Apple Quality Goes to “Dell Hell”

kinnon —  October 19, 2006 — 4 Comments

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.)

Scoble takes a shot at Apple today. He links to this post from Doc Searls who says:

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 salesputting 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.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Apple Quality Goes to “Dell Hell”

  1. Bill, these machines are built to die. I’ve had my Dell Latitude for almost 4 years. The only thing that has not been replaced on it is … is … is … um … oh, yes, the DVD drive. Every time they repair it, they replace the motherboard. It is now a better machine than the one I bought. And everytime I’ve called with a problem, they have never balked at fixing it. After one period of failures over several months, I suggested that maybe they should replace the machine. they came back said “We’ve already done it. One piece at a time.”

    The best decision I made though was to purchase the extended warranty and the top of line service. As a result, my machine has never been out of action more than 2-3 days, and never dropped off at a store to sit on someone’s bench waiting for lunch to be over. The tech guy has always come to me. So, when it comes to service, you get what you pay for. My gut-level sense about these things is you buy for operating system and service, not because one “machine” is better than another. My guess is that they are buying parts from the same providers at the lowest possible price.

  2. Ed,
    My much loved PowerBook has just come out from under it’s three year AppleCare warranty. The screen has been replaced, the power input board, the logic board… Each time my computer was gone for a little over 24 hours. I strongly agree that one must buy extended warranties with this kind of product.

    That being said. Apple knowingly selling computers that have severe problems is a huge PR mistake for a company riding high on their latest products. I could be wrong. All of us may be living in the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field…but I can’t help wandering whether Apple’s fear of admission will turn into a bigger problem for them. We shall see.

    All that being said, I look forward to my Mac Pro – to be ordered in November and an eventual Mac Book Pro to replace this PB.

  3. This is another horror story on Apple Service…

    UNRESOLVED—iMac G5 is still not repaired after languishing for 5 weeks

    Please spread the word around!!! I am very very very very very mad at Apple! It’s already 5 weeks and Apple still cannot repair their own products!!!!


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  1. JRB Technology - December 15, 2006

    Apple Quality Goes to Dell Hell

    Well I talked to Dell for a little why today about my Laptop not being fixed, and it’s Friday, 5 days later! The tech company Dell has outsourced the technical repairs to is actually having the resource issue. They actually told me on the phone that th…

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