January 16th, 2017

Excuse Me Sir, But Can I Rattle Your MacBooks?

Back in 2001 I had a G4 Cube that I loved dearly, and a then state-of-the-art iPod that plugged into one of its two Firewire ports. Unfortunately, that Cube loved to fry its Firewire ports — several trips to the repair centre meant walking miles to my friend’s house so I could rip my CDs to his second-generation iMac and then onto my iPod.

Since then, I’ve had great luck with Apple products. Apart from a PowerMac G5 that couldn’t survive having Coke poured into it and the odd iPhone that didn’t like being smashed into the ground, I’ve had 15 years of mostly trouble-free experience with Apple hardware.

Unfortunately, this has come to an end with the 2016 MacBook Pro. Now, I’m not normally one to complain about stuff on my blog, but I feel the journey I’m still undergoing with this machine is kind of fascinating — and an interesting insight into what happens when good customer service and poor products clash. Also, this is by far the worst experience I’ve had with Apple hardware in my life.

MacBook Pro #1 & #2: A Normal DoA Experience

In December, my wife borrowed my MacBook Pro for something and called to me: “Did it always make this noise?”, demonstrating a metallic, springy-sounding noise when she placed it onto a table. We shall call this metallic, springy-sounding noise Rattle A, which will be important later.

No, it did not.

A call to Apple later and a new MacBook Pro (MBP #2) is being assembled and shipped to me. Great! Unfortunately, since I ordered a machine with a custom spec, it’s coming all the way from China. At the moment, it’s no big deal — the occasional DoA product is part of life.

MBP #1’s rattle.

A couple of weeks later, the new machine arrived at my door. I unbox it, and give it a little side-to-side shake. Immediately out of the box, it makes a plasticky clonking sound which you can feel through your hands. We shall call this plasticky clonking sound Rattle B.

After some bitching on Twitter, another call to Apple and about 45 minutes on hold gets me put through to some senior department. Very sorry for my bad luck, a second replacement (MBP #3) is being assembled and shipped to me, again from China. The agent agreed that it’d be silly to transfer my data to MBP #2 when MBP #3 is on its way, so a return for MBP #2 is arranged. The next day, it leaves my house.

MBP #2’s rattle.

MacBook Pro #3: Excuse Me Sir, But Can I Rattle Your MacBooks?

This is where it starts to get a bit abnormal.

MBP #3 turns up, and immediately out of the box it exhibits Rattle B. I call Apple again, and eventually get to a nice lady in after-sales who’s very sympathetic to my bad luck, and is adamant that they’ll keep sending me MacBook Pros until I get one that doesn’t rattle.

However, I’ve been doing some of my own research and I’m starting to think that Rattle B is a systemic problem. I explain my (entirely anecdotal) thinking and we come up with a plan: I’ll go to the Apple Store and see if any machines on display there exhibit the same problem. If not, I’m just having terrible luck, right?

So, at opening time on Saturday morning I walk into the Apple Store and try to explain to the employees there that:

  1. I want to shake their MacBook Pros.
  2. I’m not crazy.

After surprisingly little convincing, they let me go ahead. In the eight MacBook Pros I tried, two of them exhibited Rattle B.

A rattling MacBook Pro at the Apple Store.

I return home resigned to having a MacBook Pro with Rattle B. Annoying, but I don’t tend to shake my MacBook Pro much, so it’s not a huge issue to live with. I take the machine out of the box, unwrap the plastic and set it down on the table.


Praying that I’m hallucinating, I pick it up and set it down again.


MBP #3 exhibits both Rattle A and Rattle B. Superb. Time for a Twitter rant.

MBP #3’s rattle.

MacBook Pro #4: Maybe I Am Crazy!

At 10am this morning, the phone rings with the promised callback from the lady I spoke to on Friday.

After explaining my results at the Apple Store and the fact MBP #3 is the worst one so far, we come up with another plan, and we see what happens when your customer service greatly outclasses the quality of your product:

MBP #4 is being assembled and shipped, again from China. However, this time it’s being shipped to the Apple Store, where I can inspect it and hand it straight off for repair if it continues to show these problems.

I’d like to repeat that last part, for emphasis: An agreed plan with customer service is for the product to be shipped to a store with the expectation that it’ll immediately go in for repair.

What Next?

If this were almost any other company (or if I were new to Apple), I’d have given up at MBP #2. However, Apple have 15 years of good experience in the bank, as well as very good customer service trying their hardest to make this current issue right.

However, all that goodwill is goneMBP #4 will be their last chance. The Apple Store is a 1hr 30min round trip from my home, something I’ll probably have to do twice — once to find out MBP #4 rattles too, and again to collect it after it’s been repaired.

Here’s a timeline, for brevity:

2016-12-17 First call to Apple about MBP #1.
2017-01-02 MBP #2 arrives.
2017-01-02 Call to Apple about MBP #2.
2017-01-04 MBP #2 is collected for return to Apple, MBP #3 is ordered.
2017-01-09 MBP #3 leaves China.
2017-01-13 MBP #3 arrives.
2017-01-14 "Excuse me, but can I rattle your MacBooks?" at the Apple Store.
2017-01-16 Call Apple, MBP #4 is ordered for delivery to the Apple Store.

Some reaction I’ve received on Twitter is questioning why I care so much about a rattle. This machine cost 32,595 SEK (~$3,650 USD, ~£2,990 GBP, ~€3,400 EUR), and for that ludicrous amount of money, I expect a computer with all of its components attached together properly. I don’t think that’s unfair, and so far Apple customer support agrees with me.

The interesting question comes if MBP #4 still rattles. While I’m fortunate that this machine isn’t (yet) my primary computer, I have a business to run and unfortunately I’m a Mac and iOS developer, which basically requires that I own a Mac. I really want this MacBook Pro to replace my iMac so I can have a more portable work machine, but if Apple can’t sell me a computer I’m happy with — what then?

In the words of the greats: I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Maybe I should develop for Windows Phone instead.