Apple’s Illusion of Quality

image credit: wildgratitude.com

published by Chand Bellur
November 22, 2020 at 7:49 p.m.

Updated: September 19, 2021 at 3:32 p.m.

  • Apple events, marketing, and conspicuously friendly journalism depict a company that creates perfect products.
  • Over the past few years, constant problems with operating systems, apps, and devices indicate a noticable decline in Apple’s product quality.
  • As Apple becomes a larger organization, the synergy between latency, complexity, and massive manufacturing scale result in declining quality.

What Happened to Apple?

I recently returned from the Apple Store with my mom’s 27″ iMac. As with many models, the Fusion drive failed and needed replacement. Fortunately, the repair was covered by warranty, as the drive failed after only six months.

The Apple Genius was very helpful and fixed the iMac within a few days. I unboxed the newly-fixed iMac and turned it on, only to encounter the worst first-time configuration process of any tech product I have used.

Upon turning on this newly-fixed Mac, its fully-charged Magic Keyboard couldn’t be found. Bluetooth was disabled on the device, so I had to plug the keyboard in with a USB to Lightning cable. Although this wasn’t a huge deal, when I first bought this machine, “it just worked”.

Attempting to connect to my WiFi network was a disgraceful experience. The iMac found every WiFi router in the neighborhood, except the one it needed to connect to, located only six feet away. Every other device — Apple, Android, Windows — can see this WiFi router. Once in a while, it popped up, but with the clumsy keyboard-driven user interface, I had to cycle through the UI with five presses of the tab key to get back to the network selection list. What a mess! I could not connect to a remarkably reliable Google WiFi access point located just six feet away!

I had to continue setting up this Mac without an Internet connection. Once I reached the desktop, the iMac took several attempts to find a fully charged Magic Mouse 2 located 16 inches away. Magic Keyboard? Magic Mouse? Is their magic trick to hide from Bluetooth pairing? My mom’s Lenovo all-in-one PC always finds its Bluetooth keyboard and mouse!

After finishing the initial configuration, macOS was finally able to find my WiFi network. The list, haphazardly ordered, had my WiFi router, with the strongest signal, listed below five others with weak signals. Why wouldn’t you sort this list from the strongest to the weakest access point? Is there no common sense in Cupertino?

It gets worse. While installing Windows on this newly repaired iMac, I discovered that the Fusion drive only had 28 GB of total storage space. It’s supposed to have 1 TB of space. After another long call with Apple, where we addressed the issue as a split Fusion drive, customer support finally concluded that the initial repair failed. The Apple geniuses installed a broken Fusion drive. They failed to test the iMac after “fixing” it. I had to pack it all back up, take it in again, and have it fixed. They replaced both the Fusion drive and logic board. It finally worked and I sold it shortly after retrieving it from the Apple Store.

With each attempt, I asked if I could get a replacement or refund. Apple refused. Customer support reps claim they’re not allowed to replace Macs. They do this for Casey Neistat and other famous people. The moral of the story is, if you want adequate support from Apple, just become rich and famous. It’s that easy!

I already switched to Android and Windows over Apple’s declining quality. This morning’s experience with a 27″ iMac reminds me why I left.

M1 MacBook Screen Cracking Problem

image credit: Migliaccio & Rathod

A new class-action lawsuit is emerging due to problems with Apple’s latest MacBook computers. Users complain that their new M1 MacBook screens are cracking for no reason. Simply lifting the lid results in cracked screens.

When affected users bring their MacBook in for service, Apple “geniuses” claim that they must have broken the screen. This isn’t very respectful. Apple claimed that the MacBook Pro I brought in for service, which was touched by human hands ten times since I purchased it, showed wear. (Make sure to take photos of your Apple products before you take them in for service.) Adding injury to insult, Apple charges $600 to replace the screen, which may break again.

The law firm of Migliaccio & Rathod recently filed a class-action suit in the Northern District of California to address the new M1 MacBook’s screen fragility. The case is in its early stages; however, you should follow this news story carefully if you own an M1 MacBook. Those who already have a damaged M1 MacBook screen can fill out the form on Migliaccio & Rathod’s website.

MacBooks Hobbled By Defective Butterfly Keyboard Mechanism

Replacing the reliable, industry-standard scissor keyboard mechanism with a butterfly design, Apple created an astonishingly thin MacBook. Introduced with the 2015 MacBook, the butterfly keyboard mechanism underwent three iterations before Apple finally reverted to the scissor design.

In the meantime, numerous MacBook owners lost use of their beloved machines for days, as fixing the keyboard requires replacing an entire assembly. Unlike other laptop manufacturers, Apple thought differently and fused the keyboard into an assembly that pretty much contains the whole computer. If that’s not bad enough, the keyboard mechanism was so fragile that small dust particles could cause keys to break.

Apple put forth documentation on how to clean the keyboard with compressed air. This didn’t always work. No other laptop on the market required customers to clean out their keyboard with compressed air periodically.

Unluckily for me, the butterfly keyboard mechanism was never a problem. I purchased a keyboard protector and primarily used an external Bluetooth keyboard. I rarely used my Mac and physically touched it maybe 20 times in 18 months. My MacBook Pro still failed spectacularly.

My 2017 13″ MacBook Pro died after charging the battery for 20 cycles. The power management IC and battery failed and needed replacement. Even though I barely used this machine, it was six months out of warranty, and Apple wanted over $700 to fix it. I left it at the Apple Store and ordered a high-quality LG Gram Windows 10 laptop.

Although I slightly prefer macOS to Windows 10, Apple makes horrible computers now. Unlike prominent Mac users, I can’t afford to buy a new MacBook Pro every few months or wait several days and (irrationally) pay several hundred dollars to fix a MacBook Pro worth $1100.

Bent iPad Pro

When the iPad Pro first emerged, Apple dazzled consumers with a tablet supposedly as powerful and useful as a laptop. Although the processing capabilities exceed that of many laptops, iPad Pro users cannot develop software or use the same fully-featured applications found on real computers. Nonetheless, Apple touted the iPad Pro as a laptop killer until the new MacBooks debuted.

Although the device’s competency is questionable, the fact that many 2018 iPad Pro units came out of the factories bent and deformed is inexcusable. Apple handled this defect poorly, telling users that its normal and part of the manufacturing process. Even worse, tech publications like The Verge mitigate the deformity with obsequious accolades:

“Even if only cosmetic, the issue is out of character for Apple, which has rooted its reputation in manufacturing devices with best-in-industry fit and finish.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t out of character for Apple at all. Apple’s notion of creating high-quality products is an illusion, conjured by Apple and sycophantic tech publications. Apple’s public relations team reaches out to tech publications, ensuring that the truth remains elusive.

I don’t know about you, but if I spend a grand on a superfluous tablet, it shouldn’t be bent when I open the box. Some Apple customers could replace theirs, as long as they did so within 14 days. In many cases, the bend showed up weeks after normal use. Apple forced customers to accept their bent iPad, while it crowed about high quality “aluminium” in advertisements.

Flexgate: MacBook Display Cable Wears Out

If you own a 2016 13″ MacBook Pro, you may want to limit how many times you open or close the screen. In Apple’s quest for thinness, they replaced a reliable display cable technology with a slimmer design. With the display cable wrapped around the controller board, the cable tightens when the MacBook Pro’s lid opens. Over time, as users open and close their MacBook, the display cable wears out, and the customer experiences anything from a blank screen to strange shadows at the bottom of the screen. 

For some, the display only works if the MacBook is open at a narrow angle, making it difficult to view the screen. The defect takes several months to a few years to emerge, depending on how often the lid is opened and closed.

Although Apple initiated a repair program for affected 2016 13″ MacBook Pros, the defect may still exist in 2018 models, which are not covered. It took legal action for Apple to initiate the program, and the company still contends this only happens to a small number of its notebook computers.

iPhone 6 and 6S Touch Disease

Yet another degenerative defect, iPhone 6 and 6S became vulnerable to screen failure from their flexible design. When these models first debuted, the 6S was the first large-screen iPhone. Owners reported that the phone bent simply from being pocketed. The stress from tight fabric and movement could damage the device.

At first, with the help of Consumer Reports, “Bendgate” was brushed off as being common to all devices. Apple advised customers to be careful in handling their device; however, the issue was considered cosmetic.

Over time, iPhone 6S flexibility led to display controller damage. Users experienced flickering screens or touch screen failure. Apple contends that customers dropped their devices multiple times; however, many claim this happened with everyday use.

I am well aware of this side of Apple. They claimed my barely-touched MacBook Pro showed signs of wear. Perhaps some customers don’t mind the blame-shifting. From my perspective, it comes across as corporate sociopathy.

Many More Defects

One could write a weighty tome about defective Apple products. From its early days in the late 1970s to today, Apple’s quality and marketing seem to exist in entirely different universes. Jony Ive’s transatlantic accent reassures us that the devices are perfect. Bent iPads and broken MacBooks present the true reality to customers.

Just recently, Apple’s newest macOS operating system, Big Sur, caused major headaches for some users. Early adopters ended up with bricked Macs that they could not remedy at home. Despite the urgent need to stay at home, these users are must take their Macs in for service to fix a software issue.

For the sake of brevity, the following list comprises major defects in Apple devices and software:

  • 1993 – Apple Newton – Apple released its first personal digital assistant, long before the Palm Pilot. Plagued with defects, Apple quickly discontinued the device.
  • 2000 – Mac G4 Cube Cracks – Apple’s beautiful new G4 Cube, the predecessor to the Mac Mini, developed cracks in its acrylic housing.
  • 2008 – Mobile Me – Apple’s pre-iCloud online service offered customers a challenging enrollment process, while production issues made it difficult for active users to access the platform.
  • 2010 – Antennagate – Antenna placement on the iPhone 4 caused the device to drop calls when held a certain way. This defect was overblown, as virtually all cellphones and smartphones harbor this flaw. Under Steve Jobs’s leadership, Apple handled this issue well by providing free bumper cases and allowing customers to return their device.
  • 2012 – Apple Maps – Apple’s competitor to Google Maps launched with critical flaws. Overall, Maps featured better data and navigation capabilities than most satellite nav systems. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as Google Maps. Apple terminated senior executive Scott Forstall over his handling of Maps.
  • 2014 – Free U2 Album – Apple upset customers, recording artists, and stores by giving users a free U2 album. This was another massively overblown issue; however, Apple’s gift was unappreciated. 
  • 2015 – Butterfly Keyboard – To make an even thinner Mac, Apple replaced the industry-standard scissor mechanism with a butterfly keyboard mechanism. Sabotaged by small particles of dust, a whole generation of MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks were stymied by this design flaw. Apple eventually extended the warranty to four years on select MacBook keyboards.
  • 2016 – Bendgate/Touch Disease – Apple’s first large-screen iPhone, the 6S, reportedly bent with normal use. Consumer Reports debunked this as a myth, showing that other smartphones deform under similar conditions. Unfortunately, iPhone 6 and 6S flexibility damaged touch screen controllers, resulting in “touch disease“. Apple eventually fixed affected devices for $149, reimbursing those who spent more on the repair.
  • 2016 – Flexgate – Another Apple flaw due to flexible wear, a redesign of the MacBook display cable caused its eventual failure. Users experienced a wide range of issues, including shadowy screen artifacts and complete screen failure.
  • 2017 – Apple Battery Slowdown – After astute users analyzed iPhone behavior, Apple admitted to slowing down iPhones and other devices with poorly performing batteries. Some contend they do this to force users into new devices. Apple claims the alternative would be for the iPhone to shut down unexpectedly. Apple updated iOS to allow user management of these features.
  • 2018 – Bent iPads – Users noticed that their brand-new iPad Pro units were either bent upon unboxing or deformed with everyday use. Apple claimed that the defects are within manufacturing tolerances; however, photos revealed deeply flawed devices. Although they functioned as expected, bent iPad units appeared unattractive, detracting from their resale value. 
  • 2019 – AirPower Cancellation – After two years of hyping an upcoming wireless power mat, Apple pulled the plug on the project. Although iPhones finally support wireless charging, customers must purchase charging mats from third-party manufacturers. It’s unclear why one of the largest tech corporations on the planet had so many problems developing a wireless charging mat. It’s probably best it never saw the light of day.
  • 2020 – Big Sur Bricks Macs – Although more common with 2013 and 2014 13″ MacBook Pro models, Apple’s latest operating system disabled Macs around the world. Most Mac users weren’t affected; however, the problem was significant. Apple quickly addressed the issue with a software update; however, the defect forced Mac owners to bring affected units in for service.

This is a short list of the most notorious Apple defects. There are a whole host of other issues that slip under the radar. If there’s a bad manufacturing run affecting only a few hundred or thousand users, you’re out of luck. My 2017 13″ MacBook Pro broke due to a manufacturing defect. The Apple Support representative told me this was the cause, and the Apple Store would surely fix it for free. They didn’t.

You Can Do Worse Than Apple, But You Can Also Do Better

The iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch are well-made devices. If you favor the user experience, they’re worth purchasing. They’re stale compared to flagship Android devices with far superior screens, batteries, and cameras. Nonetheless, the iPhone is reliable, predictable, and easy-to-use.

iOS isn’t as reliable and robust as the top Android implementations. Having used Samsung’s One UI 2 and OnePlus’ OxygenOS, I find both superior to iOS. I’ve never had one major iOS update without noticing apparent bugs. My recent OxygenOS 11 update was flawless and painless. While it’s true that there are many poor-quality Android devices, the cream of the crop are better than the iPhone and cost a little less.

The Mac is the real shame of the Apple ecosystem. Neglected for years, the company finally started taking an interest in the machine. After making the iPhone’s proprietary silicon for over a decade, Apple finally did the same for the Mac. It took years before they replaced the butterfly keyboard mechanism with a classic, robust scissor design.

The problem is, this isn’t enough for me. I’ve owned dozens of Windows machines. I’ve used all of them until their end of life, due to obsolescence. I have a Windows 95 PC that still “just works”. As an enterprise software developer, I experienced one hard drive failure on a Windows machine in all of my career. This includes every development, QA, staging, and production server I’ve used.

Hard drive failures are infrequent, yet I know other people who had crashed Fusion drives. Researching this on the Web, it’s yet another design flaw that didn’t even become a proper Apple “gate”.

I no longer trust Apple. Although I will maintain a few Apple devices, for the sake of running Appledystopia, my daily drivers are Android and Windows now. The last two Macs I purchased were some of the worst products I’ve ever owned. Seeing beyond the reality distortion field took a lot of time, money, and effort. Despite its marketing campaigns, Apple’s crap isn’t any better than the competition. It’s often worse.

 

2 comments

  1. I am an Apple Admin, and ACMT. I could not agree more about the decline of Apple’s hardware AND software. We have had over a dozen $5000 Macbooks pimped out to the max, only to watch them beachball and freeze on basic functions. They pass all of Apple’s diagnostics, yet you take them to Apple, and they proceed to “gut it” replacing the board, which includes the SSD, CPU, and RAM, plus the idiotic touchbar controller. Does ANYONE like the touchbar? Apple offers no explanation for replacing all those parts…do the math…bad parts or engineering..or both. Then updates that brick the box? My 7 yo Dell now outperforms my top end Mac. C’mon Apple…..wake up!

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      I worked at a few major tech corporations in Silicon Valley. For various reasons, these companies used Windows Server to host applications. Because of this, developers, including myself, used Windows. At one of the largest corporations, management gave us the cheapest PCs imaginable. They were low-end Dell Inspirons that cost no more than $300. Nonetheless, few of our Windows machines broke, be they high-end servers or cheap PCs.

      I contrast this with post-2012 Macs (after Bob Mansfield exited Apple). Both of my Dan Riccio era Macs broke, for no reason, within six to eighteen months. I had a MacBook Pro that was literally sitting on a pedestal. It had a keyboard cover to protect it from dust, but I used an external keyboard and trackpad. This thing was touched by human hands maybe ten times in its existence.

      One day I charged it and used it as a laptop, and after it ran out of battery power, it was never able to be charged again. The battery and the power IC failed, requiring $700+ in repairs, and it was out of warranty. Not wanting to throw good money after bad, I just left it at the Apple Store. I laughed at every call and email I got from them, urging me to pick it up. It’s like they still don’t get it. They work at Apple and can’t understand why I wouldn’t pay $700 to fix a $1050 laptop designed by nincompoops.

      Before this MacBook Pro broke, I decided to purchase a 27″ iMac. The Fusion drive failed six months after purchase. I know people who owned Macs that had Fusion drive failures. If you look it up, a lot of people had these drives fail. In a few decades of working in tech, I’ve experienced one hard drive failure in a RAID setup on a server. The network engineer plopped a new hard drive into the NAS, and he solved the problem. Our application was still serving users.

      The Windows world has long offered hot-swappable drives. If the drive fails, you insert a new one, and it copies over the data, which are redundantly striped across multiple drives.

      I think the iPhone is a decent phone; however, the fact that it still doesn’t have 120 Hz displays is absurd at this point. I switched to Android last year, and I’m pleased. iMessages are the main appeal of the iPhone, and I’m not a teenager. I experience fewer problems on Android. It just works. I don’t miss anything about the iPhone.

      The Mac, however, is complete garbage. No one uses a Mac. Given its anemic market share, it doesn’t make sense for Apple to champion the Mac. They should have left well enough alone, only making small, incremental changes to Bob Mansfield’s designs. I still have a 2009 Mac Pro aluminum tower. It’s a beast. That computer will be around forever. It’s an artifact of the days when Apple made decent products.

      Even the iPhone, although well made, offers mediocre screens and half the RAM of a cheaper Android device. My Android phone has 12 GB of RAM and is remarkably smooth and fast, even with gaming. The motion smoothing technology, compatible with the most popular video apps, gives me the full capabilities of a 120 Hz refresh rate screen. My Android phone has 1300 nits of brightness! The screen is brighter than most notebook computers. Its massive battery lasts all day.

      Apple is a marketing company now. Yes, it makes tech, but others do it better. They convince people to purchase stale technology, and both parties seem to believe it’s state-of-the-art.

      I’m also very pleased with Windows 10 and my new laptop. It’s never given me a problem. I don’t worry about crumbs ruining the keyboard, which feels fantastic. Those rubbery MacBook chicklet keys are horrible. My laptop has a touch screen, which comes in handy with Ableton live and scrolling through long web pages and documents.

      Satya Nadella turned Microsoft around. The smartest thing they did was tell Ballmer to play with some balls. Windows 10 is speedy and stable. macOS looks elegant, but it’s all appearance. It’s a visually beautiful operating system, but I seem to get everything done faster on Windows. Windows still offers far more apps than macOS. Running iOS apps on macOS isn’t appealing to me.

      I didn’t change, and I don’t think you did either. It’s Apple that changed. Apple used to be awesome. They suck now. Some people can’t see it yet, and many never will. It’s like how a dog keeps sitting when you say “sit”, even though there’s no treat involved. Apple behaviorally conditioned consumers to purchase its products, and they’re good enough for most people. They’ll never buy a Mac. They’ll use an iPhone for messaging, photos, and social media — nothing amazing.

      Have you noticed that no one wears an Apple Watch anymore? At least in the SF Bay Area, they’re not worn anymore. I know people bought them. My hunch is that the battery wore out, and they decided to use their iPhone.

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