How Apple has made me feel really happy and really guilty at the same time

Planned obsolescence drives the e-waste problem and companies like Apple force us to junk otherwise perfectly good hardware

imac 16 9
Mark Gibbs

I’m feeling guilty; let me tell you why ...

I hate having to stop using a piece of equipment because of designed-in obsolescence but, sometimes, there’s no choice. Consider products such as many of the available Bluetooth headsets; once the internal, non-replaceable battery fails they can only be thrown away. But those are as nothing to the top end Apple products which are designed for a life span of three years.

I ran into the planned obsolescence issue recently with a 27-inch Apple iMac I purchased just over four years ago. It was a mid-2010 model  and I loved it until OS X Yosemite appeared. I’d given the new OS a few weeks before upgrading to see if anything  was going to be a problem for me but I didn't find anything major so I went ahead.

Then, a couple of weeks after the upgrade, my machine started to exhibit a weird, faint flickering pattern on the screen and over the next month the problem became progressively more obvious. I researched possible causes on line, ran diagnostics, but nothing. And the problem got worse.

For a while I was convinced that it was a bug in the graphics driver introduced by the upgrade (in many forums other people reported similar problems) but it finally it got to the point where the machine started shutting down or rebooting. So at the end of February I was off to my local Apple repair shop (big shout out to the chaps at Mitec in Ventura, especially Andrew Andre).

Side note: Luckily I had purchased a secondhand Mac Pro from my favorite used hardware pusher (another big shout out to Jerry Dixon) which, while it didn’t have as much RAM as my old machine (8GB seems awfully cramped compared to the 22GB I had in my iMac), and wasn’t as fast, was good enough to keep me going.

Mitec tried to run diagnostics on my iMac but because the machine would reboot before completion they could only make an educated guess as to the cause which was, they concluded, that the graphics card had gone bad. They told me that an Apple replacement would cost $599 and it would take about three hours of labor to open the machine, swap out the card, reassemble, and test. By the time this exercise was finished the bill would be more than $800; over one-third of the original cost of the machine.

The problem with this plan for me was three-fold: First, that’s an awfully high price for what is an Apple-specific video card based on the ATI Radeon 5750 which, in its non-Apple form, retails for under $200. Second, the warranty on the replacement card is a measly three months, so I could be back to the same expensive process in next to no time. I decided that as I hated to junk an otherwise perfectly good machine I’d look for a non-Apple sourced replacement; the best price I could find was at Newegg for a refurbished card supplied by PC Parts Unlimited.

The warranty on the refurbished card was the same as Apple’s warranty on a brand new card so I figured if I was going to roll the dice by repairing the machine rather than replacing, this was a good way to go and expected a final repair cost of about $500. 

I placed my order and when the card arrived I dropped it off at Mitec who got in touch within 24 hours to tell me they’d tried the card and it was dead on arrival! 

According to Mitec with the new card installed, the iMac wouldn’t even boot up. When they put my old card back in at least it would boot. It would be an understatement to say I was annoyed. 

It was at this point I decided that I not only couldn’t live with the possibility of my refurbished iMac being liable to tank and then have to go through this nonsense all over again but with the additional labor cost I’d not be saving that much money. Thus it was that I pulled the trigger on a brand new 27” inch iMac with the 5K display, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB Fusion Drive and I am very, very happy. Sure, it wasn’t cheap but with the Fusion Drive the new iMac is wicked fast and the Retina display is just gorgeous. And with the Applecare warranty I’m good for 3 years …

So, I got an RMA for the dead card from PC Parts but they took ages to get a prepaid shipping label to me (why should I pay shipping for something that arrived DOA?). Then I finally had to chase them to find out where the refund had got to and the response was “Hi, they said for some reason it was not refunded, but they're issuing refund now. Sorry for the delay.” I have no idea who “they might be but I’m guessing their accounting people. I asked PC Parts to confirm they wouldn’t charge a restocking fee and they said “no restocking fee, sure.” Those are exact quotes from their email messages and they demonstrate PC Parts’ rather sloppy approach to customer communications (I also tried to call several times and they never, ever answer the phone). 

The refund appeared and, of course, it was short by the 15% restocking fee. When I took this up with PC Parts they claimed that when they got the card back they tested it and it worked which was, of course, nonsense. I won’t bore you with the gyrations with both PC Parts and Newegg but in the end I got the entire cost, including restocking fee and shipping, refunded. Of course I still have to pay Mitec for their labor but that’s just the way it goes.

What appalls me … well, what appalls me other than the laxness of PC Parts and the fact that Newegg deals with them … is that Apple have quite obviously engineered and priced their products to be more-or-less uneconomic to repair. With the huge emerging problem of e-waste (which is going to become recognized as a much bigger environmental problem than it currently is), electronics manufacturers should be far more responsible and make their products economically serviceable.

The idea that you are coerced into letting something like a four-year-old iMac, an otherwise great piece of hardware, be dumped when a fixable subsystem breaks simply because of a vendor’s sales and marketing strategy, is something that should be considered unethical corporate behavior. Alas, it won’t because, as usual, there’s too much money at stake so it’s business as usual and, as a consequence, to hell with the environment. 

Thus it was that I chose to get a new iMac; a choice which gives me the least amount of hassle and the maximum amount of convenience because the thing I should have done, i.e. repair my old iMac, just wasn’t an economically viable option ... and that’s why I’m feeling guilty and Apple isn't.

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