John Risby

@johnrisby

Apple's number is finally up - and why we've gone our separate ways while I continue to use macOS

Last year I wrote an article about my problems with a 15" late 2016 Macbook Pro with touchbar. It was long. It was angry. And I didn’t expect anyone to read it.

But they did. Nearly two hundred thousand as it turned out. And they still do, every day.

It regularly gets picked up and shared. Comments still get posted.

All this, long after my ordeal is over.

Why has this article proved so popular and why does it continue to be now?

Clearly because for other people their ordeal is still on-going.

One of the points I made in my original piece was how Apple ignore problems until it affects enough people. I was told this directly by an Apple employee.

It’s a numbers game.

Well, today I read Apple’s number is finally up and they’ve launched a ‘keyboard service program’ for all butterfly design keyboards.

So now is the time to publish the end to my long and painful journey with Apple and how we have now parted ways, at least for now.

If you’ve read the original, please skip to the heading ‘Numbers Game’ for your own sanity.

(A sort of brief) overview of the original story

To recap the original problem — I bought a 15" late 2016 MBP with touchbar in December 2016. Immediately I had problems with the case making odd noises. I reported it but Apple said nothing was wrong, go away.

Eventually the screen randomly cracked one day and went black.

Oddly, the case noises stopped at the exact same time. Interesting…

Apple blamed me for the screen damage and wanted me to pay for a new screen. I refused on the basis that the case noises had stopped once the screen cracked, so clearly it was connected.

Apple said if a screen cracks after it leaves the factory it is always the users fault. That’s how perfect Apple design and manufacturing is. I guess the people putting them together work so many hours a week, they should be really good at it...

I bought the Macbook in the UK where my business is, but I live in Spain. And each trip to the only Apple store remotely nearby takes an hour each way plus 15 euro toll roads (or I could go toll-free and take 2 hours each way).

After many trips, lots of arguing and lots of stress I eventually gave up on Apple in Spain and, after flying to the UK to get married, I visited the Manchester store where I had more ‘discussions’ with the manager and staff until finally they agreed to let me return it for a replacement.

This was the day before I got married. Hardly the preparation I expected or wanted.

Actually, I say replacement. The only option was to return the broken one and buy another. Of course, it would take days for the money to get back to me, so I was now spending a total of nearly 7K GBP with Apple until the money came back for the first one.

I chose to buy another one, much to the disdain of some commentators on the original article.

But I had my reasons. I like macOS and have investment in software (both money and time/experience) and it would be hard to not have access to certain apps. If you wish to question that decision, that’s fine, but I have answered it many times on the comments to the last story.

Thankfully they had a maxed out spec model in-store. The old one was a bit under-powered for my needs.

Ok, so now I have finally got rid of that broken one and got a brand new one.

Problem solved, at last.

Spoke too soon…

Very quickly the replacement model started making case noises too. Slightly different from the last one, but still noises it shouldn’t. And on top of that the keyboard started playing up.

Now back in Spain, I was speaking to a senior adviser at Apple UK who was the first person at Apple to admit they had heard of similar problems. He took the details, and a video he asked me to make, and said he would pass it back to California. A few weeks later, he called to say Apple had accepted there were faults with the model and there was a fix for the case noises… a free screen replacement.

The number of people who have told me they had to pay for a new screen under similar circumstances is huge. Of course, some will be the fault of the user, but not all, not by a long way.

I wasn’t happy with a repair as clearly this was a design flaw so why should I have a repair on a product that left the factory faulty?

The problem was I was in Spain, and all Apple would offer in Spain was the repair. If I wanted to get it replaced, I was told, I would have to fly to the UK. Despite unified EU consumer laws, Apple played the ‘Apple Spain and Apple UK are not the same company’ card.

My wife was about to give birth so that wasn’t an option.

I reluctantly accepted a repair. Very reluctantly. I also had to argue again, even at this stage, for them to replace the faulty keyboard at the same time they did the screen repair. They wanted to deal with the two issues as two separate repairs. Yes, sure, like I could afford the time for that.

That’s when I bought a replacement Macbook for the sole purpose of having a laptop to use while they fixed it with the intention to return it under their 14 day money back policy when the repair was done.

A crazy option, but one suggested to me by multiple Apple staff… As it turned out, the ‘up to 2 weeks’ repair took 24 hours… So Apple had a reconditioned machine to sell on and I had more wasted time.

Numbers game

It was when I took the machine in for the repair — 9 months in to this ordeal — that I was told by a member of the Apple staff at the ‘Genius’ bar that this was a worldwide problem that had been reported for months by many customers.

He said it was a numbers game — until enough people complain about it (and until the cost of a full recall/repair programme outweighs the inconvenience and cost of annoying customers prepared to argue, or forcing them to pay for faults they know are theirs) they deny it.

Well, today I read Apple’s number is up.

They have finally accepted there is a fault with the butterfly keyboard design and all notebooks* are covered for a free repair (* they are not laptops as they will tell you when you complain they get so hot they literally burn your legs as happened to me, but that’s a whole other story).

My business partner’s Macbook Pro 2017 model started having keyboard problems a few months ago. At the time, Apple had a limited fix for some serial numbers. I put her number in and it said it was not part of the affected batch and wasn’t eligible for a free repair.

Now, at last, they accept it is.

How my story ended

My last Medium story on this subject ended when I had my repaired Macbook and I could get back to work after 9 months of problems and stress.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of it.

Eventually, the keyboard started going wrong. Small things at first, that I put down to my typing (which has always been fast and good, but as I get older, busier and more tired, isn’t always as good as it was).

But over time it became obvious it wasn’t my fault. It became worse and worse. More keys stuck. More keys randomly failed to work.

And eventually two keys literally broke off.

I’d already reported the keyboard problems to Apple before the keys fell off. And their solution was to spray air on it. Needless to say it didn’t solve the problem.

When they keys snapped off, I snapped too. I got back to a senior Apple adviser and straight away they said I was covered by UK consumer law and entitled to a new replacement due to the existing repairs (the replacement would be the 2017 model).

At first I was ok with this. Then I found out they were going to make me jump through hoops. Firstly, I had to go back — again — to the Marbella store to have it looked to show the keys had fallen off… (which took them 5 minutes and took me an afternoon and another pair of toll fees).

The senior adviser at Apple UK was due to call me while I was at the store so he could speak to the Spanish staff member. But once she had done ‘her job’ and confirmed the keyboard was faulty (you don’t say?) she refused to wait around to speak to the Apple UK staff member about to call and said that was a separate issue and I’d need to book another appointment for another day to do that. And with that, she walked away…

When he did call a few minutes later, he was rather surprised that she had refused to speak to him, but at least he had the notes on the system that meant we could proceed with the replacement.

It was at this point I was told the replacement could only be sent to me after I sent the old one back and it had been received and processed.

Could I hand it in to the Apple store I was stood outside? No. Apple Spain is a different company (legally correct, but a terrible excuse for a worldwide group of companies — especially when both are inside the EU).

Could a friend, due to visit the UK, hand it in to the Manchester store where I bought it? No. They can’t accept returns like that.

It had to be collected by Apple. From a UK address. I couldn’t send it from Spain to Apple UK myself directly. Really. They said it would be refused.

No, I had to send it to the UK so they could collect it from a UK address. The reason given for this was ‘consumer law’. Seriously.

Ok then, but could my friend collect the replacement from the Apple store in Manchester and bring it back with her? Nope. The old one had to be collected, processed, checked (again), etc etc etc, and then, and only then, would they send a replacement by courier — but only to a UK address.

Amazon will happily send me cheap items from Amazon UK to Spain for a few quid, but Apple refused to send a replacement for a 3,300 GBP computer to Spain — despite this now going on for over a year.

So I’d be without a computer for some weeks.

My metaphorical wound was now so full of salt there was no more they could rub in.

The only way I could get a computer faster was if I paid them for another one, before I had the refund on the broken one I was sending back. Thanks for the trust Apple. I guess they are right, I could have decided I wanted to keep the broken computer for… you know… well… no, actually, I have no idea.

Amazingly, for some reason that now I find hard to understand, I actually agreed to this. I wasn’t happy but I needed to work so…

This then led to a complete farce where it took two weeks of Apple trying to process various cards and failing. That first day, when it was agreed, I tried to pay over the phone but their system kept coming up with an unspecified error. After about an hour or so, I was told it was now working and the payment had gone through. It would be shipped soon.

Then, when I heard nothing for days, I called back and was told the payment hadn’t gone through — so I was waiting for my shipment in vain — but the system wouldn’t allow them to take payment again as the system thought I had paid…

I ended up speaking to 3, maybe 4?, advisers who each took the case over. We tried English cards, Spanish cards, personal cards, business cards. I moved money from one country to another. Everything failed.

There was no problem with any of the cards in terms of funding. They put it down to ‘systems failure’, ‘maybe because it’s a Spanish card’, and various other excuses.

Eventually they found the problem. Despite me giving them the correct billing address every time for each card (some are registered at different locations), they had been using the wrong postcode each time. Their system didn’t say this though, just some obscure error message.

Finally, the payment was processed and they could ship the laptop. Yay!

But wait…a few weeks

It was then they said it would be another 2 or 3 weeks before it was ready to be shipped (and only to the UK, so I could personally pay to ship it on to Spain).

Seriously Apple? You knew, for weeks, that I was expecting this and you knew why I was paying for another before the refund, yet you couldn’t have one ready?

It was at this point I decided this had to end.

I’d been mulling this over for some time. As much as I prefer macOS to Windows or Linux, and as much as I use certain apps that are macOS only, I couldn’t take any more.

So over a year of being called a liar, a cheat, having to spend hundreds of pounds in petrol and tolls alone to visit the Apple store (plus my time), all the time spent on the phone and in store, and the final farce of having to pay for a fourth Macbook Pro in just over a year (two were returned and the third would be too), then failing to take the payment because of their incompetence and finally being told it would be weeks before it would ship, was enough.

On top of all that, I realised the replacement they were sending me was a 2017 model which was likely to have the same problems (now confirmed) as the 2016 model. And the 2018 model would be out soon. It didn’t seem like a good investment.

I cancelled the replacement.

So, now what?

Instead, I used the money to buy two computers.

To replace the notebook, I bought a Chromebook — an Asus C302CA. I’ve put Ubuntu on it with Crouton so I can swap between Chrome OS and Linux. It’s thin, light, fast and cheap, very cheap.

Of course, it doesn’t run Photoshop, Premiere, or Audition etc, never mind Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X… but that’s where my second new computer comes in.

I built a Hackintosh desktop. A water-cooled i7–8700k processor, 32 GB ram, an 8GB RX580 graphics card, SSD and HDD storage, plus all other necessities (case etc).

Oh, and a beautiful 27" 4k LG HDR monitor.

Oh, and a pair of Yamaha HS5 studio monitors (speakers) and a Roland audio interface.

All — the laptop, desktop, monitor, and speakers — covered (within 100 GBP or so) from the money to be returned from Apple for one, badly designed, under-powered notebook.

It was at that point I finally realised just how crazy the pricing is for the Macbook Pro.

Yes, it’s a Hackintosh. Yes, maybe at some point in the future they may stop working (when they move to their own chips etc). But for now, it runs perfectly. It’s fast, very powerful, and cost a LOT less than anything remotely similar from Apple. I did consider buying an iMac but after the experiences I’d had, and comparing the price/spec, that wasn’t going to happen.

How do I find this new system? Fantastic. Very rarely do I miss having macOS on the laptop itself. And if I desperately need something I can always remotely connect to my Hackintosh and run it full-screen on the laptop.

Will I ever buy an Apple product again? Possibly.

But not until I have to. At the moment, I am enjoying the benefits of macOS in the comfort of knowing I haven’t had to pay them any more money. After the year plus of stress I had from them, I feel that’s fair

And I still have a working iMac, an older iPhone (my UK phone, while I have a better, newer, Samsung phone for my Spanish number), and other Apple devices.

Waking up today to the news that Apple have finally accepted a fault across the range with the new keyboard is bittersweet.

I’m delighted, and relieved, for everyone who has already paid for a replacement keyboard who will now get their money back, and for those who have the problem who can now get it fixed for free.

I’m also pleased to be one of the many people who stood up to Apple in our own small way and put pressure on them to accept this.

But I’m also angry that I had to go through all this and even at the end Apple couldn’t be gracious about it.

The machine I returned for a refund? It took nearly a month for the money to come back to me. By then of course, I’d long already spent it all on the new machines. The second time I’ve had to spend thousands while waiting for Apple to give me my thousands back.

Even after I had it sent back to the UK, it took them days to collect it, days for it to get to them. A week or more for them to check it (again) and then start the refund process.

And amazingly they only pay refunds on Tuesdays (oddly, they accept payment 24 hours a day, every day of the year), and for some reason my refund wasn’t processed when it should have been.

Still, not to worry eh Apple? It’s only money. Ah hang on, no, let’s worry. It’s my money, and unlike Apple I don’t have a couple of hundred billion dollars sat around in offshore accounts.

So, that’s where I am. A happy Hackintosh and Chromebook/Linux user.

My mobile phone contract is up for renewal, I could take an iPhone X for not much more than I pay now. But I think I’ll pass on that, thanks.

A final thought

Considering Apple make most of their money away from their computer division now and, frankly, they could live without it, perhaps it’s time for them to go back to the short-lived OS licensing programme they had for macOS 7 and allow other companies to build compatible machines.

And if Apple are going to continue making their own computers — whether as now or alongside an OS licence programme — either Jony Ive needs to stop focusing on making everything needlessly thinner (to the point they don’t work), someone needs to tell him to stop, or he needs replacing.

Goodbye for now Apple hardware, may we meet again in happier times.

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