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Schweb's Lounge Forum for general conversation, chit chat, or most topics that don't fit in another forum.

Apple sealed-box designs and why they suck


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cwa107

 
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Many of you who know me, know that I have recently been very critical over Apple's latest product releases, particularly in the Mac space. Oftentimes, I have referred to things like the most recent iMacs and Retina MacBook Pros as "disposable" and suggested that they provided less value as they were meant to be sealed boxes that can't be upgraded and/or easily repaired. I have even gone so far as to suggest that Apple's steady decline in Mac sales is less the result of the popularity of iDevices and more about the compromised designs they have been producing.

While you may understand the significance of these choices in terms of their impact to you personally, you may not understand how they impact our collective future as computing and technology enthusiasts. As a member of staff on an Apple enthusiasts' forum, I try not to be negative, but I do want to open a dialog about why this matters - and why we need to advocate for change.

Simply put, the natural resources and energy expended to create these devices are finite. As those resources dwindle, it becomes harder to find them - and that has a cost, not only to human beings, but to the environment as well. Eventually (and likely within our lifetimes), we will run out of one or more of these natural resources and that will have a profound impact on the gadgets we know and love. For that reason, regardless of your political views, it is incumbent upon us as technology enthusiasts and consumers, to try to make as much use out of the gadgets we buy as possible before tossing or replacing them. When a company like Apple deliberately produces "closed-box" designs, they are essentially thumbing their noses at us, all in the name of profit.

I am absolutely convinced that Apple can produce aesthetically pleasing gear in a way that is upgradeable and repairable, and in turn, have a significantly longer service life. They are making a conscious choice not to do so. As a leader in innovation and design, Apple sets trends in the industry - where they lead, others inevitably follow. I think it's high time that we as consumers and enthusiasts start pressuring them to rethink their approach. I'm not asking you to change your buying habits (though that might help), but at the very least, don’t be an apologist for their behavior - even if you are a fan.

Recently, iFixIt.org (who I am not shilling for as I have no affiliation with them) has been on a mission to point out these problems. And though their business started off with Apple gear, they have been increasingly negative about newer Apple designs. I strongly support them in their efforts and encourage you to do the same. If nothing else, please follow their blogs and educate yourself about this important issue. In particular, I highly recommend this most recent article:

Manufacturing Eats a Hole in the Earth Every Day - iFixit

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Quote:
Originally Posted by cwa107 View Post
I am absolutely convinced that Apple can produce aesthetically pleasing gear in a way that is upgradeable and repairable, and in turn, have a significantly longer service life. They are making a conscious choice not to do so.
Environmental arguments aside (not to disregard them for they are tremendously important), this is the part that irks me and should irk other consumers. This idea of "form over function," a mantra that seems really congruent with Apple's design decisions of the last three years or so (especially) fails to regard the importance of function and how it doesn't have to be a detriment to form. Beyond the software sacrifices (how often do we see people lament the loss of functionality in Apple software as of late? *cough* Pages *cough*), creating beautiful forms becomes more and more useless if the functionality isn't there. Sealing in all the components and making it a nice coherent package robs users of the chance to tweak with their machines, a set of machines that for the entirety of their history have been user-upgradeable. It's for reasons such as this that users such as I adamantly will not buy a retina MBP as long as a non-retina model exists.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cwa107 View Post
As a member of staff on an Apple enthusiasts' forum, I try not to be negative, but I do want to open a dialog about why this matters - and why we need to advocate for change.
I think this is a very good conversation to be having regardless of your views of Apple especially given the culture around Apple products, a culture that commonly defers to Apple's apparent wisdom that they know best and that they must have a plan that automatically leads to the best possible product. With that, I try, like cwa107, not to be overly critical but as many of you may be able to glean from my views of late, it's getting harder not be candid about important discussions around what these choices mean for us as consumers of devices that are going in a substantially different direction.

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Originally Posted by vansmith View Post
Environmental arguments aside (not to disregard them for they are tremendously important), this is the part that irks me and should irk other consumers. This idea of "form over function," a mantra that seems really congruent with Apple's design decisions of the last three years or so (especially) fails to regard the importance of function and how it doesn't have to be a detriment to form. Beyond the software sacrifices (how often do we see people lament the loss of functionality in Apple software as of late? *cough* Pages *cough*), creating beautiful forms becomes more and more useless if the functionality isn't there. Sealing in all the components and making it a nice coherent package robs users of the chance to tweak with their machines, a set of machines that for the entirety of their history have been user-upgradeable. It's for reasons such as this that users such as I adamantly will not buy a retina MBP as long as a non-retina model exists.
Agreed - and a very important point about software as well. We have fielded so many questions lately about planned obsolescence in terms of software, particularly with the rapid release schedule of OS X. I get that newer OSes must be tied to newer hardware in order to keep the technology advancing - but dropping support for OSes that were actively sold on new machines as recently as two-three years ago is absurd (I'm thinking of Snow Leopard).

Additionally, I find it to be particularly repugnant that Apple dropped support for newer versions of iOS on the 1st generation iPad, which was nearly identical in terms of specs to the iPhone 4. As you know, the iPhone 4 is still actively supported by even the most recent iOS release. How many millions of still-serviceable iPads will end up in landfills as a result of Apple's heavy-handed approach? Further, why do we just accept arbitrary software feature removal because a device is older? Is there any technical reason why older iPads and iPhones can't run Siri or have turn-by-turn support in Maps? Absolutely not. It has been demonstrated by third parties. This is again Apple arrogantly pushing people into newer, more expensive devices.

Something has to give here - and I'm sure I'll take a lot of flak for these statements, but I don't care.

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I completely agree with you on this. Not being able to upgrade or easily repair a system wether I purchased it prebuilt or custom built myself, truly impacts my buying choices.

I can understand only having an expansion slot open or incase of the iMacs a RAM slot. But the way they seal/snap their enclosures together making it a balancing act between being able to open the iMac or breaking it just carries it little to far.

Even my first computer I actually owned myself was a Tandy 1000 HX. Even this computer was a semi-all-in-one at the time. It had the keyboard built into the system with the display being separate. But point being it had an access cover to get into the expansion slot. Yet still you had to remove the screws from the bottom of the case to get to the RAM (at the time were individual chips and not easily upgraded). But none the less you could still open it yourself to make repairs.

I like my mac, but lets be honest. Its nothing but a regular PC running OSX. OSX is the only reason I have a Mac. Yes they do make some nice stuff, but I could have built a small/micro form factor computer for the same price that I purchased my MM for.

Apple really really needs to consider a desktop model that is user upgradable. But I don't see this happening as that ended with the new Mac Pro.. Try to buy repair parts off new egg for that..


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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exodist View Post
I completely agree with you on this. Not being able to upgrade or easily repair a system wether I purchased it prebuilt or custom built myself, truly impacts my buying choices.

I can understand only having an expansion slot open or incase of the iMacs a RAM slot. But the way they seal/snap their enclosures together making it a balancing act between being able to open the iMac or breaking it just carries it little to far.
Yeah, I get that Macs have always been somewhat sealed boxes. No doubt about it, you were not meant to personally crack the case on an original Mac or a Mac Classic. But you could do it without breaking it. There were seams, non-proprietary screws, and non-copyrighted repair manuals for doing so. You could keep an old-school Mac running contemporary software for many years - probably all the way until OS X debuted, albeit with expansion boards and such. Apple did little to prevent it.

Quote:
Even my first computer I actually owned myself was a Tandy 1000 HX. Even this computer was a semi-all-in-one at the time. It had the keyboard built into the system with the display being separate. But point being it had an access cover to get into the expansion slot. Yet still you had to remove the screws from the bottom of the case to get to the RAM (at the time were individual chips and not easily upgraded). But none the less you could still open it yourself to make repairs.
I was a Commodore guy. I started with a C64, eventually a 128 and ultimately to a host of different Amigas. Each one could be upgraded easily to run the latest and greatest software. Heck, even the A600, with its surface-mount soldered CPU could be upgraded with an ingenious upside-down socket CPU upgrade board.

This has been an inherent part of being a computer enthusiast from the beginning. But in the last 5-10 years, companies like Apple are making it so much harder. The third-party hardware upgrade industry has dwindled to just a few players, and there are very few choices on the market to maximize your computer's lifespan.

Quote:
I like my mac, but lets be honest. Its nothing but a regular PC running OSX. OSX is the only reason I have a Mac. Yes they do make some nice stuff, but I could have built a small/micro form factor computer for the same price that I purchased my MM for.
Not to get too far off-topic, but it depends on which model you're talking about. I can tell you that Dell has an XPS model laptop that very closely mimics a MacBook Pro 15, even down to the aluminum unibody design. If you configure it like-for-like with the last generation MBP, it actually comes out to be a bit more expensive.

But I get your point, and I agree. Most of us - at least those of us who are geeks - switched to the Mac primarily for OS X. And as Apple continues to hobble the platform with these new hardware designs, we will bleed off or find measures to run OS X on other hardware (ahem). This can't be good for Apple's business at the end of the day. We (the geeks) have been a major reason for Apple's explosive growth after the stagnation of the 90's.

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Apple really really needs to consider a desktop model that is user upgradable. But I don't see this happening as that ended with the new Mac Pro.. Try to buy repair parts off new egg for that..
I don't think Apple will ever do the fabled Mac affordable mid-tower. But the direction they took with the Mac Pro just seems to be cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

As an example, my father-in-law was in the market for a new video editing workstation - and try as I might, I couldn't make a compelling case for him to choose either an iMac or a Mac Pro as opposed to a high-end HP workstation that he ended up opting for. Based on my calculations, he saved well over a grand... though he will have to deal with the disaster that is Windows 8.1.

The Mac Pro was always expensive, no doubt, but at least at one time, you could buy the low-end model and outfit it to suit your needs. Good luck doing that with a waste bin Mac Pro. And before you point out Thunderbolt, consider the expense of Thunderbolt expansion chassis. They don't come cheap... and on the last generation Mac Pro, they were completely unnecessary, despite the lower cost of entry.

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I don't think the statements in this thread are negative or inappropriate. But, I do believe that long-term there isn't much hope.

IMO and IME people of true vision are far more of a rarity than those who are truly good at making money. And, since we all have limited life spans we tend to choose short term over long term gains.

Where I am going with this is something I call, "The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". This isn't an ethnic comment BTW, but simply that Chinese Restaurants are my preferred dining out spot, and having a good one available is a continuing concern.
Per my observations this is the typical life-cycle of a Chinese Restaurant:

1) New Restaurant opens, the food is hot, varied, and extremely high quality.
2) People flock in and business booms.
3) Variety is reduced (thus cutting costs) but quality and taste remains excellent
4) Some loss of business results, but presumably a healthy cost/profit ratio is established
5) The Restaurant will operate at this new level until driven by either outside events, or desire for more profits, another round of cost cutting occurs
6) Variety or quality is reduced
7) This leads to short term increase in profit, which fades as business begins to decline
8) At this point, very rarely, the restaurant will return to step 1 above, more often they fall into a visicious circle of step 6 followed by 7, until the restaurant finally closes or fades into obscurity

What is my point here (or do I even have one)?
My point is the ultimate cause of failure is losing track of the goal of knowing your customers and providing (at a reasonable profit) what they want, and instead focusing on margins and business models.

The problem is focusing on your customers almost always means accepting lower short term profit.

I've always wanted to be smart, handsome and modest. But, I guess I'll have to be satisfied with two out of three . . .
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I like Apple primarily for OS X, and secondarily for their hardware. I was an early adopter of the MBA and got use to the sealed hardware a while back. Though I wouldn't personally design something that way, it doesn't bother me that much. That said, my biggest concern is that Apple eventually morphs OS X into iOS for desktops/laptops. Being a Unix guy, I like being able to do things like add open source software, mess with config files, and whatnot... without having to "jailbreak" OS X. When OS 11 comes out in the not too distant future, it will be telling to see if they branch it out or mute it alltogether into a ChromeOS/iOS type experience. When that happens (and I believe it eventually will) I will likely switch to another OS and be done. At that point Windows and OS X both equally lack appeal to me and I go back to Linux full-time.
I don't dislike iOS as it applies to "iDevices". I'm a happy iPad and iPhone user. However, I won't compute on a device I can't even manipulate files on without using iTunes or some other application beyond Finder and a text editor. I actually use my non-gadget computers to work and don't appreciate being hobbled in the name of "continuity" or "presentation". I don't for see myself running SAP Java for Mac as a tile in iOS and getting anything productive done. I'm a creator as much as a consumer.

Oi!

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What is my point here (or do I even have one)?
My point is the ultimate cause of failure is losing track of the goal of knowing your customers and providing (at a reasonable profit) what they want, and instead focusing on margins and business models.

The problem is focusing on your customers almost always means accepting lower short term profit.
Hear, hear! But with one major distinction.... food is generally made of renewable resources. Technology is not.

So, if the product turns to crap and stays crap.... at some point you're going to not be able to make your crap anymore.

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For those who are reading this and have concluded that this is simply a forum for complaints, note that this is not the sole intention. Productive dialog is important from both sides and if you feel otherwise, don't hesitate to jump in. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with being critical and supportive of that which you love - we all do it with regards to other people and there's no reason we can't do it with these products.

I've always told myself that the moment the Mac App Store becomes mandatory is the moment I jump ship without hesitation and part of me thinks that this is part of a long term goal. It's all part of developing the perfectly cohesive system to the intentional exclusion of everything else. Sure, the App Store is nice is iOS but part of me fears that the model is coming to iOS, a model that just isn't going to work. A similar corollary exists with the hardware too, albeit in a different form. The hardware has become something that is only upgradeable and repairable by Apple, another reflection of the seeming desire to control the product from start to finish.

At this point, not much of this affects me on a regular basis but who knows what it'll be like when I need a new machine in a few years.

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I don't think Apple will ever do the fabled Mac affordable mid-tower. But the direction they took with the Mac Pro just seems to be cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
I agree they would not. However I wouldn't want a mac mini tower. Something still close to say the Mac Mini size, just with the option to add a low profile PCI express card or two.

But I can tell you one reason they may be trying this is due to users buying base models then upgrading ram and drives themselves and saving a lot of money. Where as apple charges a heavy price for upgrading their models off their website, up to 3 times more then the upgrade would cost doing it yourself.

That said, if apple would cut in half their pricing when upgrading their onine base models. I would be more inclined to turn the other cheek per se. But going from 4GB to 16GB costing you $400 more in a Mac Mini.. Seriously this is the issue. 16GB of RAM from Crucial is only about $160 depending on the market at retail cost. So they are making easy $300 more bucks off someone when they need more ram over the base model. Then their is the Hard drive issue. I don't see them as bad as the RAM pricing, but they could be a tad cheaper. CPU also is one of those they push the pricing little to steep on. Most base model i5s are about $200 USD, while a i7 of close clock speed is about $50 more. However Apple charges you a full $200 USD to go from a 3.4GHz i5 to a 3.5GHz i7.. Shameful..

Now I don't mind paying a premium for a Mac, they truly are quality products. But just don't like being price gouged on upgrading a base model.


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Doom and gloom about OS X terrifies me. My love for OS X stems from the fact that it is a Unix-based system that has done all the configuring for me out of the box. I love Linux but I hate babying my install to make everything work with my hardware. If they ever moved OS X closer to iOS in terms of restricting or disabling third party software and reducing my overall accessibility to the system without jailbreaking, I would most certainly abandon ship.

I've long wished Apple had a true tower computer as well. I am not a particular fan about All in Ones. The iMac has its place and I am fine with it existing (Apple has built itself on its screen-integrated Macs after all) but it is not the kind of system I would like to have in my home and I am fine with paying a higher total price to have the flexibility of my monitor and computer being separate devices.

I like the Mac Mini well enough but I'd like an Apple computer with some sort of cooling system and a consumer-grade GPU for gaming. I don't know if that is ever going to be practical with the Mac Mini's current design

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Doom and gloom about OS X terrifies me. My love for OS X stems from the fact that it is a Unix-based system that has done all the configuring for me out of the box. I love Linux but I hate babying my install to make everything work with my hardware. If they ever moved OS X closer to iOS in terms of restricting or disabling third party software and reducing my overall accessibility to the system without jailbreaking, I would most certainly abandon ship.

I've long wished Apple had a true tower computer as well. I am not a particular fan about All in Ones. The iMac has its place and I am fine with it existing (Apple has built itself on its screen-integrated Macs after all) but it is not the kind of system I would like to have in my home and I am fine with paying a higher total price to have the flexibility of my monitor and computer being separate devices.

I like the Mac Mini well enough but I'd like an Apple computer with some sort of cooling system and a consumer-grade GPU for gaming. I don't know if that is ever going to be practical with the Mac Mini's current design
My viewpoint is very similar, especially regarding Linux.

I've always wanted to be smart, handsome and modest. But, I guess I'll have to be satisfied with two out of three . . .
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If Lightroom ran natively on Linux. I more then likely wouldn't be having this conversation.

I didn't mind Win7. I thought it was reasonable OS. But Win8 is the main reason I moved to Mac. If Win9 comes out and goes back to normal desktop design. I may end up jumping boats.. I can buy a nice ASUS PC Mini-tower (i7-4770k, 16GB DRAM, 1TB 7200RPM, ASUS Mobo and PSU) with a real video card for $850 and throw in a SSD for another $160. Compare that to a iMac or MacMini..

So if Apple screws OSX up like they did their iOS7.. hmm geez Y'all may not see much of me..


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Something still close to say the Mac Mini size, just with the option to add a low profile PCI express card or two. [...] That said, if apple would cut in half their pricing when upgrading their onine base models. I would be more inclined to turn the other cheek per se.
Unfortunately, you've just touched on two things that Apple doesn't do - add more customizability to the internals and cut into the profit margin, something that Apple excels at to a tremendously greater degree than others in the industry. After all, Apple has profit margins of nearly 22% in an industry where lower ones such as 4.55% (HP), 2.03% (Lenovo), 5.12% (ASUS), 13.06% (Samsung), 0.94% (Sony) and -0.46% (LG) are the norm. If that doesn't scream profit motive, nothing else does (there's nothing wrong with this for that's what a business should do but it does point to Apple's desire to make as much as possible).

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Posts: 26,494
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Mac Specs: 15" MBP, Core i7/2GHz, 8GB RAM, 480GB Crucial M500 SSD

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Quote:
Originally Posted by vansmith View Post
For those who are reading this and have concluded that this is simply a forum for complaints, note that this is not the sole intention. Productive dialog is important from both sides and if you feel otherwise, don't hesitate to jump in. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with being critical and supportive of that which you love - we all do it with regards to other people and there's no reason we can't do it with these products.
Yeah, I really didn't intend for this to become a forum for airing Apple-related grievances. Really, I wanted to talk about the trend of designing closed off hardware that was deliberately crippled and not repairable.

And to be clear, I do think that this trend can be halted and perhaps reversed. I have seen Apple reverse course before - a prime example is the original 13" Aluminum MacBook, which lacked Firewire - even though all prior models had had it, and the plastic MacBooks retained it. Apple initially railed against it, stating that USB had rendered it less than necessary, given the trend of newer Camcorders and such. But lo and behold, when that model became the 13" MacBook Pro, they added it back in, despite their earlier misgivings.

Even more recent, and perhaps more relevant.... the iPhone 4 and 4S was widely criticized for its screen placement, opposite the opening. You have to remove the entire guts of the phone to get at it, and then some. With the iPhone 5 and later, Apple went exactly opposite and now the 5, 5C and 5S are much easier to repair.

I think there is hope, but I think we the faithful need to be united in our message. Too often, we are divided and end up arguing - some blindly defend Apple at all costs - that should not be the case here. This is a clear problem with an easily obtainable solution.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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