almost always at full bars, even when obviously slow and dropping packets.
- Over time it got slower and slower, just like Windows (the updates keep making the OS bigger and bigger until you run out of memory)
- The plastic case is not durable. The top case is chipped from just the wear of putting the palms of our hands there. Not what I would expect from a quality manufacturer.
- Somewhere along the way, the optical drive stopped functioning. Not that big a deal since I don’t watch DVD’s on it and I can always transfer stuff over via USB key.
- Not long after we got it, we noticed that sometimes the battery would not charge, and the green light would not go on on the AC adapter. If we tried to reconnect the magsafe connector, then the green light would eventually come on. Over time, our reconnect tries kept on going up, so that now it takes 10 or 20 tries before the green light comes on and we know the battery is charging.
But all of this is picking nits compared to
For about the past year, it became progressively harder to press the trackpad button. For the past few months, the trackpad itself was very difficult to control and position the mouse cursor. I finally got fed up and decided to fix it, so I took the whole thing apart to see what the problem was. I noticed that the trackpad was permanently attached to the upper casing with keyboard, so removing it to replace or repair was going to be difficult to impossible. So I cleaned the area between the top button and the clicker as best I could, it seemed to be clicking fine, cleared out all the dust in the mobo area to prevent future thermal problems, and put the whole thing back together. The last step was to lock the battery back in, and I noticed that it would not go back in without considerable force. Aha, went the light bulb, the battery had deformed and was bulging in the middle, pressing against the trackpad and impairing its function. I plugged it in without the battery and verified that this was indeed the problem. Other than the charging problem, the battery was also getting very hot during use, but was still able to retain a 2 hour charge (which is only a little less than when we got it new).
So I googled the problem and found literally hundreds of posts on various forums describing the same problem. Here’s a few:
Reading a bunch of these posts, there are two problems that become apparent to me as an engineer.
- They purchase cheap batteries that have a tendency to leak and explode. Their solution is to seal the battery so it doesn’t spray caustic chemicals all over the place when it does expand or explode, then get the customer to buy a new battery for more profit (FYI, their warranty does not cover batteries). There is no incentive for them to fix this problem because being a greedy bastard is more important to them than doing the right thing. And think of how environmentally unfriendly it is to consume all those extra batteries that you would not ordinarily purchase for any other computer.
- There is a design flaw where they do not allow enough wiggle room within the battery compartment to allow for expansion of the battery. It then presses against the topcase and causes other impairments. Macbooks and Macbook Pros are the only computers where the problem is widespread. Google “bulging battery” and the vast majority of hits will all be Apple related. As far as I know this design problem still exists in current models. In my life as an engineer, I’ve dealt with hundreds of different laptops and never heard of anything like this.
Reading online, in many cases, the resolution was to bring in the macbook to an Apple store and they would replace the battery free of charge, even if out of warranty. There were even some cases where the customer has replaced the battery on an annual basis. So that’s what I would do, find an Apple store and my problems would be solved (not!)
The Customer Service
Apparently lots of people have problems with Apple products because there was a line of people to get to the “(disin)genius” bar. The store was crowded, but half the people in there were there for customer support. A 20 minute wait wasn’t too bad, so we waited. People showing up shortly after me were being denied and being booked for the next day. We first spoke to Robyn, who was very nice and said that she couldn’t give us a replacement battery because it was out of warranty, we would have to buy one for $120. Umm, no let’s speak to her manager. She sent Jesse (who I believe was a team lead and not an actual manager). At first Jesse just repeated what Robyn said. But what about all the people who got free replacements, what about the hundreds of posts of people with the same problem? Then came lots of repetition about how we were out of warranty and we would have to buy a battery for the next 2 hours . So here are some highlights about what he said.
The right things that Jesse said:
- He was calm and mostly polite, no matter how belligerent I became
- He eventually offered us half off the retail cost (down to $60), then half off of their cost ($51). Out of principle, I refused. This is obviously a design problem, I should not have to buy batteries on a recurring basis to fix a design fault. Afterwards, I looked up how much a new aftermarket battery would be, and the answer is $30 on Amazon.com and $50 on Amazon.ca
The wrong things that he said:
- He said that he was surprised to hear about these battery problems and it was the first he had heard of it. Bullshit! While we were in the store, there were 2 other people with macbook pregnant battery problems (but not making a fuss, like sheep to the slaughter and believing everything they were told). I told him that there is a computer right there and he could google it himself and find hundreds of complaints. He did not. When I mentioned the term “pregnant battery” to Robyn and the previous guy who booked my appointment, they knew exactly what I meant and no further clarifications were required (it is the term that Apple seems to use for this problem that I learned while reading about it online).
- He kept on repeating how they did not cover consumable items, like the battery. No, I said, the battery is still working electrically, the problem is a design flaw which impairs the functioning of the computer and also involves the battery. Replacing the battery is a workaround to the actual design problem.
- He said it was normal for a battery to bulge over time. If that’s normal and Apple freely admits that they know about this, then that’s an admission there wasn’t enough wiggle room in the design, right?
- He was often passively patronizing. Come on dude, even though most of your customers are computer challenged, my hindbrain (my ass) knows more about computers than you will ever know. And I keep telling you that I googled this problem before I came over. There is a culture of arrogance at Apple that comes directly from the top.
- He said that he believed we were “exploiting the situation”, basically calling us liars. Absolutely not. This is clearly a design fault that has affect thousands of people. We will not give Apple a single penny to resolve an impairment that is clearly their fault which they are clearly trying to deny. Its the principle, money is not the issue here. And so far all the lying seems to be coming from his side.
- He kept on repeating that it is Apple’s policy to not replace batteries out of warranty, but he would not go on the record with that statement. He would not write it down, and he refused to be video’ed saying it. But he had no problem vocalizing that statement every few minutes.
- I expressed my consternation that there is a safety issue and it might explode or catch fire. He proclaimed that it was normal to bulge and perfectly safe. He would not go on the record with that statement.
So basically we walked out of the store with nothing but frustration. Our macbook is now a heated paperweight, and we will never buy another Apple product again. And on a side note, for the 2 hours that we were there, we noticed a *lot* of people coming in to complain about the batteries on their iPhones.
So that iPad that my wife was going to get for her mother’s birthday? Not going to happen.
That iMac that we were going to get for software development? Not going to happen.
Windows 7 has rectified most of the shortcomings of Vista, so…. I am a PC.
The Work Order
In order to properly document my experience, I requested in writing everything that was said. They took over an hour to craft this, so I’m sure they were on the phone with head office to make sure what they were allowed to say. This document is more revealing in what they don’t say as much as what they do.
- They state that I expressed safety concerns. I certainly did! They verbally stated that a bulging battery is normal and completely safe, but conveniently omit their response.
- They state that my battery was out of warranty so they would not be replacing it. This is what they did. They verbally said that it was Apple’s policy to not replace batteries out of warranty. This is their policy. When I asked them to put their policy in writing, they refused. All I wanted was to be treated fairly like everyone else, which is why I asked for the policy statement in the first place. I took this to implicitly mean that I was not being treated fairly and uniformly. In fact, they also state that this is treated on a case by case basis, so obviously my case wasn’t as good as other people with the identical problem as I found online.
- When asked to revise some of their statements below, they refused and basically said we were done.
Other Reasons to Not Buy Apple Products
Apple products seem to be all about the things you aren’t allowed to do. If you want to do something that a mac can’t do, Steve Jobs will come over to your house and call you an idiot. Unfortunately, deprecating those who have not drunk the Kool Aid seems to be the mantra of the true believers. Cultish indeed.
- Bluray is not supported on any Apple product. You can’t play a BD, you can’t burn a BD data disc. Period. Publicly they say that they are waiting for Bluray to become an established standard. What kind of idiot do you think we are? Privately, its to avoid cannibalization of their iTunes product. However, iTunes movies are optimized for small playback devices and look like crap on a big screen TV, and leave the user with no options for high quality video. The biggest resolution of AppleTV is only 720p. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/apple/apples-blu-ray-fiasco-the-itunes-conflict/5928
- Flash is not supported on iPhones. Same protectionism as above: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/11/adobe-flash-on/
- iPad does not support flash and does not have any USB ports.
- iPods do not have replaceable batteries and they only last 18 months (outside of warranty)
- iPhone has many anecdotal problems. Other than the well publicized antenna problems, many of my iPhone owning friends have told me not to get one, for reasons such as: microphone keeps breaking, dropped calls, authentication problems. And now we have a new anecdotal problem: bad batteries. A few weeks ago, I purchased an Android phone and couldn’t be more pleased with the purchase (HTC Wildfire S, which is far from state of the art). My wife got a Samsung Galaxy S2, which is state of the art, and it blows the iPhone out of the water in so many ways.
- Only Quicktime is supported natively for video. As previously stated, QT is poorly optimized. Most codecs available for QT do not scale well, so if your internet connection is not fast enough, or your CPU can’t keep up with a high quality decode, then it doesn’t know how to scale back the quality so it plays reasonably. It’s often all or nothing. Watch any high quality streaming or downloaded video on a Windows PC and the experience is much better.
- My dislike of FCP7 is well documented. Abysmal resampling, forced transcoding to Quicktime, bugs bugs bugs, the list goes on. I should update that blog post because I thought of more reasons to avoid it now.
- FCPX is one of the most poorly reviewed pieces of software out of Apple ever. Another case of Apple telling the customer what he or she wants instead of listening.
- Their customer service has had some high profile bad press lately. Such as denying that viruses existed on macs whenever a customer would call Apple customer support complaining of a virus on their computer. http://answerguy.com/2011/05/20/customer-service-apple-evil-computer-virus/
- Apple is a bully, plain and simple. All internet media will cost more to the consumer as they apply their media tax. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/16/business/la-fi-apple-publishing-20110217
And for your viewing enjoyment:
- If they won’t replace the battery for free, be prepared to spend all day there to argue and use up all their time. Make them pay for it one way or another. If enough people do this, it will become more cost effective to give you the battery.
- Don’t buy Apple products unless they get their act together, of which there are no signs of this happening. They need to fix the design issue, do a product recall, stop lying, don’t treat their customers like idiots, and put guarantees on the battery.
- If you are tempted to buy an Apple product, do yourself a favour and hang out at the “genius” bar for a while and eavesdrop on the problems that people are having with those products.
Stay tuned for more updates as I recall more of the conversation. Trolls and true believers, don’t bother commenting because I won’t approve it.