About 17 months ago (an eternity in the blogosphere) Jeff Jarvis went through hell with his Dell laptop. He blogged his experience in angry detail. It was a PR disaster for Dell. (This post will give you some background.) Jarvis became a Mac convert – and led hundreds of others down that path.
Well, it would appear that Apple is sitting on their own potential PR disaster with their MacBooks. Dave Winer (no small presence in the blog world) began to comment on his MacBook problems about three weeks ago – random shutdown issues that have been widely discussed on the net. He dropped his MacBook off at an Apple Store on the 27th of September. Got it back, finally, on the 16th of October. He mentions Julie Leung having similar problems. “I suppose 2006 will be known in my life as the Year of Laptop Troubles.” He also points to Liz Gannes @ GigaOm having the same problems:
…the company is not sympathetic in the least, making me come into the store to be formally told I had to hand over my laptop for 7 to 10 days. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but from what I hear, it’s a good bet that the repairs will be delayed or ineffectual. “Is there any compensation for the inconvenience?” I asked. “Your compensation is your warranty,” was the service guy’s haughty response.
Apple acknowledges the problem with this one line statement. (Rather pathetic, actually.)
If your MacBook is shutting down intermittently, please contact AppleCare for service. (Ed: Gee, I never would have thought of that.)
Yesterday I heard from an Apple enterprise customer who had recently bought 80 Macbooks. Ten of them, so far, have had to go back for heat, shut-down or freezing problems. This customer wondered if they were taking a risk buying another 300 of the things. I told them they clearly were, and suggested holding off on the purchase — since, far as I know, Apple has not acknowledged the problem or dealt with it in a serious way.
Gotta say I’m amazed at Apple’s persistent silence on this issue. The company has worked very hard, ever since Steve Jobs’ return, to build a reputation for good technical support. (While Consumer Reports forbids quoting any of their editorial, I encourage people to look at what the magazine says about Apple vs. everybody else — and to draw their own conclusions.)
So why is Apple sitting on a problem that will surely launch the company’s ass when it finally blows up in the mainstream media? (Which it surely will.)
I type this post on my trusted PowerBook, with its new non-exploding battery – a Sony PR disaster. Behind me, a 3D-heavy After Effects file is rendering on Rylan’s MacBook – which runs very hot. (I’m stealing processor time on my son’s computer – when Ry isn’t using it.) Ry loves his MacBook and has had no problems. But too many others aren’t as fortunate.
Doc Searls makes this recommendation:
…for customers who aren’t locked into the Apple equipment replacement mill, I highly advise looking at the growing number of alternatives in the Linux laptop space. Your-choice-of-OS on your-choice-of-hardware is the winning free market answer in the long run. If you’re in a position to make that long run shorter, give it a try. Give your IT folks a budget for testing any number of Linux distros on a variety of hardware combinations. See what works. Whatever it is, I guarantee it’ll be cheap than what Apple will sell you. And you have a better chance of getting help from anywhere and everywhere — than from a single source that could (and sometimes will) let you down.
Is the MacBook Hell story going as viral as Jarvis “Dell Hell” story? Quite possibly. I can’t wait for the parody spots on YouTube of Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC campaign” with the I’m a PC guy saying “yah, it’s true, I’m nowhere as cool…but at least I don’t randomly shutdown and take weeks to get serviced.”
UPDATE: Business Week has an article on Apple’s record breaking quarterly sales “putting Apple into the running for a top computer-maker spot.” The article does not mention a single problem with Apple’s laptops.
Apple sold 986,000 of its MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook computers, which accounted for $1.3 billion, or 27%, of revenue at an average price of $1,363 per unit during the period.
I would imagine that Jobs et al want to admit nothing that might dent their present sales juggernaut. The problem is that as this story goes mainstream, they will not only appear to be selling defective products, they will be seen as having tried to hide that issue from potential customers – causing more damage than if they’d just send up front – “we’re having a problem but we are on top of it – our customers’ satisfaction is most important to us.” Would that that were true.