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Apple, State of the Union

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So, huh, Apple did what everybody who saw Leopard and didn’t have enough conspiracy theories under his belt to just know they have a huge secret development lab hidden away expected: They moved the announced release date of Mac OS X.5 to October.

Many things can be said about this announcement. A first, positive thing would be that Apple actually tells people before June. It wouldn’t seem quite unlike them to just keep the mystery going until then. Another positive thing is that Mr Jobs doesn’t seem to have fired the whole OS X development team. I mean the last time someone (IBM) promised something (3GHz G5) which he then announced and later had to admit he can’t live up to the announcement, we saw that someone being kicked out and replaced by someone else.

A further good thing about this is that, yes, Apple got this wrong. Things just went a little too well for Apple in the past years and the Mac zealots have become a bit too cocky and developed to much of an ‘nothing can go wrong, it’s Apple’ attitude, so this delay may tone them down a little. Which I consider to be a good thing. Now we are just waiting for the Windows zealots to use this opportunity to snicker back at the Mac camp for making fun of their delayed Vista game. And they’re welcome to do that – they deserve a laugh every now and again as well. Although I guess we will not see a I’m a Mac. I’m a PC ad touching this topic. Apple’s humour has been pretty much non-existant in any non-trivial direction so far (not that I blame them for that – it’s in-character for a huge corporation).

Even without being overly keen on X.5 – after all, currently it seems to have much less exciting new stuff for the user than X.4 had – I am still a bit disappointed by this. Mainly because my interest in the Apple Phone is quite low and I’d rather see them spend my money to develop stuff I will actually use. But it’s not a huge deal. If only the friggin’ Spotlight worked, OS X.4 wouldn’t be too bad.

Daniel Jalkut throws in some interesting thoughts on that which made John Gruber put on his Apple apologist hat to answer that Apple are doing just the right thing. Um, yeah, whatever. No idea whether it’s right or wrong, let’s hope they’ll at least do things properly. If they manage to finally turn OS X into something that is capable of browsing (as in actually seeing computers on) Windows networks without problems and displaying non anti-aliased Monaco 10pt properly that’d be progress…

The real problems Apple have are with their hardware though. Not only have those problems been numerous in recent years. A quick count shows that in our family we have used around 14 Macs since 1993, half of which since 2000. Before 2000 we had one minor problem with a machine IIRC and that one was corrected by replacing the battery. Since 2000 we had ten problems with machines – or eight, if you don’t count crack at the front of the Pismo which isn’t a massive problem and the PowerBook battery recall.

And about two of those problems I only learned today. The first is on my MacBook. When returning home last weekend I noticed there was a small black stripe at the front of the palmrest. I assumed it was just a bit of dirt and finally wanted to clean that today. But then I saw that it was actually a crack in the top cover:

cracked MacBook top cover

Now how could that possibly happen? Well, let me give you a hint: When closing the MacBook, its lid is held shut by magnets. It turns out that those magnets are rather strong. Not only can they hold cans of cashews or pans at the computer’s screen, they also mean you need quite a bit of force to open the lid. And they mean that the lid isn’t just held shut but rather that it is held shut with force. And that force presses the little (and not exactly pretty) plastic bars in the display bezel which I think are there to keep the screen at some distance when the computer is closed (and they’re not particularly good at this, I still find keycap grease on my screen) into the top case (which seems to be Apple-speak for ‘upper part of the computer part of the laptop’. And the place where those little bars are pressed into the top case is just where that break is.

And my break isn’t unique. A quick trip to Google revealed several similar incidents reported on the internet. There’s even a flickr Pool on the topic. It looks like such reports started coming up in December, so perhaps it’s a fatigue of the material which just wasn’t engineered / manufactured / tested to be up to the task? People also say that they got their whole top case replaced (which stupidly includes the whole keyboard – I guess Apple just has to pay to learn…) meaning I’ll be on yet another trip to my local Apple dealer. This sucks.

While the breakage sucked, my local dealer managed to replace the broken part within a few minutes on the following day. So rectifying this problem at least was less painful than expected.

And while I was discovering this problem, my dad mailed that one of the RAM slots in his PowerBook stopped working. Apparently that is a well known problem about several of the aluminium PowerBook generations as well. And Apple set up a repair program for that. But one that according to what I read is far from including all affected machines. Like my dad’s.

Both these problems once more raise my suspicion that Apple’s engineering and quality control are somewhat questionable. And for problems like this – problems that aren’t apparent immediately but will only kick in after a year or two when support ‘unfortunately’ has run out – it leaves a rather bad aftertaste.

I’d wait for X.5 for years if Apple promise to make a computer that actually works until then.

April 14, 2007, 0:46

Tagged as hardware, Mac OS X.

Comments

Comment by gummi: Gravatar image

I’m finding it very hard to raise my pulse over this Leopard delay. After all, 10.4 is working well, and in fact, maybe Apple should fix a few of those annoying bugs in this iteration… or maybe that’s not a typical Apple plan. Keep on buying.

I used to look forward to an OS release, during those days when I had nothing better to do and I thought that Software could be meaningful. I think all that meaning is lost, and one thing that helped that along was the cacophony of commentary about Apple stuff — barring your site. There are many problems with Computers, specifically Apple computers, which you’ve just outlined. But these things are explained away in the same insipid tones one sees from those commentators who think Apple can only shit gold covered nuggets of chocolate. One does not like to eat shit, no matter how sweet it looks.

I think this comes from my work; I always seem to be looking at an hypothesis or finding and thinking of ways to prove it wrong. It’s a small part of the scientific method that’s lost in a lot of objective commentary. I guess I shouldn’t think that commentary is a rational scientific process, especially after the invasion of advertising into our medium.

April 14, 2007, 10:21

Comment by Fred Blasdel: Gravatar image

…If they manage to finally turn OS X into something that is capable of browsing (as in actually seeing computers on) Windows networks without problems…

In Leopard build 377 (the most recent public one as of right now) they’ve added an better alternative to the “Network” top-level object in the Finder. Not only fileservers show up, but also ARD and a number of other things. It doesn’t totally work right now because of other problems, but I’m sure it’ll be dandy in a few months.

April 14, 2007, 12:57

Comment by ssp: Gravatar image

You see Fred, I am giving Apple a real chance to excel at this time… after failing to do so in the X.2, X.3 and X.4 updates.

April 14, 2007, 18:14

Comment by Dave2: Gravatar image

Why, pray tell, do you continue to buy Apple when you have so many problems with the hardware, disapprove of how they spend their resources, don’t like the localization, feel their American designs to be flawed and crappy, have several features that either don’t work for you or you don’t like, are pessimistic about X.5’s feature-set, and find fellow Mac users to be cocky asshats?

Heaven only knows I don’t think Apple is perfect, and have written about plenty of things that bother me, but you seem totally miserable week after week with Apple, and I just don’t understand why you continue to torture yourself this way.

April 15, 2007, 17:19

Comment by ssp: Gravatar image

Gee, Dave, you sound like you never used Windows or Linux…

But more seriously, there are two sides to it: Software and Hardware. And as you know, you have to buy both from Apple. It has been said many times that the software is Apple’s strength. They introduced the GUI to the mainstream in the 1980s and they sat down gave that some really good though back then. And even in the times perceived as their lowest software-wise, in the late 1990s, they still managed to improve the usability of their system in ways we continue enjoying to this day (eg ubiquitous drag and drop or simple wireless networking) or even in ways we still miss today (eg the Location Manager).

And today they continue to lead software-wise (just look at stuff like Exposé which was both amazing from a technical and UI point of view). But there doesn’t seem to be any serious competition around, so it’s not clear how hard they have to work for that leadership.

Also I am not ‘pessimistic’ about X.5’s feature set. I am just saying it won’t be as compelling an upgrade as predecessors and thus the delay isn’t too dramatic. Perhaps that’s just a coming of age thing. X.4 does many things ‘well enough’, so why upgrade?

The other half of the story is the hardware. And if I could get OS X on non-Apple hardware, I would most probably do that after the experiences I had in the past years. I have used many Macs myself, I made my family and many of my friends Mac users. And the reliability of the hardware just dropped a lot since around 2000.

Back in the 1990s I recommended Macs to pretty much everyone, because I knew it would be simple for people to use and they would get solid machines. I still can use an SE from 1987, my heavily upgraded LC Ⅲ from 1993 or a friend’s Newton from the late 1990s. These machines still work without a problem. The same cannot be said for current machines. My TiBook had at least three significant failures, my previous iBook shipped with broken software that took weeks to fix and needed a new charger, my new MacBook already has a new battery, invertor board and top case, my iPod needed fixing as well at some stage. And it’s not just me. As mentioned, my dad’s PowerBook has a built-in RAM failure, I know a couple of people with iMac G5 power supply problems and of course people with the notorious iBook G3 mainboard and graphics problems. All these are just cases within one degree of separation.

And thus – as much as I’d love to – I cannot recommend Apple hardware to friends anymore. While I know the software is pretty much the only sane thing you can buy today, the recommendation would be for a piece of hardware. And for the hardware I have to tell them to expect at least one failure in the first year. And that they better be prepared to cough up for a 3 year AppleCare contact or upgrade within the warranty time because there most likely will be failures.

And once you take that into account, the price starts mattering again. For a MacBook it’s more than 25% of the hardware price.

If you think all that is good quality and management, good for you. But I find it disappointing.

April 15, 2007, 18:34

Comment by Richard: Gravatar image

Dear all, I have the same problem with my 2.2 White Macbook. Apple should recall all Macbook product and fix this problem.

April 16, 2008, 10:47

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