Matthias Nehlsen

Software, Data and Stuff

Dear Apple, Get Your Act Together

This is a rant.

I’ve been having issues with my Retina MacBook lately, to the point where I am craving a Linux-based laptop. But there are two programs that keep me on the Mac at the moment:

  • Photoshop
  • Omnigraffle

Everything else I think I can live with on Linux. But I might still buy one of these cute 2015 Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu once they come out. I like the form factor a lot actually. Anyhow.

So my 2012 Retina MacBook showed a few signs of aging. Sometimes, but not all the time, the battery would show “Service Battery”. According to some website I found but forgot, that is supposed to be something that’s covered under the 3 year extended warranty because the battery is aging badly, not as supposed to.

So I tried to get that fixed at the local Apple store. But they didn’t have any appointments for two and a half weeks. Really, that’s considered good service for professionally used equipment, with the so-called care protection plan purchased in addition to the hardware? You can’t be serious!

So I went to a local partner. Surely enough, by the time I got there, I didn’t get the warning any longer. So they wanted to keep my laptop for a night or two. That’s not really something I can easily do, though. There’s data on my laptop that’s under one confidentiality agreement or another. That’s why I encrypt both the internal SSD and all backup disks. I can, of course, prepare the hardware for that, by removing the user account, but I can’t just give the laptop away as it is. Also, the partner told me that it was extremely unlikely that they could replace the battery under warranty, even if it behaved erroneously.

I was determined to bring the laptop in for an extended check, but oddly enough it then worked for a little bit. It didn’t take long, though, and the annoying behavior was back. Either the logged-in user was randomly logged out in the middle of something, which is greatly annoying when you have to restart everything after logging on again, or the laptop would hibernate all of a sudden at charges around 30%.

Then, in the last couple of weeks, the right hinge became loose. Another annoyance, really, when I’m on the couch with the laptop on my lap, coding or working on my “Building a System in Clojure” book while watching TV series 1 and that hinge makes sounds at the slightest movement of anything.

Then I went to the other Apple Store in Hamburg last week; they had an appointment available one week later. The lady scheduling my appointment asked me why I had come in instead of just scheduling online. I told her that that had not been possible for weeks, for both stores in Hamburg. After mocking me about probably not having visited the correct website, I challenged her to go online and try it herself. Indeed, she got the same message for both stores that no appointments were available at either store at the moment.

A gem of an idiotic policy then came out of her mouth after realizing the non-availability of an appointment: so they, on a daily basis, only report back free appointments for one week in advance. So I asked, “Okay, sometime tonight, you’ll report back the availability of appointments until one week from toda?” She confirmed, so I asked back if she realized that she had just given me the second to last appointment available that day one week later, with a couple more hours to go that day so that likely there’d be no openings to report later on. Right.

But probably even worse, they also prepared me that I’d have to leave the laptop in for service for five to seven working days after bringing it in. Guys, that’s up to almost a week and a half at worst. Seriously? I get it that you stock spare parts on a just-in-time basis. But then again, I don’t even get that. Apple has so few product lines that it seems reasonable to me as a layman to keep at least the most popular spare parts for all product lines stocked at all times. Surely, the top case of the Retina MacBook that comes with the batteries, the keyboard and the trackpad all in one unit is something you’d replace frequently.

How many individually replaceable spare parts are there even for a Retina MacBook? Top case, screen, logic board with attached RAM, SSD, bottom cover. Did I miss anything? Sure, the logic board comes in a couple of different varieties, but I don’t think any customer would be upset if you only stocked the best one for each generation. That’s a conversation I wouldn’t mind having when my laptop is being serviced. “We’re terribly sorry, we didn’t have your logic board but we had a more powerful one, or one with more memory, or both. So we replaced yours with that one.” Customer would all of a sudden have more than they paid for initially, but hey, they’re also going through the trouble of having to bring in their work machine in the first place. Can’t imagine anyone being upset about that. All this is just to say that I believe stocking spare parts would be viable. Also, the most expensive CPU at the time of the initial purchase is probably kind of midrange now.

Instead, you guys want to order the spare part somewhere. Okay, fine. You may be able to deliver a new machine to me in 24 hours when I order online but you cannot have my spare part here within 24 hours and then have it worked into my machine in 36 hours and have me back at work?

Which brings me back to the Dell laptop. My experience with their customer service is from a few years back, roughly from 2004 to 2008, when I was doing IT support in a large, 1500-bed hospital. So I cannot say how it is nowadays. But back then, when one of their Latitude laptops, 30 or 40 of which I was responsible, had any issue, you’d call the hotline, describe the issue and have a service technician at your desk within 24 hours, oftentimes sooner, AND equipped with all spare parts that machine might need. That guy would then repair your machine on the spot and if that wasn’t possible, he’d either give you a replacement machine right away or order one with Morning Express. So at best, you called in at 4 or 5pm and had your machine up and running by 9am the next morning, already repaired. Or, at worst, you’d have the replacement by 8am the morning after.

I don’t remember any service failures right now. Maybe there was a time when there was plenty of ice on the street so some delivery got delayed, but that’s about it. That’s what I call an appropriate service for a laptop in the price range of the Retina MacBook “Pro”. Only that the Latitudes where cheaper, probably in the range of €800 to €1800 depending on CPU, RAM and what not. Oh, and the service was not only on the premises of the hospital, it was worldwide, and we used that on rare occasions when one of the physicians was at a conference somewhere in the world and the machine had a major issue.

So really, Apple, get your act together and offer me the service that I expect for a professionally priced and used machine. Otherwise, I may really find a replacement for OmniGraffle and Photoshop and switch to a Linux machine instead.

That new Dell is sexy, by the way. I wish the 15 inch was as cute, with the same, almost non-existent frame around the display. Then, I’d make the switch work right away. I very much like the idea of running Docker natively on a Linux machine instead of running a virtual box with that boot2docker thing. It works, but I don’t want the overhead. It makes the machine sluggish and warm.

This half-baked availability of Docker on OS X has become so much of an issue for me that at the moment, I’d definitely not go for an Apple desktop but buy a powerful Linux machine instead. You also get so much more bang for your buck, all while working daily on the platform that you’re likely going to deploy on anyway. More familiarity with the platform your software will be running on in production surely never hurt anyone.

The thing is, dear Apple, that I really want to like you more. In terms of industrial design or whatever, I’d choose the Retina MacBook any day of the year2. But my emotional attachment to good industrial design doesn’t help me earn a living, really. For that, I need a customer service of which I can tell my friends, “You know, I had a problem with the machine I spent pretty much all of my working hours with, and the manufacturer of that machine went to great lengths to make sure that issue disrupted my life and schedule as little as humanly possible!”. Yes, I wish I could say that.

Then, to add insult to injury, I had an appointment for a session with a “Genius” yesterday. Now I find that an insult to the word genius. But also, why don’t you send a reminder of the appointment, with a button to click that says something like “I am sorry, but I would like to reschedule my audience with a genius because I had the audacity to not know my schedule with paying customers one week in advance of the precious audience”. Something like that. Yes, you did send an email when the appointment was made, but the reschedule button in that email yielded nothing more than telling me I have no appointments, neither past nor future. Quite helpful.

Now with that being said, I am doing a clean install of OS X. I kind of wish that wasn’t something you had to do in situations like mine, where the system just randomly logs itself out. Mind you, it’s not a restart because of a power issue connected to the battery. I think this is separate. Back in the days when I was responsible for those Windows laptops, the one recipe that worked more often than not was a re-install of Windows first and see if that fixed the issue. When the physicians asked me why the re-install was necessary - as that was not immediately obvious to them - I usually told them something along the lines of, “Well, I believe Windows kind of rots from the inside over time, and starting afresh without the accumulated mess is oftentimes all that’s needed.” That they did understand.

Is the same true for you, dear OS X? Are you rotting from the inside so all that’s necessary is to replace you with a fresher instance of yourself? I hope so. The battery I can live with for a little while, but logging me out is really annoying. I’d rather have that fix itself than having to go to the temple to consult a genius.

Will I be using Apple three years from now? Time will tell, but probably not. If there’s going to be a 15-inch, four-point-something pounds laptop with nearly the same dedication to hardware design and the same specs or better but running Linux, the availability of Docker will be the one feature that’ll tip over my decision.

That’s all for today 3.

Cheers, Matthias


  1. Right now, I am mostly watching either Suits or American Horror Story. I found the latter to be very addictive, particularly from the second season on. If I were you and you haven’t watched any of that yet and are curious about it, I suggest you start with Season 2. You wouldn’t miss anything as the plots are not connected between Season 1 and Season 2. You’d only recognize a couple of familiar faces from the previous season.

  2. This is despite laptop having so few USB ports. Really, two more, one on each side, to make the machine actually practical would not have been possible?

  3. By the way, why does Colin Firth look so botox’ed? He’s 54, are a few wrinkles on your forehead something to be shamed of at his age? I don’t think so. Just a random thought from watching the Golden Globes while typing this.

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