June 29th, 2006 • 3:59 pm
One is a blog post by JC, a former AppleCare employee who tries to put the recent reports about flaws in MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops in perspective:
Obviously, the issues being reported are real, and they are affecting people. However, I’m not sure that the conventional wisdom labeling these as a widespread pandemic worthy of herculean recall, as many as casting it, is even close to legitimate.
The other one is an Apple tech note about the latest firmware update for the MacBook Pro (17-inch), which, according to the note, “adjusts fan behavior in the MacBook Pro 17-inch.”
As Betalogue readers know, I recently purchased a MacBook laptop that I ultimately had to return to Apple because a fan noise (the “mooing” sound) that Apple considers “normal” and “within spec” even though, in my opinion and in the opinion of my wife, it is the worst possible kind of noise to try and get used to, and it effectively renders the machine unusable for us in our quiet home environment.
Both pages are unsatisfying in their own way.
JC’s post tries to provide some perspective, but fails to provide evidence of wild exaggerations in the blogosphere. I am willing to acknowledge that some blog writers might be exaggerating the importance of some issues, but I would have liked to see JC provide direct links to such outlandish posts, because I haven’t read any myself. JC only refers to “comments on Digg, TUAW, or others,” without providing specific links. But I fail to see how such comments qualify as “journalism” of any kind, even the “yellow” kind. These are just comments by individuals and do not claim to be anything else. And even if they do claim to be representative of larger problems, this doesn’t give them any legitimacy. Every seasoned Internet user knows that anyone can post a comment on a blog or “social network.” Everyone knows that such comments should be taken with a grain of salt.
What JC fails to acknowledge is the existence of in-depth stories written by fairly well informed readers such as Daniel Jalkut or myself about significant problems with MacBook and MacBook Pro machines.
Maybe I didn’t follow the blogosphere’s response to previous generations of Apple laptops carefully enough. But I don’t recall seeing such posts by well informed users about significant issues with their laptops. Of course, there’s always going to be an element of exaggeration on the web, because it’s not a controlled environment like the traditional press.
On the other hand, the traditional press has failed us repeatedly when it comes to reporting on hardware issues in the recent past. Does anyone recall Macworld ever publishing anything about the G4 MDD noise disaster—or about Apple’s power supply replacement program, which was an explicit acknowledgement that there was a substantial noise problem with a large number of machines? All I remember reading about the G4 MDD in Macworld was the usual glowing review about the machine being a speed demon, etc.
If the traditional press cannot be trusted, then we have no choice but to turn to on-line reports. We can judge the relevance and significance of the issues reported based on the credentials of the writers and the quality of the writing. And certainly, in that respect, regardless of JC’s credentials, his piece fails to convince that there are indeed no significant issues with the latest generation of Apple laptops. It’s just not acceptable to dismiss all reports about issues with the new machines as “yellow journalism.” Individual blog writers will never have access to the statistical tools or resources needed to develop a truly objective picture of the situation. But they have a great advantage that traditional journalists do not have or at least no longer have—i.e. time to personally explore issues and provide readers with an in-depth, real-life personal story.
In his post, JC doesn’t even mention whether he has any extensive personal experience with a MacBook or MacBook Pro. You would think that it would be the minimum requirement before writing such a story.
Apple’s tech note about the latest firmware update for the 17-inch MacBook Pro is also disappointing, but for a different reason. The reason is that it provides no specific information about what fan behaviour has been “adjusted.” Is it the mooing sound? Is it another sound? What are the adjustments? Has the sound been eliminated?
The reality, in my situation, is that I will not consider purchasing another Apple laptop for my wife until I can be reasonably certain that the issue that caused us to return the machine has been fixed. Posts like JC’s will definitely not help, and Apple’s tech note does not help either, because it provides so little specific information.
All I can do, at this point, is continued to read other posts about the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, and draw my own conclusions. For example, yesterday I read this other post by a new MacBook user:
Other things I notice but don’t really care much about– yes, my Macbook does make the mooing noise that people have reported. Eh, not a biggie. But it’s there. The machine can get nuclear hot. Right now, with just Mail.app, IRC and Safari open, the processor is running about 66 degrees Celsius. I’ve seen it up to 90.
What this post confirms, as far as I am concerned, is that the mooing sound is very much there in his machine. It is, fortunately for him, “not a biggie” as far as he is concerned. But his post confirms that it’s there. Sensitivity to noise obviously varies from individual to individual. But what I do know is that such a mooing sound is not acceptable in this household.
As long as Apple does not openly address the problem, I will have to rely on such reports to decide whether it’s time to give it another try by going to a store and giving the demo machines on display a close listen. Obviously it’s not time for this yet, but Eric Rice’s post confirms to me that the problem exists in a number of machines, and the issue at this point is whether you can live with it or not. I know we can’t, and so we are not buying. Maybe Apple will come up with a firmware update for the MacBook as well one of these days, and we’ll have more reason to think that the issue might have been addressed. But at this point it still looks like Apple—and a fair proportion of MacBook users—consider this mooing noise acceptable and “within spec.”
By dismissing all the complaints about issues with the new machines as “yellow journalism,” JC is not really helping the situation. He just sounds like someone who will blindly accept without question all the design decisions made by Apple, as if these decisions had always been good. The reality is that Apple has sometimes made mistakes, especially when it comes to noise (see the G4 MDD disaster), and potential buyers have very valid reasons to be suspicious.