The Apple Delusion

In September 2018 I switched job to work as a remote consultant for a small UK company. Without a work computer, I considered buying a Mac for the following reasons:

  • Ruby development in Windows is a pain
  • I like the UNIX environment
  • The overall user experience, I believed, was top-notch

The other option would have been Linux, but my experiences of macOS had, until that point, been better than my experiences of Linux.

Figuring that I’d want about five years out of the machine, and having worked for too long on too-slow Macs, I dropped € 3,200 (~ $3,719 at the time) on a high-spec 15-inch Macbook Pro1 — the most I’d ever spent on a computer, high-end gaming machines inclusive. It stung, but I wasn’t about to skimp on the most important tool of my trade.

The purchase would go on to be my most regrettable, whose resulting ordeal is still far from over. The toll it has taken on me is evidenced by my writing this at 4:30AM on a work night, awoken and unable to fall back asleep with the whole debacle running through my head.

Rocky Beginnings

The MacBook arrived some two weeks later. It came with a Touch Bar which I hadn’t seen much use for2, but sadly I wasn’t given the option to have regular keys. There isn’t much else to say about the really early period — nothing really stood out, though I did expect the OS to feel snappier.

Within the first month I was getting deep into my new job and the keyboard started to fail on certain keys. Not the biggest deal: I work primarily at a desk with an external keyboard; I’d blow any dust out with compressed air some other time. Except, when I tried, compressed air didn’t help at all. I even followed Apple’s oddly-specific guide to cleaning the keyboard to no avail.

The keyboard continued on its decline. Meanwhile, the fan started spinning up more often, more loudly, and with a strange sound — a little like it was catching on something ever so slightly as it spun. Performance felt lacking, but I increasingly told myself that macOS was just slow3.

Eventually the keys became literally unusable, and I’d started overlaying an external 60% keyboard whenever using it on my lap. Luckily, Apple had since added my MacBook model to the list of keyboards they’d repair without charge, so it was time to consider taking it in for repair.

At this point, my work life had become extremely busy. I was the only remaining developer at the company, with the duties of several other would-be employees additionally falling to me. I was on call seven days a week and awoken in the night to handle emergencies on several occasions. It was an unhealthy work/life balance, with the pertinence being that I could not afford to be without my laptop.

I called Apple to explain the situation, but they told me they couldn’t do a same-day repair: if I visit a reseller it could be weeks, and if I visit an official Apple Store (the nearest being an hour and a half away) it would likely be a few days. Thus all possible options were exhausted4 with neither being open to me.

I wasn’t sure how I’d ever have the keyboard fixed, but I carried on working and the machine carried on getting slower. There were periods in which it essentially froze: the mouse cursor moved, but I couldn’t even access the menu to reboot after waiting several minutes, eventually resorting to a hard power off. Concerning, but by now I had convinced myself that Macs just had these problems and allowed myself the disappointment.

More changes in my work life: I’m at a different company and working reasonable hours again. I’m still using the MacBook for work, but now that I have more free time I spend a lot of that using it too. I decide I’ll probably schedule the keyboard repair for an upcoming holiday and put it at the back of my mind.

Death & The Post-Mortem

But then, one day, I try to boot the MacBook and nothing happens. It’s completely dead.

I followed all the usual troubleshooting steps and some slightly more arcane ones — all documented by Apple, so nothing too weird — before calling Apple and asking what I should do. We agreed that there was nothing I could do but bring it in4, so I talked with work and tried to arrange an alternative. I had an old PC gathering dust upstairs, so I grabbed a monitor and installed Ubuntu Desktop. The coronavirus had hit hard by now, and we in the Netherlands were finally advised to work from home, so a desktop would work.

And this desktop was blazing fast! Or it felt fast. It shouldn’t. I built it some time in 2011, with a second generation Intel i5, whilst the MacBook Pro sports an eighth generation i7. And only 8GB of RAM to the MacBook’s 16GB. And an OCZ Vortex SATA SSD to the MacBook’s NVMe beast.

To summarise: the Mac’s hardware was great on paper and the desktop’s was massively outdated and awful in comparison. There is no reason the desktop should have comparable performance, much less better.

In any case I had a perfectly fine computer to work on whilst waiting for the MacBook repair.

It’s early May 2020 and I book an appointment at the closest Amac — an official Apple reseller that’s considerably closer to me than the Apple stores. Two days later, I take it in and pay a € 79.95 deposit — my laptop isn’t insurance enough, apparently — and explain my issues:

  • It doesn’t power on
  • The keyboard has been useless since almost the start
  • A mid-range desktop from 2011 outperforms it

I’m told that I shouldn’t have experienced such performance issues with this machine, confirming that something must have been wrong with it from the start. In any case, I would receive an e-mail regarding the diagnosis soon.

Lo and behold, a few days later my inbox contains an e-mail with a large bill.

Amac/Apple/Whomever had my laptop had decided that, essentially, all of the machine’s internals needed replacing. The battery was also already swollen, which made me wonder if any parts at all were worth salvaging.

Anyway, they wanted € 890.49 from me in total, including the deposit. I could have paid it, but I felt burned; burned by the fact that I’d had to deal with nothing but awful experiences on an overpriced machine since its reception, which ultimately met its end well shy of two years, and now I’d be required to throw more good money after bad in getting it repaired.

Meanwhile I’m having a much better time with Linux than I’d expected. Everything works out of the box, it’s snappy, and surprisingly runs just fine under only 8GB RAM. I miss a couple of apps but mostly find replacements that range from somewhat worse to somewhat better than what I’d used on macOS: a net positive. Why did I buy a MacBook Pro?

And then work bought me a Lenovo, so the immediate pressure on the repair was off and I only needed the MacBook for home use.

Second Opinion

I think things over for a couple of days before deciding that I’m not going to pay for the repair. What’s more, I decide to pursue a full refund of the MacBook: it had never served me acceptably and I had a replacement from work. So I decide to call Apple and see if this can be resolved.

Disclaimer: My dealings with Apple were mostly over the phone as they seemed to avoid e-mail, so it’s hard to be completely accurate. What follows is pieced together from a few e-mails and memory of calls.

So I tell Apple about the whole thing and get redirected to other employees several times. Eventually I speak with a “legal expert” who tells me I could probably exercise consumer rights under Dutch law; he advises me to e-mail Amac with my original receipt, complaints about the machine, and a statement that I’m exercising those rights.

By now I should mention something rather important: I bought the MacBook under my own business — as a sole trader, or “eenmanszaak” in Dutch. Because of this, Apple only entitled me to a one year warranty instead of the usual two that consumers receive. Consumer rights mentioned above would normally only apply to a consumer — i.e. not a business — but there’s a Dutch law, called “Reflexwerking,” allowing the use of consumer rights as a sole trader, especially if the product is used considerably outside of work too.

So I sent the following to Amac:

Hello,

I have spoken with Apple about the service cost, and taking into account:

  • My dissatisfaction with the performance and keyboard of the Macbook Pro since the day of purchase (as mentioned in the Amac store);
  • The original price paid (€ 3,299), repair deposit (€ 79,95), and quoted price of repair (€ 890,49);
  • Repair diagnosis – essentially the entire device needs replacing;
  • The lifetime of the device (under two years);
  • That I bought it for both personal and business use, and now use it only for personal use;

As advised by Apple, I exercise my right as a consumer and request a full refund for the MacBook Pro, including the repair deposit paid.

Attached is the original invoice of the Macbook Pro.

Thank you,

Jamie Schembri

Amac responded, telling me I’d have to contact Apple about a full refund because I bought it from Apple and therefore they are liable. Fair enough. I tell Amac that I’ll therefore be in contact with Apple and get back to them when all is resolved.

Second Opinion Redux

I tell Apple what Amac said, reiterate my complaints (now with the addition of inconvenience I’m currently dealing with), request a full refund and send them the receipt. After a delay and my reminder, I receive a response with a dubious excuse that they were having trouble receiving e-mails5. I’m told that they can’t find any repairs on file6 and asked for the repair number. I send them the repair number I received from Amac.

Another few days later: a response telling me that Amac repair numbers are internal to Amac and Apple has no access to them — so I shouldn’t have been asked for it in the first place had they been listening to me. I’m asked again for my complaints about the MacBook Pro. Bear in mind that I’m still dealing with the person whom I reiterated my complaints to a couple of e-mails ago, but I’m a reasonable person so I go ahead and re-reiterate as asked.

Another seven day wait for a response:

Thank you for your detailed description.

I would like to contact you again to check if we can discuss options together with some other internal departments.

Seven days for a confirmation.

I respond saying that I can be contacted pretty much whenever — I’m happy to receive a call during work hours if I can resolve this.

A month and a half later, we’re in August and I haven’t heard anything. I hadn’t contacted Apple in the meantime because personal life has been hectic, but I send this out:

Hi <redacted>,

I’d really like to resolve this now. Amac have sent me a letter asking me to pick up the MacBook. Could you call me this week please?

Thanks,

– Jamie Schembri

And that’s that: I never received a response.

I regularly resolved to call Apple and re-open the can of worms, but I honestly started to feel physically sick at the thought. I’m not at all good at dealing with these things, and it meant doing my homework to tell them all that I’ve written here so far. So sometimes I’d forget, and sometimes I’d put it off. And personal life gets busier, with us buying a new house and preparing to sell our old one.

Third Time Lucky?

16th November 2020. I get my facts straight and call Apple. From the accent on the other end, I’m now talking to some version of Apple in the UK or Ireland as opposed to the Dutch iteration I last dealt with. Very calmly, very reasonably7, and as briefly as I can, I inform the employee of my less-than-stellar experience with Apple thus far. They seemed genuinely disappointed for me, dare I say empathetic, and I started to get hopeful. Unfortunately I needed to be transferred to someone else who deals with MacBooks, but I was assured they would be briefed so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. And so goes the transfer.

If memory serves me, I was transferred another time but everything went smoothly, most of the details they received were clear, and I ironed out any that weren’t. So I ended up with someone who sounded gung-ho and ready to get this sorted out for me. To paraphrase:

I’m not happy with the time this has taken, so I’m going to try to get you a brand new MacBook to make it right.

I was asked if this would indeed make it right: I said that I’m done with Apple products, but if a refund simply can’t be done, that would be the next best option. He said that he couldn’t authorize this himself and no promises, but it’s likely: he’d call back the next day.

Next day the same person calls me and I pick it up hoping to finally be free of this nightmare. He tells me that he has reached out to <some other department who can apparently process my request> and he’s going to forward me to them. He drops out of the call and I’m left with a boy who sounds below the legal age of employment. He tells me that he needs to try to get in touch with Amac; I’m not sure why — this has been done before, and I wasn’t sure of why in the past, either — but okay, sure, whatever. He also mentions that they may have scrapped my MacBook by now. I audibly laugh, which he ignores.

So I’m put on hold for a while until he comes back and says he’s unable to contact them and would call me back next week. I don’t think to ask why this is even relevant, why I need to wait until next week, and when does my new my new MacBook arrive, but instead remain infuriatingly congenial and thank him for his patience in handling my issue(?!?).

Next week he calls back.

The Bombshell

Hello, Jamie. Yes, so it turns out that Amac have in fact scrapped your MacBook. Sorry about that, Jamie. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

I don’t speak a language in which the words exist to convey how I felt. Apparently Amac also claimed that they had contacted me several times, which is simply not true: I received a single letter from them before they decided to just go ahead and scrap my machine; they had all of my contact details but felt failed to do due diligence.

I told the boy that I’d have to pursue legal options and hung up — about as close to a freak-out as I’ll get when dealing with other people.

The Dust Settles

I resolved never to buy another Apple product.

I’ve already replaced the MacBook Pro with an entry-level Lenovo Thinkpad with Linux (EndeavourOS + KDE Plasma to be exact), and the experience is so much further ahead. Even if I had to step back and deal with inferior technology, or inferior experiences, or even higher costs, I’d happily do it just so long as I’m not touching an Apple product to do so.

It’s not even about the quality of Apple’s products. There are some strong opinions there: some people love them and others hate them; a technical holy war akin to games consoles, text editors, browsers, or whatever people pick a side on. I try not to subscribe to that, because what’s best for one person may not be best for another. But Apple have demonstrated that they don’t care about their customers whatsoever. I spent hours on the phone, drained my energy, and ultimately paid far too much for nothing. And they don’t care.

Technology has raised a lot of ethical questions over the past few years, and most people aren’t equipped to deal with, or even understand, many of them. As an IT professional, the decisions I make in the technology I use are more likely to influence others8, therefore I feel it’s my duty to think long and hard about their impact. Life would be easier if I used, for example, Facebook and Google, but I instead avoid or severely limit my use of their products because of their harmful practices. Apple now joins the others on my list.

As for where I’m going from here with the MacBook: I intend to contact a couple of organizations to help me pursue this legally. I’m still losing sleep over the whole thing — not because I’ve lost some money, but because no one was held accountable for this fiasco.

How’d we do?

A week after my last talk with Apple, I received the following e-mail:

Needless to say, the feedback I gave them was less than stellar. There was no follow-up.


  1. It had an 8th-Gen i7 (2.6—4.3GHz), 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 560X dGPU. ↩︎

  2. …and I never did. ↩︎

  3. I actually started to believe this. All of my Mac experiences had been on outdated machines, so I didn’t know what a good one was supposed to feel like. ↩︎

  4. Apple is notorious for making their products impossible to repair outside of official channels. ↩︎

  5. I believe this if they’re working on MacBooks as robust as mine. ↩︎

  6. I hadn’t told Apple that repairs had been done, only that Amac currently has the machine. They seemed to think otherwise. ↩︎

  7. Being conflict-averse and all-too-aware that the people on the phone are just employees who haven’t directly done me any wrong, I wasn’t able to get mad at anyone at Apple in all my calls. Had I, maybe I’d have seen some results. ↩︎

  8. I expect that my barista friend has thought long and hard about the espresso machine he uses at home, and can give useful advice if I’m in the market for one myself. So too with myself and tech. ↩︎