My iMac Has Turned Into An iLemon, And It Makes Me Concerned About Apple

I’ve been using Apple’s computers since August of 1982, and I worked for Apple for 20 years, and until two years ago I’d never had a bad experience with an Apple product.

But that one — an I5 iMac purchased in October, 2010, which I have come to call my iLemon — has been a nightmare, and while this is only one iLemon in four decades of using Apple products, I think buyers going into the holiday season should listen to the challenges that I have faced and weigh them as they consider purchasing a new computer.

Here’s my story: In the fall of 2010, I started a project that required more horsepower than my four-year-old MacBook could provide. I bought an iMac with an I5 processor and 27-inch screen for just over $1,800.

The iMac had some quirks. It generated a lot of heat and I found the SDHC reader which was located below the DVD drive to be very inconvenient and something of a pain to someone like myself who takes a lot of pictures.

Nevertheless, things were fine for 15 months. But in the spring of 2012 the iMac began to exhibit some disturbing signs. It was taking well over fourteen minutes to boot Snow Leopard. I did some research and talked to some Apple folks and eventually decided that I was suffering from “Slow Snow Leopard.” I followed some homegrown remedies that I found on the Web since Apple seemed to have no suggestions. I did get the boot time on the iMac cut down to reasonable time.

Dire Warning

About three months later, the iMac gave me a dire warning that I should copy all of my data to another hard drive, reformat my drive and reinstall the operating system.

I went one better and after copying the data to another drive I did a complete clean install of Apple’s Lion operating system onto an external Firewire 800 drive. I ran that until I was comfortable with Lion. Then I formatted the internal drive and did another completely clean install except I moved up to Mountain Lion, Apple’s latest operating system.

When I say completely clean install, that means I went back to CDs or disk images for all my applications. The operating systems were installed from Apple’s app store. Starting at square one actually worked well except for a set of upgrade disks that I had purchased from Apple.

For some reason Mountain Lion would not recognize the upgraded iPhoto. I solved the problem by spending another $14.95 at the Apple Store for a new purchase of iPhoto.

All this worked, sort of, for a couple of weeks. Being of a cautious nature, I only installed a completely new, small iPhoto library on the internal drive. In spite of that, I started to have iPhoto library corruption problems. It wasn’t long before I figured out that the internal drive was dying.

The computer quit booting from the drive so I upgraded my external drive to Mountain Lion and started running the computer off the external drive again. During all of this I wasn’t too worried about my data since I am a heavy user of Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. I also have regular time capsule backups of my data.

Card Reader Problems

At the same time, I switched to the external drive I started have intermittent problems with the SDHC reader on the Mac. Sometimes it would read a card from my camera and sometimes not. I would often rotate my chair fifteen degrees, insert the same card in my Lenovo laptop, load the photos into Picasa, and export the ones that I wanted to my Google drive and then import them from Google drive to iPhoto on the Mac.

Surprisingly sometimes I could come back later in the day and the iMac would read the same card that previously it had refused to read. It might read one or two of four cards or sometimes none of them.

I also was having more trouble with iPhoto. I ended up reinstalling iPhoto from the Apple Store twice. For any of you who have done that, you know that it can take a few hours with a cable modem. For a while it seemed like the iMac was always downloading something from Apple.

Asking Apple For Help

With a long career at Apple, I still have a few high-level email addresses so I sent a note to someone high enough up the corporate tree to see if Apple was willing to stand behind their product. I wasn’t too surprised when I got a call on my cell phone the next day from someone in executive relations promising to help me resolve my problem.

That weekend and the following Monday, I spent much of my time running tests and doing screen shots. I formatted several types of SD cards with five different cameras to try to determine a pattern on my malfunctioning card reader. I also tried to document the strange problem I was having with photostream in iPhoto. I took all that information along with my system profile and sent it to my contact at executive relations.

I spent well over an hour on the phone with an Apple expert and let him download all sorts of stuff from my computer in the hopes that he could resolve some of my issues. He seemed to tire of the whole thing and we never got to the photostream issue. He promised to pass the information on to his engineering team and get back to me.

I waited a week to hear back from him and then sent a note to him and my executive relations contact. The next day I got a call back from my executive relations contact. All she said was that it had been determined that I had a loose wire on my SDHC reader, and I should take the system to my local service provider. My nearest Apple store is three hours away.

So now I have an iMac with a dead hard drive, a card reader that has intermittent problems and Bluetooth that no longer works. I’m thinking that spending more money on this iMac is probably a waste.

Some will say that I should have purchased Apple’s AppleCare extended warranty. I feel the same way about extended warranties on computers that I do about extended warranties on cars. I should not have to buy an extra warranty to get a product that is trouble free for a few years.

The shame is that all of this hardware worked fine at one time. None of this relates to the user not knowing how to get a computer to work. All of this is in Apple’s lap.

Lessons I Learned

The experience confirmed several of my thoughts about the new Apple. Number one is Apple is no longer the leader in reliability. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can read this reliability report published in February of 2012. Apple is in fourth place and way behind Lenovo, which ranks number one.

My second thought is that Apple often pushes design to the point that it impacts reliability. I was surprised to find that the hard drive on my iMac has a temperature sensor that shuts down the drive if the temperature gets too high. It is the first time I have been aware of a Mac outside of the Xserve that has a sensor like that. You can cook your hand on the top of my iMac at times. I have to believe that all the heat contributed to the early death of my hard drive.

Third, the Apple value proposition isn’t what it used to be. The two HP laptops that I bought for a total of less than $1,500 are still working great. As laptops they have had a harder life than my iMac which has never left its desktop. They’ll soon be three years old and are still functioning. The iMac never even made it two years. My original HP laptop that I bought over five years ago is also still working.

Fourth, just because you pay more for Apple, don’t expect better service especially, if you live outside the major metro areas. I was really disappointed with my “troubleshooting” experience. The whole thing seemed to be aimed at minimizing what Apple would do to fix my problem.

On top of it all, after the call with the Apple expert, I got an email to me addressed “Dear Robert.” I have to say if you cannot even get my first name right, you probably aren’t going to solve any of my problems.

Others Provide Better Service

I have to compare my Apple experience to the phone call that I received from Adobe’s director of worldwide operations on a Sunday night telling me that he was sending me by FedEx a free copy of Dreamweaver to make up for problems I was having with an upgrade.

Last summer I got a call from the executive assistant to the CEO of Toro telling me that they were sending me a free cable to replace the broken one on my lawn mower. I’ve been using Toro mowers for nearly 50 years. The cable might get me to continue to use them.

Just a month ago, Nikon agreed to fix my Nikkor telephoto lens even though they could not find their copy of the extended warranty card. I won’t be buying anything but Nikon cameras.

I want Apple to be a premium brand willing to go the extra mile because I have paid premium prices for my Apple products. Unfortunately my experience even with some high-level intervention shows that it is “buyer beware” with Apple just as it is with many other companies that sell products not nearly as expensive but sometimes more reliable than Apple products.

The Latest iMacs Don’t Appeal To Me

Apple’s latest refresh of the iMac line adds some more twists to the equation. You can no longer upgrade your own RAM in an iMac and if you want a DVD drive you have to buy an external one. Apple’s RAM prices are about as expensive as the market will bear.

From the review that I recently read, Apple has substituted a lower performing hard drive in the least expensive iMac. Based on my experience I cannot think that is good.

Then in the ultimate convenience move, the SDHC reader is now on the back of the monitor. The only reason that I can see for an iMac being thinner and lighter is that it will be easier to carry into a mall Apple Store for repair.

It saddens me to say that in the nine months since spring I have invested more time in this iMac than I did keeping my Vista laptop running over a couple of years while I was calling Vista a quagmire.

My 2013 Resolution: New Technology

I am going through a complete technology refresh on my desktop in the next 12 months. Likely there will be an Apple product on my desk, but it will not be an iMac. Whatever Mac I get will be here on probation since my recent Apple experiences have not inspired confidence.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I bought a Lenovo Yoga running Windows 8 for $999. My older Lenovo laptop is now hooked to an external monitor and acting as my main desktop system while I try to figure out how to replace my iMac.

I bought a new Lenovo because of the great experience with the previous one. It is the best laptop that I have used since the Powerbook G4 Titanium that I used as an Apple employee. So far I am very pleased with the Lenovo Yoga, which is a combination ultra-book tablet with a touch screen. I’ll be sharing my Windows 8 experiences and the decisions I make on other purchases here at ReadWrite.

You can read more about my Apple experience by checking out my recently published Kindle Book, The Pomme Company. Finally, rumors of my book causing iPads running Kindle reader software to overheat are unfounded.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.