The Meaning of Loyalty to Apple

Gerhard Lazu • Thursday 12 July 2012

In the past 7 years, between myself and my wife, we have purchased 6 Apple computers, a couple of iPhones and just as many iPods. You would think that customers which purchase almost 1 Mac per household, per year would get a slightly different treatment from Apple when things go south. As this story will illustrate, loyalty doesn’t seem to make any difference to Apple.

Macs that I have personally bought in the past 7 years:

1. Powerbook G4 (late 2003)

The Powerbook was a true work horse. I’ve been running it pretty much full on, about 20hours per day on average, for 4 years. My wife used it for e-mailing and browsing for another year. I’ve eventually sold it to a really nice Brazilian chap which couldn’t believe that it still had the original packaging. For a 5 year old Mac, the overall condition was excellent.

2. Mac Pro (Intel Xeon, early 2008)

The second Mac, the Mac Pro developed a South bridge issue 2 years into ownership. Every writeable partition that I was mounting would get hosed, not even a low level fsck could fix it. The only option was to replace the entire logic board, a cool £1,000 affair. It didn’t make sense to pay that much for a logic board when I could buy a brand new MacBook Pro i5 for an extra £500.

3. MacBook Pro 15” (Intel i5, mid 2010)

A few months before the MBP’s second birthday, it started freezing randomly. Sometimes it would kernel panic, other times the screen would freeze. I could still SSH into it and work in the console as if nothing happened. The OS would not respond to either the keyboard, trackpad or external mouse. These freezes (or kernel panics) could be hours or minutes apart, but on a bad day I could get as much as 30 of them. With 20 daily hard reboots on average, the Mac was pretty much unusable for work.

As it happens, I didn’t purchase Apple Care for the MacBook Pro (I will come back to this later), so I ended up taking it to London Mac. We’ve tried some test RAM, everything worked fine for 2 days, then the freezes came back. I’ve purchased brand new Crucial RAM, everything was fine for 3 or 4 days, then hell again. It would get freezes even in single user mode. I couldn’t even complete a clean OS install without a kernel panic!

The most peculiar aspect of the kernel panics is that the grey background would sometimes keep repeating itself up to about 1/5 of the screen height. It would keep doing this until 1/5 of the screen would go completely black while the rest would remain the normal grey. On other occasions, the entire kernel panic message would look garbled, with multi-coloured squares.

The Apple certified technician’s diagnostic was: faulty GPU, logic board replacement. Since we tried 3 different types of RAM, all from different manufactures/batches, this was the only logical conclusion.

So there I was again, 2 years after replacing the MacPro with this MacBook Pro, with no other option but to replace the logic board. Yet again, I couldn’t afford any downtime, so I walked into an Apple store and bought the entry level MacBook Pro 15”.

4. MacBook Pro 15” (Intel i7, late 2011)

After the first few hours on the new MBP, I was already missing my higher resolution 1,680 x 1,050 screen. The higher res was much crisper and brighter than the stock display. Having said that, the 30” Cinema at the office and the 24” HP at home made up for it.

A couple of months down the line, that i5 MBP sitting in a box started bugging me. Surely a £1,5k+ computer shouldn’t just fail within the first 2 years of ownership under normal usage conditions and require a £400+ repair from Apple. I didn’t buy Apple Care, fair enough, but when you spend £1,5k+, should you be expected to pay an extra £200 for extended warranty?

Eventually, I made time and went to the Covent Garden Apple Store. A very helpful Genius called Fed spent 2 full hours diagnosing the problem. The initial conclusion was that the DRAM memory circuits got somehow weakened as different modules were being tested. The repeating background and the 3 short sounds before failing to boot are hints that the fault was memory-related. I’ve left the laptop with him for extended testing. From Apple’s viewpoint, it doesn’t make financial sense to have the low-level hardware tests performed in Apple Stores (whether the system is under warranty or not). The general approach is to replace the logic board and have it sent back to a warehouse where, according to Fed, it will undergo low-level testing so that Apple can gain insight into which component(s) failed. As far as having the logic board replaced by Apple, after parts, labour and VAT the final cost is in the £420 region.

At this point, I asked to speak to a manager as I was convinced that under the Sales of Goods Act of 1979, this highly expensive item did not last for a reasonable time. Regardless of the standard 1 year warranty, the fault that the product developed, as far as I am concerned, is a manufacturing one. Caroline, one of the managers at Covent Garden, did not think that it would be fair for other, Apple Care owners for someone that has not purchased Apple Care to be given a free repair on and out of warranty item. Furthermore, Apple wants all their customers to be happy, hence the 2 hours that the Genius has spent to diagnose the fault will be free of charge. The extra mile would be the long-running hardware tests (via the testing utility not publicly available) which the Apple Store is happy to perform in a last attempt to find the root cause for the MBP’s failure.

While I understand and agree with Caroline’s viewpoint, I do not feel that I was given the appropriate resolution. As far as I am concerned, a MacBook Pro that I paid £1,5k failed within 2 years of ownership with no fault of my own. Fed’s diagnostic, while put across respectfully, made me feel as if the frequent RAM modules replacements were used as a scapegoat. Just to clarify, this fault appeared before any RAM modules were taken out or put in, so I don’t think this explanation is grounded.

To put things in perspective, the only MacPro that I have owned was a write-off within the first 2 years of ownership. Things go wrong all the time, it’s understandable. When the same thing happened for the second time, not within 2 years of my first incident, I couldn’t just get over it.

Out of the 3 Apple computers that I have owned for more than a year, 2 were complete failures. That is a 66% failure rate. I can’t accept that Apple, sorry, Apple Care or not.

UPDATE - 16 July

The Covent Garden store got back to me saying that the extensive tests concluded that the logic board needs replacing. So I’ve left my MacBook Pro for 4 days at the Apple Store just to be told the same thing that I knew back in February. Following this diagnostic, I can’t tell the difference between the laptop sitting on a shelf and having someone actually run those tests.

I asked to speak to any manager at the store other than Caroline (I already knew what she has to say). I spoke to Adam which:

  1. Is not a lawyer and cannot comment on my statutory rights, in particular the ones outlined in the Sales of Goods Act.

  2. He is convinced tha Apple should not cover the bill for the logic board replacement, regardless of the evidence hinting to a manufacturing fault.

  3. He gave me an inexistent e-mail address to Apple’s legal department and misinformed regarding my options for escalating the case further.

As I was getting nowhere with the Covent Garden Apple Store, I called Apple’s UK number and within 2 minutes I was speaking to Frank D. which was vert helpful. Within mintues, I had the following information:

  1. Take your Mac to an Authorised Service Provider. To save you the hassle, Amsys are the most reasonably priced within walking distance from Covent Garden. As it happens, their service centre is in Kenley, a stone’s throw from where I live.

  2. Have them run a full assessment of the fault and submit a Consumer Law form to Apple, for review. This is meant to help us understand the likely origin of the fault: manufacturing or improper use.

I will have the laptop booked with Amsys for a full diagnostic tomorrow and take it from there.