Some Issues With Apple

Apple Black MacBook

Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Apple’s computers. They have excellent hardware design and their OsX operating system leaves Windows in the dust. Case in point: yesterday we thought that Erin’s computer (an iBook) was operating a little flakily, not being able to connect to my cellphone camera via Bluetooth. A quick check of some diagnostics told us that the computer had been running without shutdown for forty-seven days). A quick shutdown and reboot fixed the problem.

I remember my last Windows computer had trouble operating without freezing for more than forty-seven minutes.

I now understand the fervour and passion fellow Apple users like Dave at the ever cool Blogography have about the company and its computers. And I also understand the feeling of disappointment they express when something goes wrong. No business is perfect, but Apple gets it right so often, that when it gets things wrong, you get all the more frustrated because the perfect record has been broken

MagSafe Power Connector

This story will end happily, but Apple should perhaps rethink a few things about its MagSafe MacBook power adapter, and its support service as delivered by its resellers. The MacBooks and MacBook Pros feature a new power adapter that connects magnetically with the laptop, providing power without physically latching on to the device, so that if anybody trips over the wire, the plug pops out of its receiver without dragging the laptop off a table and onto the floor.

It’s a slick device, with a pair of LEDs at the laptop end of the plug to indicate the state of power (green indicating that the battery is fully charged, but the laptop is still running from the plug, and yellow to indicate that the battery is charging). A few months ago, however, I noticed that the LEDs were blacking out intermittently. The lights would only be restored if I unplugged and replugged (if that’s a word) the computer. But as power was clearly still flowing into my laptop, I came to ignore this problem, until it got worse.

On a couple of occasions, the lights would go out, and power would stop transferring into my computer. I’d have to jiggle the cord to restore power. Then, earlier this week, after I’d plugged my laptop in, a black spot materialized on the cord near the magnetic plug. I didn’t smell smoke, but of course I unplugged the cord immediately. The cord had clearly burnt, and I could see exposed wires.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. On Apple’s own website there are reviews of this product that mention this exact same problem. A Google image search on ‘MagSafe’ immediately pulls up images of MagSafe connectors that have burnt in a similar fashion, and to a greater degree. If multiple MagSafe plugs are shorting out and becoming a fire risk, then what we have here is a flaw in the design. And it needs correction. But Apple does not appear to have addressed this issue.

My other concern about Apple occurred when I took the plug down to Carbon Computing, an independent reseller of Apple products here in Kitchener. Apple’s own corporate stores might have a better selection, or offer more timely service (RAM upgrades while you wait, for instance), but these guys at Carbon Computing have treated me well, and Apple’s nearest corporate store is in Toronto. So, I showed them the plug, and they agreed that it would be unwise for me to use it anymore. As my MacBook’s battery was now close to drained, this meant I effectively had no machine until I could get the power cord replaced. So, could they replace my power cord?

Good news: I still had four days left on my MacBook warranty (I’ve since bought the AppleCare extended coverage). Bad news: warranty replacement parts aren’t delivered in the same type of package as parts sold for retail. Apple policy (probably to prevent illegal resale). Could I buy the replacement part as a retail item ($99 plus tax) and thus avoid the wait? Nope, none in stock. (This I can understand, since these types peripherals probably don’t sell as quickly as iPods, MacBooks and cool accessories). Some were on order, but they were unsure of when they’d arrive.

Since I’d have to wait anyway, I decided to get the replacement part through my warranty (thus making it free) and asked if they’d do the service call (they’d already done an excellent job repairing my MacBook keyboard under the same warranty). And I give credit to these guys that they told me honestly that I should perhaps just try calling Apple’s support line directly. Apple could courier out a replacement part for me, for less hassle, they said. But I wanted to deal with people who were within driving distance of my home, so I persisted, and earlier today they came back and told me that they couldn’t convince Apple to make the replacement, because there was a possibility that the damage to the cord was physical rather than internal — meaning, it was something done to the cord, rather than something the cord did on its own.

Physical damage, eh? Like the fact that the cord ALMOST CAUGHT FIRE DUE TO A SHORT? But it seems that Apple is far stricter with its independent resellers than it is with customers who approach them directly. Which Carbon Computing again suggested I do. And which I did.

After waiting on hold for ten minutes, I was transferred to a helpful young woman at Apple who listened to my problem, took my information and my MacBook’s serial number. She agreed to mail out a replacement part which could arrive as early as Friday (fingers crossed), but more likely Monday. The whole matter was resolved in under thirty minutes, and the cost was covered under my warranty. Even the shipping. (Though I see that they’re shipping my part from Pennsylvania rather than Toronto as the Apple support person suggested, which means I may have duties to pay).

All this makes me wonder how well Apple is treating its independent resellers. It strikes me as odd that customers who aren’t within easy access to an Apple Store are receiving substantially poorer service by going to an independent reseller than if they deal with Apple directly. It seems like Apple gives little incentive for its resellers to resell its products, and surely that’s counterproductive. Carbon Computing believes in Apple’s products, and are as good a bunch of salespeople for Apple as those who work in the Apple Stores themselves. Show them a bit of love, I say.

As I’ve no access to my machine for at least another couple of days (unless I can find someone willing to lend me their plug for a couple of hours), I’m typing this on Erin’s iBook. Which is still working very well, two years after its initial purchase. The story will end happily because, ultimately, Apple gave me good service. But I would not have this story to tell if one or two flaws hadn’t risen to the surface.

Further Reading

  • This article in the New York Times suggests that Apple has missed an opportunity to increase its market share against Microsoft and its flagging Vista product. The reason: a lack of resellers to allow people to test drive Mac products. Interesting.
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