Business, Personal, Technology

Why I owned a Macbook Pro for a day — and what it says to me about the future of Apple

 


Blog Review

“You are brilliant – just as I think you are about to end, you keep on going. It’s like Game of Thrones without the budget or the excitement”

A dear friend


 

On Saturday I bought a new Macbook Pro with touch bar. And on Sunday I returned it.

The only surprising part of this is the fact I returned it so soon.

I was expecting to keep it for maybe a week. Certainly no more than the 14 day return period Apple offer on all purchases.

You see, I never intended to keep this computer. I basically ‘abused’ their return policy.

I don’t feel great about it, but I don’t feel too bad either considering my experience with Apple over the last nine months.

Ultimately the fault lies with them, their generally terrible customer service policies and a design/manufacturing fault with the late 2016 15″ Macbook Pro touch bar model. A fault that I’ve yet to see them publicly accept despite the fact it is accepted internally, has a fault code, and internet forums and youtube are full of people reporting the same problems.

Many of these people are being forced to pay out of their own pockets for expensive repairs even though there is, what seems to be a secret, repair programme in place.

Hopefully this article might help one or two people get what they deserve from Apple.

The short version of this story is if you have a late 2016 15″ touch bar model and you have problems with noises or the screen, go to Apple and, unless you know you’ve done something stupid like dropped it or put a hammer through the screen, demand they fix it or replace it.

The full version below is much longer and quite boring. But it’s here for public record and to get it off my chest more than anything else.

In December I bought a 15″ Macbook Pro with touch bar. I’d read the reviews. They were mixed. It was generally accepted that they were too expensive for what they are — even by Apple’s standards — and the switch to USB-C meant using dongles until the world catches up.

But I needed a new Macbook and it was the best option. I expected to be a bit disappointed in the cost/feature ratio department — and the dongle nonsense — but what I didn’t expect was 9 months of stress, arguing, character assassination, lost time and money.

It started badly with the computer making random noises. Creaking, squeaking, cracking — I never could decide the best way to describe it, maybe it was all three.

It would happen randomly. Sometimes when I wasn’t even touching it. Other times when I was typing and took my hands away from the side of the touchpad where they normally rest.

I also noticed a strange hollow metallic sound when I lightly tapped the side of the touchpad. I tried the same thing on other Macbooks in the house and they didn’t make the sound. I tried it on the same model in stores, and none of them made the sound.

I reported it to Apple but they dismissed it.

Then things took a noticeable turn for the worse.

I opened my Macbook one evening to find the screen black and what I thought was a bit of dirt or dust in the middle, just under the web cam.

I gently brushed it away — or tried to — but it wasn’t dust. It was a tiny crack. And brushing it — I can’t stress how lightly — caused it to crack right down and off to the center right of the screen.

It was, to be as polite as I can under the circumstances, totally buggered.

Now, what was interesting about this was although my laptop now had no working screen, amazingly all the creaks and squeaks and cracking noises had stopped.

A strange co-incidence some may say. Or proof that there was something wrong with the case and/or screen, as I believed.

I live in Malaga — although my business is in the UK and the laptop was bought in the UK — so I took it to the Marbella store. A good hour journey each way, plus a toll road — unless I want the journey to be even longer.

This is where things started to get nasty and Apple — who have been testing my patience for a few years — really did their best to get rid of a customer who has so many Macs listed on his account, plus lots of other Apple devices, that sometimes they get confused which one they are dealing with.

They immediately told me it was my fault. They claimed it had to be. They said once a screen leaves the factory, if it breaks, it is always the users fault.

I had a thin web cam cover on and they tried to claim that was the reason it broke. I suspected they might try that and it did cross my mind to take it off before showing it them, but I decided there was no need as it wasn’t the cause.

The company that makes the covers claimed to have never had a complaint about it and I’ve not found anything online about similar problems. A couple of Mac store workers told me quietly that it absolutely had nothing to do with it, but they weren’t the people making the decisions.

I know for a fact I didn’t break the screen. I know the noises the case was making. And I know that once the screen had cracked the noises stopped.

But Apple didn’t care. They continued to insist it was me who did it. They called me a liar.

Eventually — because I refused to give in — they offered to repair it as a one-off gesture. But I didn’t want a repair, I wanted a replacement. This was a new computer that had been faulty — I believed — since the day I got it. Why should I have a new computer repaired? And why should I go for up to 2 weeks without it? I do have older Macbooks lying around in various conditions but that’s not the point. I have this one for a reason.

During all this discussion one member of Apple staff actually told me ‘There’s the law, and then there’s Apple policy’ and he wasn’t talking about their policy being stronger than the law. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt at first — he’s Spanish and he was speaking a second language — but no, that is what he said and that’s what he meant.

No Apple. There is the law. That’s it.

Anything Apple want to do above that is great, but the law is the law.

I ended up going back to the Manchester store where I bought it. I was flying over from Spain anyway to get married at Manchester Town Hall.

We were only there a few days and I spent a number of hours, on the Saturday before I got married on the Sunday, ‘debating’ with the manager and several members of the Apple staff there. A couple of them were actually very good and supportive but overall it was a very stressful afternoon.

Eventually, when they finally realised I was serious and I wasn’t going to leave the store otherwise, they agreed to let me swap it for a new one. Actually, that’s what I thought they meant, but what they really meant was they would refund the near £3000 the laptop cost on to my card and let me buy another one. Of course, it would be a few days before the money from the refund was back in my account but …

So I bought another one there and then. I was pleasantly surprised to find they had the top spec model in-store (normally you have to order them) which I’d originally wanted but wasn’t available at the time, so I bought that. A faster CPU, faster graphics card, 1TB drive etc. So another £3,300 off my card and I finally left with a brand new Macbook Pro to replace the one with the broken screen. Oh, and my very-future wife bought an Apple Watch while she was waiting.

All that done, I could get on with getting married.

That whole experience left me furious with Apple. But it was to get worse.

The new one made the same noises. Actually, they were subtly different, but it made noises it shouldn’t.

As I’d just got married, and I’m generally always busy anyway, I didn’t get around to calling Apple about it for a while. I should have done. And I kept meaning to. I should have called them straight-way.

But then something else went wrong — the keyboard started playing up and some keys didn’t respond fully — which meant I had to call them so I reported the noises on the new one too.

Eventually I was passed on to a senior telephone advisor — a wonderful, friendly and knowledgable Scottish chap called Alasdair — who really listened to the problems I’d faced with the last one, all the stress I’d gone through, and asked me to send him a video of the noises this Macbook was making.

He passed it on to engineering in California. He’d heard some other reports of similar problems. He was the first to admit that to me. Everyone else up to now, both Marbella and Manchester, and telephone support, had said they had never heard of anyone having similar problems.

They only had to look at Mac forums or Youtube to see it being reported but that’s one thing I learned through this experience. Even senior advisors at Apple have very limited access to the internet at work, which doesn’t just show a shocking level of trust in their staff, but is a genuine hinderance to their ability to do their job. It’s less surprising they haven’t heard about problems from customers if they can’t read the forums their customers post on.

A few weeks later Alasdair got in touch. Apple HQ had accepted there was a fault with the late 2016 15″ Macbook with touch bar that was causing the noises.

And the fix?

A free screen replacement.

I still don’t know exactly what the connection is between the screen and the case noises. Maybe the screen wasn’t set properly in the case? Maybe the case was putting pressure on the screen? I just don’t know, but — as I knew when my cracked screen caused my Macbook to stop making the noises — they are obviously linked.

Another trip to the Marbella store — which I was told I had to do and I couldn’t do over the phone even though the outcome was inevitable — resulted in them ordering the parts. Another afternoon gone, two more tolls paid.

The guy I spoke to then knew about the problem immediately. He told me Apple stores around the world had been getting complaints for months. He told me that they’d known about it for a while but it’s a numbers game — until enough people complain, they’d deny it.

I also had to put further pressure on Apple to agree to replace the keyboard at the same time but eventually they did agree.

Having just had a baby daughter, it’s taken a few weeks for me to get around to taking it in for repair after they got the parts in. I had to tell them I’d be delayed otherwise they would have used the parts for someone else and I’d have to start over again.

I still thought, and still think, I deserved a full replacement. This machine left the factory damaged. As did the one before. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect — for £3,300— a computer that hasn’t had to be repaired so soon because of a design or manufacturing fault.

But frankly after 9 months, I’m so tired of the arguments, and busy with my baby daughter, that I agreed to the repair.

Which takes me back to how this article stated.

Apple, in their unquestionable wisdom, refuse to lend replacement computers when a machine has to go in for repair. I can understand this as a general policy, but sometimes — like maybe when you’ve had two laptops costing around 3k each in the space of 3 months, both faulty from the factory, countless trips to various stores, travel costs, petrol, toll roads, days off work, been called a liar etc — sometimes, you think they’d find a laptop to lend.

But no, they simply refuse.

Amazingly, a number of staff over the months suggested the solution I eventually used — to buy a new Macbook with the express intention of using it while mine was repaired and then return it under their 14 day returns policy. At one point I even considering buying everything I could afford just to mess with them. But I decided that was a tad childish.

When I took my Macbook in for repair on Saturday I was given the usual ‘up to 2 weeks’ timescale for the repair. So I bought the replacement and copied my laptop over in the store before handing mine over. It took around two hours.

Then, yesterday, less than 24 hours later, I got an email saying my computer was ready for collection. It’s had a new screen put in and a new top case (including the keyboard). The bill — had they charged me — would have been just under 1000 euros.

So last night I went back and collected my repaired computer. Credit to Apple for repairing it so fast, perhaps someone read my case notes and realised that’s the least they could do.

And credit too to the staff member who processed the refund. They presumed I was returning it because it was a a Spanish keyboard (I gather that’s a common reason for British people to return them in Marbella), but I told him the truth. He agreed the no-loan policy is far from perfect and I had no problem getting a full refund.

But what an absolutely ridiculous position to be in. That computer — that I had for 24 hours — is now used. I don’t know what Apple do with them, but they can’t sell it for full price as new, because it’s not.

Hey, here’s an idea. They could use it to lend to people who have computers in for repair…

So, after 9 months of being treated like crap by a company I’ve (nearly) always loved, I now have — hopefully — a fully working Macbook Pro for the first time since December.

So far, no creaks or squeaks or cracking noises at all. And when I tap it, I get a nice solid thud, not the hollow metallic sound the last ones had (ok, I don’t need to tap it any more, that was just to show there was a problem…)

And the keyboard is working properly too.

Amazing.

Despite Alasdair’s great telephone support, and a couple of in-store staff, I’m afraid my view of Apple’s customer service in general is still poor.

I wouldn’t treat one of my customers like this, and my company doesn’t have a couple of hundred billion dollars of cash in the bank like Apple do.

They used to — or at least I seem to remember they used to — act like a a prestige car company. Stupidly expensive, yes, but in return the dealer knows you by name and they treat you as more than just another faceless customer.

Sadly Apple seem to have stopped trying to be the Porsche or Ferrari of computers, while keeping the same prices — or, in the case of this Macbook range, actually putting the prices up — but decided to adopt the customer services policies of a dodgy used car lot.

And I’m not even going to start on the physical quality of the new machines. That’s a whole story in itself. Let’s just say they long passed the point of form over function and they need to remember a notebook is a portable device.

I hesitate to link the changes at Apple directly to the death of Steve Jobs. I admired him in many ways but I was never a fanboy of either him or Apple. But the change in Apple’s attitude does seem to co-incide with his death and Tim Cook’s leadership.

If I didn’t need certain applications I’d use Linux on a non-Apple laptop (I use it for servers already). And it’d take a lot to drag me back to Windows. So, for now at least, I feel I’m basically trapped into using Apple products (although the Hackintosh concept is interesting).

When you combine a feeling of being trapped into a product, with large price increases and appalling customer ‘service’, it’s very easy to lose long-term customers.

Not everyone hates Windows like I do, or needs certain apps like I do. And those are the customers who will soon be looking at the choices available and increasingly picking something other than a Macbook.

I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to see Apple collapse again like it did the last time Jobs left the company. Especially as this time Jobs can never return.

It wouldn’t take that much to fix it. They have the cash to do it. They have the cash to do anything they want.

The fact they don’t suggests it’s either that the management don’t know what’s going on and don’t pay attention to their customers, or it’s a deliberate decision to treat customers like this.

Neither option is good for the long-term future of the company.

Apple, please, fix these basic problems. Hold your hands up when you make mistakes. Treat customers fairly. Apologise to them when you’ve mistreated them (you can even apologise for calling me a liar if you wish). Start putting yourself in the shoes of your customers before making rigid blanket policy decisions.

And, basically, just generally try to do the right thing. It’s not hard to work out what that is. All of you at Apple — even Tim Cook — are customers of many companies too. Think how you’d like to be treated and take it from there.

Damn it, I’ve just given away my planned business book for free. It was destined to be a best-seller. Oh well, here it is in full.

Chapter 1. ‘How to run a business’ — ‘Think like a customer’. The End.

I’ve read about other people not putting up the same level of fight I did over this fault — and I don’t blame them — who have ended up paying Apple to ‘repair’ the damage ‘they’ did to their Macbook. If you’ve done that with this model, I urge you to go back and demand they return your money.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to work using my newly repaired Macbook — pleased it is fixed and working properly, but forever resentful of the last 9 months of stress and arguments, and dreading something else going wrong with it.

Personal, Politics, Technology

Libraries Still Matter

I’ve never been a big reader of fiction. I have my favourites but they’re drawn from a fairly small selection. But I do love books. And I always have.

As a child I possibly spent more on library fines than anything else.

I would always leave the library with the maximum 8 books. I just didn’t always return them on time…

Sometimes it was on subjects I knew and loved, but sometimes it was on only semi-related, or even random, subjects. I had – and still have – an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Leaving aside the wider political issue of the wisdom of austerity vs investing in the country, the cuts to the library service that are taking place at the moment are a national disgrace.

One of the main arguments, put very simply, is we have the internet now so we can’t justify the cost of libraries when the limited money could be better spent in other areas.

This – as author, campaigner, and my friend Dom Conlon explains far more politely than I am about to – is bullshit.

Yes, the internet is incredible. I remember when I first got access to the internet and used ‘gopher’ to access universities around the world. It was amazing.

And with the development of the web and browsers in the early 90s it became easier to use and – well, we all know the rest.

But access to information isn’t the same as the knowledge of how to find it.

Imagine you’re looking for a part or a tool for a DIY job. Unless you’re an expert you’ll probably need some help. In the old days, and in some very rare cases still, you’d go to a shop and the staff would know exactly what you needed to do the job.

They had years of experience and had seen everything. These days, with the big sheds, you’ll be lucky if they can point you to the right aisle.

Librarians are specialists. They not only have a love and passion for books, but they have the experience to be able to help you find what you need.

They can be the difference between a child finding the first thing that comes to hand, or finding something truly special that may actually go on to shape their life.

And for older people in particular, libraries are a place to meet and talk. For some it’s the only chance they get to socialise all week. And if you get the children and the older people talking you’ve got a recipe for magic.

One of the few fiction books I did love as a child was one I bought from my local library when they were selling some books off. It was a collection of short sci-fi stories.

It contained a novella by EM Forster called The Machine Stops, first published in 1909. Set in a dystopian future where people live alone in underground pods, and the only commodity is information – and not necessarily correct information – it’s an amazing story which effectively foretold the invention of the internet.

I don’t want to stretch the comparison too far, but it does remind me of the arguments that people can find information online. Yes, they can. But without real human interaction that’s only part of the story.

The Machine Stops is now more widely known, largely because of its predictions about the internet, but at the time I found it at the library it was an obscure work. It certainly helped shape my life and my views – as did many of the books I borrowed.

Dom has been superb in his campaigning to try to prevent the closure of not just his local library, but library services in general. Sadly – as long as we continue with austerity – he’s fighting a losing battle. But credit to him and the other people involved for going down fighting. And shame on those who are rubber-stamping the cuts.

The video above is of Dom talking passionately about the library closures and explaining the many reasons why libraries still matter. It’s a great interview and well worth watching.

Technology

The Times They Are a-Changin’

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a feature-length documentary being produced by respected British journalist Paul Mason and directed by Theopi Skarlatos.

“Greece: Dreams Take Revenge” is being filmed right now. It’s unscripted, the events are taking place live, and no one knows where the story will go or how it will end.

What makes this documentary special is how it’s being funded. Rather than rely on a traditional broadcaster to commission and pay for it, Mason is crowdfunding it.

As a long-time fan of his journalism, I didn’t hesitate to donate.

What’s happening in Greece right now has implications far beyond just the Greek economy, further even than just the future of EU. The outcome could affect the global economy and the social stability of the entire world.

How the documentary is being funded has similar implications for the future of broadcasting, and it’s just one of many challenges facing traditional models.

This evening I finished binge-watching Season 3 of House of Cards on Netflix. I did it in two evenings straight. An incredible performance (both House of Cards and my stamina).

Dodgy politics, corruption, intrigue, scandal. But enough about Greece for the moment, and back to House of Cards.

It’s created and funded by Netflix themselves – as they have with Orange is the New Black, Lilyhammer, and a whole range of comedy specials and documentaries – with many more productions due for release in 2015 and beyond.

The Netflix model is helping to shape the future of on-demand TV. Whole seasons released at once, programmes designed for a wider audience than just the US domestic market (Lilyhammer is a good example of this), and created without the pressure of conventional advertising slots.

By way of contrast, I’ve just watched Carl Frampton beat Chris Avalos on ITV (boxing is a weakness of mine – one of those areas where my commonsense is overridden by my raw enjoyment of a brutal sport). A decent fight, but ruined as a TV experience by the adverts between every round, leading to a lack of in-fight analysis.

In 1963, between the seminal events of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Kennedy’s assassination, Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are a-Changin'”.

It was a shot across the bows to the old guard who Dylan, and many others, saw as complacent, self-serving and out-of-touch. He spoke for the down-trodden, and especially the younger generation, who believed their time was coming. An anthem of hope for a better way of living.

But Dylan’s words wouldn’t have been so widely heard if it wasn’t for the desire for Columbia Records to make money. They didn’t release his songs for the message in the lyrics. They released them for the profit from the record sales. And without a record label behind him, Dylan would still have been playing to small audiences in Greenwich village.

Although he had the support of Columbia’s John Hammond, who signed him, Columbia executives didn’t share that faith and they could just as easily prevented Dylan’s message from being heard if they’d decided to. And of course this was only a few years after McCarthyism officially came to an end.

Publishing was historically the preserve of the rich. Newspapers and books were printed by those who could afford the huge investments in presses and distribution. And many publishers still give too much editorial consideration to advertisers, as highlighted by the recent resignation of Peter Oborne from The Telegraph.

But we’re now in an era when anyone can publish.

A good friend of mine, Dom Conlon, has self-published his superb children’s books which are every bit as professional as any produced by traditional publishers. Production and distribution are no longer a barrier. Marketing and promotion are now the key challenges.

Since the invention of radio, and then television, broadcasting was controlled, depending on where you lived in the world, by the either the state and/or the advertisers who funded the programming.

But in recent years the internet has helped to level the playing field. We’ve reached the point where more-or-less anyone who wants to is able to publish their views.

Of course, not every view is worthy of a wider audience, but social media (or word-of-mouth as we used to call it), has a natural way of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Technology has become so cheap and easy-to-use, at least to those of us in the developed countries, that we can all publish.

What really excites me though is projects like Paul Mason’s.

He’s producing this documentary with a small team and minimal costs.

As he explains on the funding page, “Even the best of the networks can’t tell this story in the detail it deserves. We have low-profile camera crews, Greek speakers, with unparalleled access. And we are shooting now.”

The really exciting aspect is the total lack of potential editorial influence from any owner whose business interests may conflict with the story. We are all the owners of this documentary. Every one of us who funds it. But none of us can control the content or demand edits. In Mason, I know we have a producer who will make the best, most honest, documentary he can.

At the moment, there are five days left to reach the funding goal of £35,000 (Update 3rd March – the deadline has been extended until 26th March!) A tiny amount by normal broadcasting standards. As I type, the figure has just reached 51%. But it’s a flexible funding campaign and all money donated will go to the project regardless of whether it reaches the goal. The documentary will expand or shrink given the funds available.

This project sums up what’s great about the convergence of low-cost broadcast-quality technology, the internet, and crowdfunding.

Experienced journalists can now break free from the control of state broadcasters worried about political funding, and from commercial broadcasters worried about advertiser funding.

I urge you to help fund this project, even if it’s only a small amount. Every little helps and you’re not just funding Paul Mason’s documentary on Greece (although I’m sure it will be superb), you’re helping to shape the very future of journalism.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ – and we can all do our small bit to help. Please donate here.