- I’ve grown up with Apple computers my entire life, starting with a model released the year I was born (1986).
- Apple’s design choices have been increasingly hostile to users who want to make even the smallest improvements to their devices themselves.
- I’ve decided my current MacBook Pro laptop will be my last. Apple’s just not the computer company for me anymore – and it would probably agree.
For most of my life, I’ve been more than just an Apple fanboy – I’ve been an Apple disciple.
My first computer was a Macintosh 512Ke, released the year I was born (1986), and I’ve been using Apple computers ever since.
I once got thrown out of a class in fifth grade for pitching a fit when my teacher had the gall to suggest that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates worked together to create the Mac. I was on that level of frankly embarrassing devotion to Apple (and belated apologies to all those who had to put up with me).
So when I say I’m leaving Apple computers behind, it feels a little like leaving the church. But I am, and here’s why.
How we got here
First, a little history.
Before Apple was the largest tech company in the world, as it was in the first half of 2018, according to Forbes, it was merely Apple Computer, a much beloved but often battered tech company with a niche of hardcore fans – largely artists, musicians, and geeks of a certain persuasion.
In 1997, the company was “about 90 days from going broke,”The New York Times reported earlier this year.
In 2007, the iPhone arrived, ushering in the smartphone era with user-friendly appeal and the sheer force of marketing gusto. (It wasn’t the first smartphone to market, but it transformed the industry, according to Recode.)
It’s not me, it’s you
In retrospect, 2007 was the beginning of the end for me and Apple, even as I continued to own iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Pros for another decade.
The MacBook Air arrived in 2008: an ultra-slim, ultra-light laptop that ushered in an era of design reflected in many laptops today, according to Gizmodo.
But with that design came a less desirable change, Wired reported: The Air’s RAM, or computer memory, was soldered to the logic board, also known as a motherboard – the proverbial engine of a computer where the majority of its key components live. In addition, its battery was uncommonly hard to replace, requiring special tools and the removal of 19 screws, according to the self-repair website iFixit’s teardown of the machine.
This was unusual. Upgrading your memory and changing out your battery were among the most common modifications even non-gearheads made, especially at the time.
The 2008 Air represented a break from convention that presaged the next decade of Apple’s design choices – away from the consumer and toward its own Genius repair techs.
The right to repair
When the Air first came out, Mac aficionados like myself made space for the non-upgradeable nature of the computer. After all, it was the world’s thinnest notebook! Concessions had to be made.
But the trend continued. Wired described 2012’s Retina MacBook Pro as “unfixable, unhackable, untenable” for its soldered and glued components. iFixit gave it the lowest possible repairability score, a one out of 10.
Apple’s Pro line was previously for users like myself who wanted both power and upgradeability, but a look at iFixit’s list of repairability scores shows that once 2012 rolled around, Retina Pros and eventually all Pro models took a dip from a user-friendly seven, for the early 2011 MacBook Pro, to never better than a two.
2016’s MacBook Pros with Touch Bar featured RAM, a hard drive, VRAM, and batteries that were hard or impossible for users to change or repair, in what Gizmodo dubbed a “war on upgrades.”
To get a little more insight on these developments – and verify I wasn’t making mountains out of molehills – I spoke to Taylor Dixon, a teardown engineer at iFixit. He confirmed my suspicions.
“If you go back and look at the early PowerBooks and Power Macs that became the first Mac Pros, those were all incredibly modular,” he said. “That’s where Apple gets its reputation for being so powerful and upgradeable.”
Today’s MacBooks are different, Dixon said.
“What’s left to repair is everything not connected to the logic board in some way,” he said. “And a lot of it is incredibly difficult to do.”
Broken keyboards, broken promises
Just last summer, Apple announced it would replace broken keyboards on its MacBook products going back to 2015 for free,Wired reported. The newer, “butterfly style” keyboards that have been the subject of consumer uproar are notorious for breaking, since particles can get trapped beneath the keys with no simple way to get them out.
The keyboard is also – you guessed it – difficult if not impossible to repair on your own.
T2: The Terminator Chip
The final nail in the proverbial coffin for me and Apple was the discovery in 2018 that new Macs would include Apple’s T2 chip, a processor that handles security features, including what kind of replacement parts are allowed in the machine.
“It’s very possible the goal is to exert more control over who can perform repairs by limiting access to parts,” iFixit’s CEO, Kyle Wiens, told The Verge earlier this month. “This could be an attempt to grab more market share from the independent repair providers. Or it could be a threat to keep their authorised network in line. We just don’t know.”
While iFixit’s teardown of the 2018 MacBook Air saw its engineers work on the machine without the T2 chip shutting the computer down, that wouldn’t necessarily prevent the company from doing that in the future.
Dixon pointed to the case of the iPhone 6, where users who repaired the home button suddenly found their phone disabled. Apple eventually restored the phone’s functionality, but for many, the Touch ID fingerprint-identification feature remained disabled, according to TechCrunch.
Luxury products leave little room for geeks
Disillusionment with something you grew up with and loved is often a death by a thousand cuts.
“It’s really easy to paint Apple as a villain,” Dixon said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily for us to say.” He added that it was “hard to say” whether the lack of repairability “is done out of hostility or business.”
But what if being hostile is good business? Having to go to the Genius Bar instead of fixing your computer at home, and having to buy Apple’s certified products instead of third-party ones undoubtedly are smart financial moves for the company.
But I don’t like owning things I can’t tinker with or fix even a little, out of both frugality and a desire to create a little less waste in the world. As Business Insider noted earlier this year, Apple is increasingly becoming a luxury brand. And luxury buyers might be more comfortable with some planned obsolescence than this humble journalist.
Regardless, I’m sure the trillion-dollar tech company won’t miss me.
Anyone have recommendations for a good PC?
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