Posts Tagged MacBook
The ‘sealed-box’ Mac: Cutting-edge design or planned obsolescence?
The new MacBook Pro with ‘Retina’ display appears to be a harbinger
By Richard Hoffman
August 20, 2012 05:56 AM ET
The first Mac I ever bought for myself was a Power Mac 8500, circa 1995 — ancient history now, but despite its uber-boring beige box, it was a truly great machine, able to do things that most PCs of the time could only dream of. In modern terms, it was the great-grandfather of a fully-loaded Mac Pro.
The Power Mac 8500. (Image: All About Apple)
More to the point, almost every feature about it was upgradable, including the CPU, which was on a swappable daughtercard. That workhorse Mac saw heavy-duty daily use, including code compiling, video digitizing and 3D rendering and animation, for more than 10 years, while computer hardware and architecture advanced rapidly. I fired it up for this article, and it’s still humming along. This longevity is noteworthy enough, but even better is that with its upgrades it could have been considered nearly state-of-the-art for most of its life. With memory finally maxed out at 1GB (for a machine that first shipped with 16MB), high-speed SCSI-3 drives, FireWire and a G4 CPU upgrade, it could even be induced to run Mac OS X 10.5. (No, I didn’t do that myself, .)
The non-upgradeable MacBook Pro
Enough nostalgia. Let’s , when Apple unveiled the new top-of-the-line 15-in. MacBook Pro, with its ground-breaking Retina display, a truly drool-worthy laptop if ever there was one. It’s fast, powerful and stylish, setting the standard for what a full-featured yet highly portable laptop can be. But that gorgeous package comes with a cost. iFixit, in its , gave the Retina MacBook Pro the lowest possible score, 1 out of 10, for its . There are no user-replaceable parts whatsoever, including the battery or even RAM, which, in a trend begun with the MacBook Air in 2008, is directly soldered to the logic board. What’s wrong with this picture?
With the case removed, the Retina MacBook Pro’s innards are exposed. But what’s still hidden are the traits that make this notebook virtually un-upgradeable. (Image: iFixIt.)
Apple has long divided its offerings into “pro” and “consumer” lines, and this divide has only diverged lately, as an ever-growing proportion of Apple’s revenues and profits have come from consumer-focused products such as iOS devices – the iPad and iPhone (and to a much lesser extent, Apple TV). While power users may need and want upgrades for Macs, consumers, usually replace their iPhones, iPods and iPads, with new devices rather than upgrading their current hardware. Updates happen at the operating system and application level. In short, these are all “sealed-unit” devices by design, with no hardware-level upgradeability.
The pro-level computers – the Mac Pro, the MacBook Pro, and the , have generally been more expensive than the consumer line, but also, in general, much more upgradable. They followed a very different design and replacement cycle philosophy. If you invested more than $10,000 in a loaded Mac Pro, you wanted to get as many years as possible out of it, and were more likely to add and upgrade the hardware over time instead of buying new, at least until there was no other option (as was eventually the case with my venerable 8500). As a result, the enterprise market and the Pro line of products has generally generated a smaller sales volume and profit, and therefore arguably has been of secondary priority for Apple. Case in point: note the lack of a major Mac Pro update in the recent product releases — Apple says the Mac Pro is due for a more serious refresh in 2013 — and the total disappearance of rack-mounted products (Xserve RAID and then Xserve itself) from the line-up.
The late, lamented Xserve. (Image: Apple)
As for the laptops, particularly the MacBook Pro. Apple has dropped the 17-in. model, typically a pro-sumer item. While some were fans of the big screen, it hasn’t been a big seller in recent years. And the consumer-level Macbook is no more, potentially replaced by the combination of iPad and MacBook Air. So that leaves two types of currently-shipping MacBook Pros – the 15-in. Retina MacBook Pro, and the updated “old school” 15-in. and 13-in. models. The older models still allow for relatively easily RAM and hard drive upgrades, but the new flagship is, like iOS devices, now a sealed-unit, utterly non-upgradable. Speculation is that the rest of the MacBook Pros will go in the same direction when they get Retina displays.
A troubling trend
This is a troubling trend for many professional Apple customers, who may feel that a deliberate shift away from upgradable hardware does not meet their needs. Some of the changes point to the fact that laptops are in many ways a special case: the desire for ever thinner, lighter portable machines coupled with the need for more power, drives the decision to fill every available space in the smaller cases. The result: non-upgradeable hardware.
Case in point: batteries. The one essential accessory with every Mac laptop I’ve bought used to be a spare battery or two, so I could swap them out on long flights and extend my time away from an outlet. When Apple switched to internal, non-swappable batteries, it boosted battery life by cramming more capacity into the chassis, but took away the ability to switch out batteries. This is a calculated trade-off, and for many users, having a bit more battery life built-in may be more important than swapping. The other, less obvious consequence is that when the battery starts losing capacity and finally fails (as all batteries eventually do), replacing it with a new one isn’t a simple matter of buying one and dropping it in.
If you want to replace it yourself, you have to crack the case (potentially voiding any warranty you may have), and do what can amount to major surgery. Apple does offer an out-of-warranty battery replacement service at a reasonable charge ($129 for the MacBook Air and most MacBook Pros, ), but if a user decides to replace a Retina MacBook Pro’s battery, and does it according to Apple specs, — ouch!
The first Mac laptop to adopt the new “sealed unit” design was the original MacBook Air, and here clearly the groundbreaking, super-slim design drove almost all of the engineering choices. Upgradeability was simply not a priority. I have a first-generation Air (now defunct), and I did end up replacing the original tiny, slow 1.8″ drive with a SSD, and I replaced the battery when it failed. While I am fairly well-versed in hardware repairs, I can say that surgery on that laptop was well beyond the capability of most users — as is now the case for the new Retina MacBook Pro. Many will either replace the entire computer, or make use of comparatively expensive upgrade solutions through third-party vendors.
In the latest iterations of the Mac OS X operating system, there has been a conscious effort to bridge the OS X and iOS worlds, and it is quite possible that this philosophy will be further extended to the hardware lines. Pro users should keep a careful eye on the rest of the product lines as they evolve during the coming year – the 2013 Mac Pro, and to a lesser extent, the iMac and Mac Mini. It seems unlikely that Apple will risk driving away pro users, but it is these models, which do not have the tight design constraints of the laptop line, that will best indicate whether the recent move to “sealed-unit” devices is strictly about design priorities and constraints, or part of a larger shift in philosophy and focus.
The current MacBook Air, like its predecessors dating back to 2008, isn’t designed for user upgrades. (Image: Apple)
Ultimately, the question of why the designs have evolved matters less than the bottom line, which is how the changes affect buyers of new Macs, both individually and institutionally. Among other things, it changes the calculus for deciding how to configure a new Mac, especially if you plan to keep it for a while. It used to be that you could get a computer that generally met your needs at the time of purchase, and then upgrade RAM and storage when performance started to drop or OS upgrades required it. With a non-upgradable Mac, that’s no longer possible.
My advice: With any sealed-unit Mac, the best bet unless your replacement cycle is short (two to three years) may be to completely max it out with the fully-loaded, most capable build-to-order configuration — CPU, RAM and storage. Apple has provided a useful upgrade path for adding external storage and other devices via USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports, but that does not help when what you really need is a RAM upgrade, nor will you want to lug an external drive around once you max out your internal SSD (though the SD card slot does provide a certain amount of future-proofing). Max it out, or be prepared to replace the whole thing sooner rather than later.
Compared to the old strategy of buying only what you need and upgrading later, this will increase both the short-term cost of the computer and the overall cost. That’s because RAM and storage upgrades purchased later when components have generally dropped in price, will need to be bought now, when they are more expensive (and must be bought directly from a single vendor, Apple, instead of whomever has the best component prices).
Even in cases where testing shows a borderline short-term “bang for the buck,” there is an argument to be made for getting the upgrades now, if the cost from Apple is reasonable. For one recent example, the incremental performance gain between the base 1.8GHz Core i5 CPU and the upgraded 2.0GHz Core i7 processor in the new MacBook Air is relatively small. However, that $100 cost increase is also cheap insurance, just in case a future OS X upgrade requires the faster processor. Note that the recent OS X Mountain Lion release will not run on some Macs shipped less than four years ago, and while there are factors that may make this a special case, it is also entirely possible that this trend of shortened lifespan in terms of OS compatibility will continue. (If so, Apple will no doubt get an earful from unhappy customers).
- Apple’s planned obsolescence strategy: the coolness factor (elezea.com)
- Calm down, 10.8′s AirPlay restrictions are technical – not planned obsolescence (zdnet.com)
- MacBook Pro with Retina display: Between need and want (todayonline.com)
- iPhone 5 new feature could be an example of planned obsolescence (phonesreview.co.uk)
- Retina MacBook is the Hardest Ever to Fix (newsy.com)
- apple invented planned obsolescence! (adscam.typepad.com)
- Opinion: Apple’s elegant ‘sealed’ Mac designs come with a costly tradeoff (macworld.com)
- The Lightbulb Conspiracy (Planned Obsolescence) (seeker401.wordpress.com)
- Sealed-Box Macs: Should Computers Be Disposable? (apple.slashdot.org)
- Is Apple Trying To Shorten Your Mac’s Lifecycle? (AAPL) (businessinsider.com)
Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay
Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency
By DAVID SEGAL
Published: June 23, 2012
Last year, during his best three-month stretch, Jordan Golson sold about $750,000 worth of computers and gadgets at the Apple Store in Salem, N.H. It was a performance that might have called for a bottle of Champagne — if that were a luxury Mr. Golson could have afforded.
“I was earning $11.25 an hour,” he said. “Part of me was thinking, ‘This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store is doing really well.’ But when you look at the amount of money the company is making and then you look at your paycheck, it’s kind of tough.”
America’s love affair with the smartphone has helped create tens of thousands of jobs at places like Best Buy and Verizon Wireless and will this year pump billions into the economy.
Within this world, the Apple Store is the undisputed king, a retail phenomenon renowned for impeccable design, deft service and spectacular revenues. Last year, the company’s 327 global stores took in more money per square foot than any other United States retailer — wireless or otherwise — and almost double that of Tiffany, which was No. 2 on the list, according to the research firm RetailSails.
Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.
But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.
About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. They work inside the world’s fastest growing industry, for the most valuable company, run by one of the country’s most richly compensated chief executives, Tim Cook. Last year, he received stock grants, which vest over a 10-year period, that at today’s share price would be worth more than $570 million.
And though Apple is unparalleled as a retailer, when it comes to its lowliest workers, the company is a reflection of the technology industry as a whole.
The Internet and advances in computing have created untold millionaires, but most of the jobs created by technology giants are service sector positions — sales employees and customer service representatives, repairmen and delivery drivers — that offer little of Silicon Valley’s riches or glamour.
Much of the debate about American unemployment has focused on why companies have moved factories overseas, but only 8 percent of the American work force is in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth has for decades been led by service-related work, and any recovery with real legs, labor experts say, will be powered and sustained by this segment of the economy.
And as the service sector has grown, the definition of a career has been reframed for millions of American workers.
“In the service sector, companies provide a little bit of training and hope their employees leave after a few years,” says Arne L. Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. “Especially now, given the number of college kids willing to work for low wages.”
By the standards of retailing, Apple offers above average pay — well above the minimum wage of $7.25 and better than the Gap, though slightly less than Lululemon, the yoga and athletic apparel chain, where sales staff earn about $12 an hour. The company also offers very good benefits for a retailer, including health care, 401(k) contributions and the chance to buy company stock, as well as Apple products, at a discount.
But Apple is not selling polo shirts or yoga pants. Divide revenue by total number of employees and you find that last year, each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.
“These are sales rates for a consulting company,” said Horace Dediu, an analyst whoblogged about the calculation on the site Asymco. Electronics and appliance stores typically post $206,000 in revenue per employee, according to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation.
Even Apple, it seems, has recently decided it needs to pay its workers more. Last week, four months after The New York Times first began inquiring about the wages of its store employees, the company started to inform some staff members that they would receive substantial raises. An Apple spokesman confirmed the raises but would not discuss their size, timing or impetus, nor who would earn them.
But Cory Moll, a salesman in the San Francisco flagship store and a vocal labor activist, said that on Tuesday he was given a raise of $2.82 an hour, to $17.31, an increase of 19.5 percent and a big jump compared with the 49-cent raise he was given last year.
“My manager called me into his office and said, ‘Apple wants to show that it cares about its workers, and show that it knows how much value you add to the company, by offering a bigger raise than in previous years,’ ” Mr. Moll recalled.
Though a significant increase, Mr. Moll’s new salary of about $36,000 puts him on the low side of the wage scale at the other large sellers of Apple products, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, both of which offer commissions to sales staff at their stores.
In other areas, Apple has been a leader. Stores in a variety of fields have adopted the company’s retail techniques, like the use of roving credit-card swipers to minimize checkout lines, as well as the petting-zoo layout that encourages customers to test-drive products.
But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission.
This is why Apple can do something unique in the annals of retailing: pay a modest hourly wage, and no commission, to employees who typically have college degrees and who at the highest performing levels can move as much as $3 million in goods a year.
“When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good,” says a former salesman who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands.”
These true believers skew young, as anyone who has ever set foot in an Apple Store knows. And the relative youth of this work force helps explain why people are likely to judge the company by a different set of standards when it comes to wages, says Paul Osterman, a professor at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management.
“It’s interesting to ask why we find it offensive that Wal-Mart pays a single mother $9 an hour, but we don’t find it offensive that Apple pays a young man $12 an hour,” Mr. Osterman said. “For each company, the logic is the same — there is a line of people eager to take the job. In effect, we’re saying that our value judgments depend on the circumstances of the employee, not just supply and demand of the labor market.”
Twenty-two-year-olds also tend to be more tolerant of the Apple Store’s noise and bustle, yet these days some former employees describe a work environment that was too hectic and stressful, thanks in large part to the runaway popularity of the iPhone and iPad.
Managers often tell new workers that they hope to get six years of service, former employees say. “That was what we heard all the time,” says Shane Garcia, a former Apple Store manager in Chicago. “Six years.” But the average tenure is two and a half years, says a person familiar with the company’s retention numbers, and as foot traffic has increased, turnover rates in many stores have increased, too. Internal surveys at stores have also found surprising dissatisfaction levels, particularly among technicians, or “geniuses” in Apple’s parlance, who work at what is called the Genius Bar. Apple declined requests for interviews for this article. Instead, the company issued a statement:
“Thousands of incredibly talented professionals work behind the Genius Bar and deliver the best customer service in the world. The annual retention rate for Geniuses is almost 90%, which is unheard-of in the retail industry, and shows how passionate they are about their customers and their careers at Apple.”
That 90 percent figure sounds accurate to Mr. Garcia, who quit last July after four years with the company, overwhelmed by the work and unable to mollify employees and customers alike. Plenty of technicians do, in fact, like their jobs, which vary around the country, and which pay in the range of $40,000 a year in the Chicago area. Many technicians, though, wanted to leave but were unable to find equivalent work, according to Mr. Garcia and other former managers, in part because of the weak economy.
The problem for Apple Store employees, they said, wasn’t just the pace. It was the lack of upward mobility. There are only a handful of different jobs at Apple Stores and the most prestigious are invariably sought after by dozens of candidates. And a leap to the company headquarters is highly unusual.
Apple prohibits its staff from talking to the media, but several former employees who spoke for this article said they had fond memories of their jobs, and regarded them as ideal for people in their early 20s who aren’t ready for a full-on dive into the white-collar world.
And “Apple” can be a strong credential to have on a résumé, these people said. Technicians often move on to higher-paying jobs in information technology, they said, and sales staff have a leg up on the competition if they stay in retailing because “people know how grueling the job is,” as one former manager put it.
But other former employees have struggled to find work, or have moved into lateral jobs at other companies. And even those who used Apple as a launching pad described a gradual evolution, from team player to skeptic, as they discovered that there was a gap between what the job appeared to be (kind of hip) and what it was (frenetic and in many cases a dead end).
Kelly Jackson, who was a technician at an Apple Store in Chicago, was thrilled when she was hired two years ago. But she said she was even happier when she quit a year later, having found the work too relentless and the satisfactions too elusive.
“When somebody left, you’d be really excited for them,” says Ms. Jackson, who now works at Groupon. “It was sort of like, ‘Congratulations. You’ve done what everyone here wants to do.’ ”
Recruiting the Devoted
Skeptics outnumbered believers when Steven P. Jobs, then Apple’s chief, pitched the Apple Store concept to his board in 2000. Ultimately, approval was given for just four stores.
Mr. Jobs hired a Target executive named Ron Johnson to help design and oversee the stores. He in turn hired eight people, one of whom was Denyelle Bruno, then an executive at Macy’s West. When she was first approached, she said, she was told next to nothing about the work.
That did not daunt Ms. Bruno, now an executive at Peet’s Coffee.
“I had grown up using Macs, and if it involved Apple and I could be involved,” she said, “it made me feel important.”
Ms. Bruno was one of the first hard-core Apple fans hired for the nascent chain. Many others would follow, and part of her job was to help recruit them. Initially, that involved walking into stores, including those operated by Sprint and AT&T, and scouting out promising employees.
Such solicitations were unnecessary after the first two stores opened, on May 19, 2001, in McLean, Va., and Glendale, Calif. Soon, so many people wanted to work at the stores that Mr. Johnson would compare applicants-to-openings ratios and boast that it was harder to land a job at an Apple Store than to get into Stanford, his alma mater.
Those applicants have for years submitted résumés through the company’s site. The time-intensive part, former managers say, is finding the right people amid the pile, and the candidates of choice are affable and self-directed rather than tech-savvy. (The latter can be taught, is the theory, while the former is innate.) The vetting has not changed much. It often starts with an invitation to a seminar, held in a conference room at a hotel.
The culling begins before the seminar starts.
“They turn away people who are three minutes late,” says Graham Marley, who attended his seminar in a hotel in Dedham, Mass., in 2009. “My dream my whole life was to work for Apple and suddenly, you can,” he said. “You’ve always been an evangelist for Apple and now you can get paid for it.”
One manager said it was common for people offered jobs to burst into tears. But if the newly hired arrive as devotees, Apple’s training course, which can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the job and locale, turns them into disciples.
Training commences with what is known as a “warm welcome.” As new employees enter the room, Apple managers and trainers give them a standing ovation. The clapping often bewilders the trainees, at least at first, but when the applause goes on for several lengthy minutes they eventually join in.
“My hands would sting from all the clapping,” says Michael Dow, who trained Apple employees for years in Providence, R.I.
There is more role-playing at Core training, as it’s known, this time with pointers on the elaborate etiquette of interacting with customers. One rule: ask for permission before touching anyone’s iPhone.
“And we told trainees that the first thing they needed to do was acknowledge the problem, though don’t promise you can fix the problem,” said Shane Garcia, the one-time Chicago manager. “If you can, let them know that you have felt some of the emotions they are feeling. But you have to be careful because you don’t want to lie about that.”
The phrase that trainees hear time and again, which echoes once they arrive at the stores, is “enriching people’s lives.” The idea is to instill in employees the notion that they are doing something far grander than just selling or fixing products. If there is a secret to Apple’s sauce, this is it: the company ennobles employees. It understands that a lot of people will forgo money if they have a sense of higher purpose.
That empowerment is important because aspiring sales employees would clearly be better off working at one of the country’s other big sellers of Apple products, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, if they were searching for a hefty paycheck. Both offer sales commissions.
“It’s not at all common but there are sales agents at Verizon who earn six figures,” says Jonathan Jarboe, who managed Verizon Wireless stores in Oklahoma until last summer. Several former Verizon Wireless managers said that annual pay ran from $35,000 up to $100,000 in rare cases, with the sweet spot in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.
At Apple, the decision not to offer commissions was made, Ms. Bruno said, before a store had opened. The idea was that such incentives would work against the company’s primary goals — finding customers the right products, rather than the most expensive ones, and establishing long-term rapport with the brand. Commissions, it was also thought, would foster employee competition, which would undermine camaraderie.
Tellingly, Apple doesn’t use the word “sales” to describe members of its sales team. They’re called “specialists.”
By minimizing the profit motive among employees, Apple does more than just filter out people interested primarily in money. It also reduces the number of middle-aged and older people on the payroll, said former managers. This isn’t about age discrimination, they said, so much as self-selection. Generally, an Apple employee is someone who can afford to live cheaply, is not bothered by the nonstop commotion of an Apple Store and is comfortable with technology.
People who fit that bill tend to be in their early or mid-20s, the former managers said. They typically don’t have children and many don’t have spouses, which means they are relatively inexpensive to cover with health insurance.
There is no shortage of college graduates eager to dedicate themselves to Apple’s vision, on Apple’s terms. That includes people like Asher Perlman, another former technician from a store in Chicago, who joined Apple three years ago, when he was 22.
“I’m happy with my time at Apple and where it landed me,” says Mr. Perlman, who now works in information technology. “I wouldn’t recommend it for my 35-year-old friend with a kid, but it works for someone who is 22 years old and doesn’t want to enter the business world yet.”
When Work Piles Up
The iPhone, which arrived in 2007, brought unprecedented crowds to Apple Stores. The company tried to hang on to its culture, but naturally it changed, and in many ways, say some former employees, for the worse.
Arthur Zarate, who joined Apple in 2004 and later worked as a technician at the store in Mission Viejo, Calif., says his training left him with a sense of ownership and pride. For a while, he loved the job, in large part because it delivered the simple and gratifying sense that he was helping people. There were time constraints on technicians — 20 minutes per customer — but because the store was rarely swamped, he usually had more time than that.
“My customers knew me by name,” he said. “That was a big deal.”
He had already begun to sour on the job when in 2007, he said, his store began an attendance system whereby employees accumulated a point for every day they did not come to work; anyone with four points in a 90-day period was at risk of termination.
“It was a perfectly good idea, but the thing that was terrible is that it didn’t matter why you couldn’t come to work,” Mr. Zarate said. “Even if you had a doctor document some medical condition, if you didn’t come to work, you got a point.”
Mr. Zarate, a former heavy smoker, said he was once out for two and a half weeks with severe bronchitis and was on the verge of dismissal when he e-mailed Ron Johnson, then the retail chief, who intervened on his behalf.
“I just wrote and said, ‘This isn’t fair. They don’t look at why you were out,’ ” he recalls. “And he saved my job.”
To meet the growing demand for the technicians, several former employees said their stores imposed new rules limiting on-the-spot repairs to 15 minutes for a computer-related problem, and 10 minutes for Apple’s assortment of devices. If a solution took longer to find, which it frequently did, a pileup ensued and a scrum of customers would hover. It wasn’t unusual for a genius to help three customers at once.
Because of the constant backlog, technicians often worked nonstop through their shift, instead of taking two allotted 15-minute breaks. In 2009, Matthew Bainer, a lawyer, filed a class action alleging that Apple was breaking California labor laws.
“State law mandates two 10-minute breaks a day,” Mr. Bainer said. “But geniuses had these lengthy queues of customers that made it all but impossible for them to stop even for a few minutes.”
The lawsuit was denied class certification in June of last year. Mr. Bainer pursued the matter in separate lawsuits and achieved what he described as “very favorable settlements” for 10 plaintiffs.
Not long after the class-action lawsuit was filed, a technician named Kevin Timmer who worked at the Woodland Mall store in Grand Rapids, Mich., noticed an added step when he logged onto a computer to punch out of work.
“This window popped up and it said something like, ‘By clicking this box I acknowledge that I received all my breaks,’ ” Mr. Timmer recalled. “The rumor was that was because some guy in California had sued.”
Mr. Timmer said he and other technicians in the store clicked the box even when they didn’t take any breaks. It wasn’t because management insisted they stick around. It was that any down time would slam already overburdened colleagues with even more work.
“We were all in the trenches together,” he said. “Nobody wanted to leave.”
With time limits, several former employees said, came another change at their stores. Technicians had always been able to spend a few hours of their shift in the repair room, providing a little away-from-customers time. In many stores, that ended. Walk-in demand for tech help was so great that when the bar was open, management at these stores decreed, it was to be staffed by any technician in the building. Repairs that could not be done at the bar would wait. As a result, the late shift in the repair room at these stores ended not at 10 p.m., but at midnight.
The pressure didn’t faze everyone. Multitasking, for instance, did not bother Asher Perlman.
“I’m a low stress kind of person to begin with and I didn’t find it unmanageable,” he said. “I know others did.”
As the crowds grew, the company’s “thank you” gestures started to seem a little tin-eared. Jordan Golson, who now blogs at MacRumors, a site that keeps tabs on all things Apple, said that for Christmas 2010, he and others at the store were given a fleece blanket and an insulated coffee thermos.
Mr. Zarate fared no better at one quarterly meeting for employees. Mr. Johnson made a videotaped appearance and referred to a wonderful surprise that managers were about to spring on everyone in the room. Free iPads for everyone was the expectation.“Then the lights went down, and we had a party in the store, with games and dancing,” Mr. Zarate said. “And we all got two tacos from a taco truck. That was our surprise. Two tacos.”
Rising to the Top
Like many who spoke for this article, Shane Garcia, the former Chicago manager, talked about Apple with a bittersweet mix of admiration and sadness. When he joined the company in 2007, he considered it a place, as he said, that “wanted you to be the best you could be in life, not just in sales.”
Three years later, his work life seemed tense and thankless. He had little expectation that upper management would praise or even notice his efforts.
Sales employees, Mr. Garcia and others noted, deal with stresses all their own. Though commissions are not offered, many managers keep close tabs on sales of warranties, known as Apple Care, and One to One, which is personal tutoring for a fee. Employees often had goals for “attachments” as these add-ons are called — 40 percent of certain products should include One to One, and 65 percent should include Apple Care.
For a sales employee who wanted to climb Apple’s in-store ladder — to technician or manager, for instance — those numbers were important. And in terms of keeping employees invested and striving, so were the rungs on that ladder, something that is true across retailing.
“There was always something being dangled in terms of different positions,” says Danielle Draper, a former manager at a store in Hingham, Mass. “‘You’ll need to do this if you want to become a creative,’ that kind of thing. There was never perfection. You could always tell someone they needed to work on something.”
At some point, employees either realize they won’t rise, or rise as high as they can.
“The disillusionment settles in not because of pay,” says Graham Marley, the former part-time salesman, “though pay is part of it. What happens is you realize that they want you to spend years there, but there is no actual career path.”
An exception is the job of manager, and Apple is often diligent about elevating from within its ranks of high achievers. Though not always. After the great influx that started with the iPhone, the company started plucking managers from stores like the Gap and Banana Republic. From employees who were around in the pre-2007 era, you can hear occasional laments about the gradual “Gapification of Apple.”
In recent years, the level of unhappiness at some stores was captured by an employee satisfaction survey known in the company as NetPromoter for Our People. It’s a variation of a questionnaire that Apple has long given to customers, and the key question asks employees to rate, on a scale of one to 10, “How likely are you to recommend working at your Apple Retail Store to an interested friend or family member?” Anyone who offers a nine or 10 is considered a “promoter.” Anyone who offers a seven or below is considered a “detractor.”
Kevin Timmer said the internal survey results last year at the Grand Rapids store were loaded with fives and sixes.
“We discussed it in a monthly meeting and our manager had tears in her eyes,” Mr. Timmer recalled. “She said something about how humbling these results were, that they want to fix any problems, that her door is always open, and so on.”
Similar figures were found in Chicago.
“By then,” Mr. Garcia said, “it wasn’t a surprise to upper management because it was clear that many geniuses wanted to leave. There was a ceiling. It wasn’t a glass ceiling because everyone could see it.”
Mr. Garcia would eventually quit Apple, and walk away from a job that paid a little more than $40,000 a year, when stress-related health issues sidelined him long enough to put his job at risk. He had no doubts that the company would easily find a replacement.
“There was never a shortage of résumés,” he said. “People will always want to work for Apple.”
- “I was earning $11.25 an hour. Part of me was thinking, ‘This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store…” (shortformblog.com)
- Apple’s Retail Army, by the Numbers (thenextweb.com)
- Workin’ For The Man: Apple Retail Employees Scrutinized In New York Times Profile [Report] (cultofmac.com)
- “I was earning $11.25 an hour. Part of me was thinking, ‘This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store…” (caterpillarcowboy.com)
- Apple Store Employees Soak Up the Atmosphere, But Not Much Cash (apple.slashdot.org)
- The New York Times profiles Apple’s retail business (idownloadblog.com)
- Apple store workers get big pay bumps (mercurynews.com)
- Apple begins employee discount program on Macs, iPads (electronista.com)
- The Apple store is down… here we go (engadget.com)
The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable
By Kyle Wiens
June 14, 2012
iFixit removes the logic board from the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display during their teardown. Photo: iFixit
This week, Apple delivered the highly anticipated MacBook Pro with Retina Display — and the tech world is buzzing. I took one apart yesterday because I run iFixit, a team responsible for high-resolution teardowns of new products and DIY repair guides. We disassemble and analyze new electronic gizmos so you don’t have to — kind of like an internet version of Consumer Reports.
The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: Unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass, which means replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board — making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case, requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. The design may well be comprised of “highly recyclable aluminum and glass” — but my friends in the electronics recycling industry tell me they have no way of recycling aluminum that has glass glued to it like Apple did with both this machine and the recent iPad.
The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole.
The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart.
Four years ago, Apple performed a market experiment. They released the super thin, but non-upgradeable, MacBook Air in addition to their two existing, easily upgradeable notebooks: the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Apple’s laptops had evolved over two decades of experience into impressively robust, rugged, and long-lasting computers. Apple learned a lot from the failings of the past: the exploding batteries of the PowerBook 5300, the flaky hinges of the PowerBook G4 Titanium, the difficult-to-access hard drive in the iBook.
Apple’s portable lineup was a triumph — for consumers and for Apple itself. IT professionals the world over love working on the MacBook. I’ve disassembled a few of them myself, and I can attest that they are almost as easy to repair as they are to use.
The 2008 Air went in a new direction entirely: It sacrificed performance and upgradeability in exchange for a thinner design. Its RAM is soldered to the logic board (as in the Retina MacBook Pro), so upgrading it means replacing the entire expensive logic board. And like all laptops, the Air has a built-in consumable. The MacBook Air’s battery was rated to last just 300 charges when it was introduced. But unlike laptops before it, replacing the Air’s battery required specialized tools and removing some 19 screws.
When Apple dropped the MacBook Air to $999 in 2010 to match the price point of the MacBook, they gave users a clear choice: the thin, light, and un-upgradeable MacBook Air or the heavier, longer lasting, more rugged, and more powerful MacBook. Same price, two very different products. At the time, I wasn’t very happy with the non-upgradeable RAM on the MacBook Air, but I respected that Apple had given their users a choice. It was up to us: Did we want a machine that would be stuck with 2GB of RAM forever? Would we support laptops that required replacement every year or two as applications required more memory and batteries atrophied?
Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable, and one that is not.
The success of the non-upgradeable Air empowered Apple to release the even-less-serviceable iPad two years later: The battery was glued into the case. And again, we voted with our wallets and purchased the device despite its built-in death clock. In the next iteration of the iPad, the glass was fused to the frame.
Once again, with another product announcement, Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable, and one that is not. They’re not exactly equivalent products — one is less expensive and supports expandable storage, and the other has a cutting-edge display, fixed storage capacity, and a premium price tag — but they don’t have the same name just to cause confusion. Rather, Apple is asking users to define the future of the MacBook Pro.
Apple isn’t fundamentally against upgradeability and accessibility. The current Mac Mini has compelling finger slots that practically beg people to open it. When Steve Jobs released the “open-minded” Power Mac G3 with a door that opened from the side, the audience oohed and aahed. Apple products have historically retained their value quite well, in part due to third-party repair manuals, but also due to a number of very modular, very upgradeable designs.
Even the MacBook Pro was originally touted as an accessible, repairable machine — at Macworld in 2009, Steve Jobs said, “Our pro customers want accessibility: [...] to add memory, to add cards, to add drives.” That’s part of what I love about my MacBook Pro. I’ve upgraded my RAM, and I even replaced my optical drive with an 80GB SSD.
We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.
On the other hand, Apple has consistently introduced thinner, lighter products. They learn from experience. They react to their customers. They’re very adept at presenting us with what we want. And they give us options from time to time and allow product sales to determine their future designs.
We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we’re happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule. When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more robust model that’s a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values?
Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so.
Today, we choose. If we choose the Retina display over the existing MacBook Pro, the next generation of Mac laptops will likely be less repairable still. When that happens, we won’t be able to blame Apple. We’ll have to blame ourselves.
- The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable (eduardgrebe.net)
- New MacBook Most Unrepairable Laptop Ever? (makezine.com)
- The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable (ifixit.org)
- Commodification, consumerism and the new ‘Retina’ MacBook Pro. (dougbelshaw.com)
- MacBook Pro With Retina Display Torn Down, Virtually Unfixable (wired.com)
- Retina MacBook Pro is the least repairable laptop ever, says iFixit (venturebeat.com)
- Silicon Alley Insider: The Retina Display MacBook Pro Is Going To Cost A Fortune To Repair (AAPL) (businessinsider.com)
- Unrepairable (hiltmon.com)
- More MacBook Maintenance Malarky: examining the arguments that none of it matters (tuaw.com)
- iFixit tears down the new MacBook Pro’s Retina display, an “engineering marvel” (9to5mac.com)