Burned by a MacBook
In more ways than one
First Person Can you run a business using a MacBook? No, is my answer. My experience with a new MacBook, which turned out to be a complete and utter lemon, and my battle with Apple's derisory customer service nearly sent me bananas, lost me thousands of pounds worth of freelance journalism and consultancy work, and left me with a burn mark on my arm. This camel's back was truly broken.
The problems began in March when I was trying to burn my accounts onto a disc. The MacBook refused to burn despite trying various types of CD. I tried DVD movies to see if they worked and even the system discs but it spat them out. Then I noticed they were all scratched. I took it into the Bluewater Apple store the next day on 16 March and they told me it wouldn't take long to get things sorted. A week later I still hadn't heard anything. The Genius bar told me it hadn't even been looked at and could be another two weeks.
The burn caused by the MagSafe power cord
Two more weeks? They told me they needed more staff and I should complain to Apple so they got more people. I said I didn't have time to act as their personnel manager and asked to speak to the store manager. I eventually spoke to a sensible man who promised to sort it out. At 2pm I got a call saying it is fixed and ready to pick it up. I collected the machine with a new DVD burner (and a replaced shell casing as it had turned yellow) on 23 March, nine days after it went out.
I was surfing on 17 April when the laptop froze. On reboot, an ominous folder icon showed a flashing question mark. I called a friend who revealed this was "very bad news". I let out a primal scream. The next day I was back at Bluewater. They said the hard drive was dead and replaced it with a new one. It took just an hour as they had one in stock. I was so grateful I could almost have offered sexual favours.
On 25 April the laptop began to flicker on start up. I couldn't bear to send the laptop for repair again, just six days after getting it back with a new hard drive. I had a major project to complete, so I ignored the strobing screen and just blinked faster so it appeared normal.
The next month I was writing and felt a sharp pain on the inside of my forearm. I looked at the laptop and smoke was coming from the MagSafe power cord where it was inserted into the laptop. I screamed. The cord crackled and started to melt. My husband yanked the cord out of the wall. My arm had a red burn mark on it and the lead had melted. I felt relief that I was not a male cybersex maniac, as it could have been more than my arm that was burnt.
The next day, 21 May, I called Apple. I stressed that I often leave my laptop charging overnight under the sofa on the carpet. I told them it doesn't take a genius to work out the risk and added that I have two children under four in the house. I was offered a new MagSafe power cord, new system discs (to replace the scratched ones from ages ago), and a £54 voucher off a £180 purchase. I struggled to stay calm and said they were useless compensation as I had been burned and lost 11 days work so far, not to mention the endless phone calls to Apple, the driving to Bluewater, and the stress. I mentioned the flickering screen and said it was still not working. He said compensation couldn't be discussed until the laptop was sent off for repair to fix the flickering screen. I started to make plans to be without a laptop and cancel some work.
I was told a courier would pick up the laptop on 22 May between 2pm and 5pm because I'd already completed four return journeys to the Apple store for repairs. I rushed back from work to hand it over, only to find a helpful note telling me they came at 1.30pm and no one was in. I called Apple again and asked to speak to a supervisor. We arranged for a pick up the next day between 9am and 5pm.
I waited in all day and by 4.45pm I got a feeling something had gone wrong. I called Apple and told them this is the second time my computer hadn't been picked up at the correct time and I can't wait in all the time. I told him my computer has been working for three days already and it hasn't even got to the repairer yet. I said it was hardly rocket science to arrange a courier to pick up a laptop. The man got angry and told me it was, indeed, rocket science and arranging a courier was difficult.
My head hurt. I started to cry with frustration. I was a broken woman. He arranged a courier for a third time but I didn't trust Apple anymore and called the repair company direct. They arranged a pick up for the next day. I wrote an email to Apple Customer Service drawing attention to the fire risk and the fact that no one had asked detailed questions about what had happened. I warned that it needed investigation before there were tragic consequences.
The offending MagSafe cable
The laptop was finally picked up on 24 May and I was told the logic board was faulty and needed to be replaced. Sadly, none were in stock and there were unsure when they were coming in. I felt like pulling out every hair on my body and posting them to Steve Jobs so he could understand the pain I was going through.
On 5 June my laptop was delivered fixed. I called customer services about compensation. I was offered the £54 voucher against a £180 purchase and something worth £49, such as an iPod shuffle. I told her I had been without a computer for 26.5 days and I had been burned too. She refused to budge. I felt £49 was not adequate compensation and contacted Apple UK's head of PR. She looked at the photos of the burn and melted cord and got executive relations to call me.
Executive relations called on 6 June and we went through the health and safety protocol. No one from Apple asked to see the power cord. On 8 June my computer shut down in the middle of writing an article. Later on that night it refused to wake from sleep. After a forced quit it took five goes to reboot. My heart sunk. Over the weekend it got worse. I called Apple on 11 June and an engineer said it sounded like the logic board had gone. How can that be, I asked, just four days after a new one was put in?
Executive relations offered me a replacement MacBook as compensation if I agreed to drop any other compensation claim. I was so desperate for a machine that works that I agreed. I was told I would have to sign an agreement form. I waited until 20 June for the form to be posted to me. I contacted the head of PR again for help and a new person from executive relations called on 21 June and upgraded the machine to a MacBook Pro. I signed the form and on 30 June my new machine arrived.
While I have got a £1,200 machine instead of a £700 laptop, it is little compensation for the stress of trying to get a working Apple laptop. I've been without a functioning computer for 55.5 days in the last 12 months, I've had to refuse work, I've been burned by a power cord, I've lost three CDs, DVD movies and all the data on a hard drive. I've driven to Bluewater four times (around 400 miles). But, worst of all, I've spent hours on the phone to Apple trying to sort out this enormous mess.
When I agreed to the upgrade as my compensation I thought my experience of a melted MagSafe was uncommon. But a quick check in flickr  shows a different story, as do reports on AppleDefects.com .
Had I known this while talking to executive relations I would have pushed the issue of health and safety much further. Instead, I've asked Apple why there hasn't been a product recall and what it takes to agree to one. They have said...well, nothing.
So, I'll say this. Until there is a product recall, do not charge up your MacBooks unattended and never near flammable materials. ®