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Posted by gustav at 04:01AM, Thursday, December 05th, 2002

Don't buy Apple laptops -- they might start fires

Rocky's 2nd "Pismo" power supply, three months out of warranty, shoots sparks. Apple won't replace it. Our exposure to PowerBook "reliability" has been unimpressive.

Late in 2001, the power supply that came with Rocky's "Pismo" Apple PowerBook G3 started failing. The joint between the cord to the wall and the "ufo" converter part became unreliable, sometimes working, sometimes not, and sometimes shooting the occasional spark. One of these eventually blew out the cable, and the supply was completely unusable. The Mac was just out of warranty, so we had to buy a new supply in January, 2002.

Early this year, the same thing started happening again -- the supply started not charging the battery; sometimes jiggling the connector would make it work again, sometimes not. Then it more or less died completely, earlier this month (April, 2003). If you jiggle it, it will shoot big sparks. Of course, we're a little nervous about having this thing in the house, let alone trying to use it to power a machine Rocky's using professionally. He called the local Apple Store, and the guy said to bring it on in. We got there, and a different guy tells us there's nothing he can do -- and that "even if you'd bought it in mid-February, maybe, but it's just out of warranty now." Say what? The claim that he can do nothing sounds a little hollow when he says he'd consider it if we'd bought the thing in February -- if it's a matter of being outside of warranty, why does an extra month matter? This, on the heels of my TiBook power supply failing completely while we were traveling last month, and getting disturbingly hot to the touch when it did, has more or less dissolved any faith I at one time had in the reliability of Apple laptops.

The guy I saw at the Apple Store in Tampa about the TiBook power supply was nice enough, and gave me a new one on the spot -- as well he should have. The problem there was that it's quite simply unacceptable to have two failures that render a new $2500 machine inoperable within four months. Both this and the Pismo are from Apple's "professional" lineup, and they're both used professionally. And they've both had multiple major systems failures. The last PowerBook I had, a 180 from the mid-90s, never had a problem as long as I used it. That was the last trouble-free Mac I've owned. My G4 Digital Audio and my TiBook have both had major software problems with hard drive that required reformatting -- multiple times in the case of the G4. At this point, I don't trust my Macs to hold data or be usable at any given time -- which is part of the reason I've got a couple of them, and the reason I back up *everything* into source control via CVS. I've never been this paranoid about getting work done on a computer, ever.

If Apple wants to be taken seriously as a provider of a professional level software development environment, they've got a ways to go. Who, particularly in the current economic climate, pays well over two grand for a computer that Apple evidently considers disposable after the one year warranty? Remember, this isn't the first power supply that's failed on the Pismo. There was also a recall for a whole class of their laptop power supplies about a year ago. Apple doesn't violate the letter of their warranty -- but they are certainly losing customers by doing this (I'm not going to buy an Apple laptop in the foreseeable future at this point). And I wonder if they can really afford to anger customers regarding a design failure that could conceivably be the cause of significant property loss. Bad Apple.

Don't believe me? Look at the video. Wait a few seconds for the sparks to fly.

Update: Rocky just got a new yo-yo overnighted to him by Apple. This one is the different, newer design -- maybe it lacks the same flaw. A phone call to customer service fixed the situation. So, kudos for Apple for taking care of it -- but it shouldn't have required two calls to the Apple Store, one wasted trip and unpleasant experience, and an additional call to Apple customer support. I'm not claiming that Apple handled this any worse than other computer companies might; on the contrary, this has been far better than our experience with SMC -- the router company that deserves to go bankrupt. The computer industry in general has a lot of work to do in the customer service field -- but there are shining examples to emulate in other markets. If you've ever returned something that broke at L.L. Bean, you may have experienced how pleasant it can be: walk in, get apologized to, get a replacement or a credit, no questions asked, no hassling over a warranty, walk out, probably buying something in the store on the way because you feel so... *guilty* for taking up these nice people's time. Computers that cost more than major appliances should not be treated as disposable goods, and certainly equipment that's faulty from the moment it leaves the factory (paging SMC...) shouldn't be tolerated. Consumers shouldn't have to take hours to educate themselves about their rights under state law when it comes to dealing with defective products, particularly when the problem lies with the product design, not its usage. It never plays out to the corporation's advantage, in the long run. It's unfortunate that few places seem to get this.

It strikes me that it's becoming increasingly important for consumers to wield all the power that's available in capitalist societies -- state and federal law, litigation, liability, and choosing to buy for quality and service in the first place. Is it possible that our litigation-happy society didn't get that way by chance -- that things might be different if huge corporations with multi-billion-dollar debts to other corporations and individuals couldn't go bankrupt while their executives walked away with millions and company cars, while Congress makes it ever harder for private citizens to declare bankruptcy for paltry tens of thousands; if even the companies that make good products and have better than average service records -- Apple, Saab, Audi, Linn -- didn't often try to shrug off serious problems with relatively expensive products, and pass them on to consumers? Who can blame the little guys for wanting to put the screws to big corporations in return?

I'm happy with the response time we've gotten from Apple when they admit there's a problem. I'm unhappy that my new, expensive PowerBook has had a few in only five months, and that Apple Store employees are willing to infuriate customers who've already dropped over $10K on Apple products over the years -- particularly when the faulty product said customer is complaining about is shooting flame. I suppose I should be happy that we're not stuck in Return Authorization Limbo, as we are with SMC right now.

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