On walkabout in life and technology


Last week, Apple launched the new retina Macbook Pro. Which, of course, was immediately followed by a brouhaha (Definition: A noisy and overexcited critical response, display of interest, or trail of publicity.)

Kyle Wiens, who runs a web site called iFixit which creates videos for people who want to fix things, posted an article in Wired entitled The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable claiming that the new laptop is unfixable by the general public, and that this is, of course, obviously “a very bad thing” and part of a trend that will destroy the tech industry as we know it.

Really? Destroy the tech industry? I totally disagree.

In of itself, it’s a good opinion story, although one should note that the expressor of the opinion is in the business of doing that which the laptop is not designed for. But what happened next was the the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) campaign was kicked off by others, (not worth reading):

So what’s this all about?

All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

Pythia Battlestar Galactica

Friends, this is a non-issue. All this has happened before in other product lines, even in this product market. And we have better, smaller, lighter, more reliable products as a result.

Let’s look at motor cars (or automobiles or horseless carriages). You could repair a car made in the 1960’s and even a few from the 1970’s. I even had the repair manual for my Datsun 1100, and did, in fact, perform several repairs on it. Cars of the day were mostly mechanical beasts held together with nuts and bolts. They were also noisy, rattled a lot, belched smoke and broke down every Thursday.

Modern cars have fuel injection, computers, hundreds of sensors, sealed engine compartments and warranties longer than the rust-free life of a 1960’s Datsun. They are like this because we consumers prefer reliable, safer, smarter, more fuel efficient, easier to drive cars. Which requires manufacturers to use higher tolerances and lots of computing power to achieve. And so the Sunday oil change and the Thursday tow-truck call joins buggy whips in the annals of history.

The same applies for any other home appliances, even dishwashers and clothes dryers are more computer than mechanical these days. Commonly repairable items from the past such as radios, video recorders and toasters are now microchip based. And even if we wanted to, these products are now too complex for us to understand, nevermind repair. They break, you get a new one, or you get a pro to repair it. But our TV’s and toasters work better, use less energy and last longer. Surely this is “a really good thing”.

99.9999% of people who had repairable items still used professional repair ships to do the work anyway. No-one likes the time when the thing is in the shop and unavailable for use. No, we want reliability, and sleekness, and lightness and all of these things in our commodity products. Which means that manufacturers need to use tighter tolerances, stronger fasteners, robotic soldering, flush mounted components and sealed compartments to achieve these goals. And home repairability goes by the wayside.

One could argue that repairability, or even upgradeability, may be something that a manufacturer wants to include in their product to satisfy the 0.0001% of people who like to tinker. But to do so, they need to introduce pluggable components, mounting screws, access panels and to create repair connection points between components. Each of these creates more points of failure, thereby reducing reliability, and increases the cost to manufacture and the size of the product (human fingers are huge). Which makes the product more expensive and less reliable. Not what we consumers want.

And this is not the first Apple product to be this way either. The iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Macbook Air, the Apple TV, the new iMacs, Time Capsule, and the latest Mac Mini’s are all the same. Sure, you can get replaceable parts from MacSales/OWC, but they had to reverse-engineer Apple’s design and build a whole set of tools to do it.

And how many non-geeks to you know that ever repaired their own laptop anyway. Or even upgraded the thing. I have purchased five laptops since 1998, and only once did I add RAM to one of them, and I’m a huge geek!

But the news and the pundits turned this non-issue into a big deal. “You should not buy the new laptop because it’s not repairable”, they scream. Sure, then you should not buy that new BMW, TV, fridge, toaster, phone, watch or any other appliance for the same reason. Sigh.

We have the most reliable, sleekest, most awesome products on the market today, and we should be happy to own them and enjoy them.