Dear Tim: Macs are getting bricked and your geniuses are failing

From MacRumors’ “Some Older Macs Reportedly Bricked After Installing macOS Monterey” posted Monday:

At least ten separate posts (1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) on Apple Support Communities contain users complaining that as they were attempting to update their Mac to ‌macOS Monterey‌, the Mac went completely black and they’re unable to turn it on. One post in specific includes several comments from users also reporting similar issues. Reports on Twitter are also plentiful.

From ArsTechnica:

We’ve asked Apple about these anecdotal reports to see if there are any issues the company is aware of or guidance it has for people whose hardware stops responding to input after a software update. We also have our own recommendations, as well as some hypotheses about why these major updates sometimes seem to cause a higher-than-usual number of hardware problems. [12 hours later, no update with info from Apple, but ArsTechnica provides a link to “DFU” recovery mode instructions.]

From a friend of the blog:

I’m quite stunned at the lack of knowledge and deterioration by apple support and the so-called geniuses in/store these days. Their answer was to swap out the machine and forget about my data – whereas it proved recoverable after some research in just two hours after weeks of trying and diving into the file system problems going back to 2015 onward and getting exponentially worse in Big Sur.

From MacRumors’ comments:

“Embarrassing, given the limited amount of hardware Apple has to support.”

Indeed. Microsoft has to write an operating system that is stable on literally millions of different hardware combinations from hundreds of different vendors, whereas Apple only has a small device portfolio all of which is under their tight control and yet they still manage to mess things up. OK they’re not going to catch everything, and nobody’s perfect (Microsoft have caused the odd bricking event as well), but I think the order of the day is more beta testing, Apple’s biggest problem is that their new OSes are often tied to a new hardware release which means upgrades are forced to release before they are properly tested and stable.

My take: I will note first that when the Google guys looked at the problem of customer support they saw right away that it didn’t scale, and so they didn’t bother. Jobs, to his credit, thought different. He wanted to “build motherhood into the machine” and then, when mother failed, hold users’ hands as long as it took.

So, Tim, you have my sympathy. As I see it, Apple is facing three problems, only one of which is within Apple’s control:

  1. Customer support at the billion- device level doesn’t scale.
  2. Employees with Genius-level talent are hard to find and train — and even harder to retain.
  3. Your hardware guys are releasing new machines too fast for the software teams to keep up.

It’s got to the point where Apple Customer Support is advising customers to erase precious data that could have been saved. There are worse things in life, but that’s pretty bad.

28 Comments

  1. Roger Schutte said:
    Hello folks…installing major and minor OS upgrades without backing up your data isn’t recommended. Time machine makes this very easy.

    12
    November 2, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      AND unplug external drives (including Time Machine drive) during the update… (Something I usually forget to do….)

      4
      November 2, 2021
      • Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
        Great advice, Roger & David.
        This isn’t my first rodeo on losing data/recovery from backups, so all my devices backed up on Cloud and multiple drives.

        4
        November 2, 2021
  2. Daniel Epstein said:
    As an owner of many older Macs which no longer meet Apple’s guidance for new operating system upgrades I am not surprised some people have run into trouble updating to the latest system software. Sometimes having the latest and greatest is not worth the effort on a particular computer. I also have many friends who ask me to help with their computer upgrades as well. I am often shocked by how many don’t back up their computers regularly. As Roger pointed out backing up your data should the first step of getting ready to upgrade your computer. It is also the first step in preserving your data in case of failure of any kind. And in truth you need multiple back ups to be truly safe. This doesn’t mean Apple is off the hook for any particular failure in the process but most people don’t seem to understand the risk reward issues involved.

    5
    November 2, 2021
    • Hugh Lovell said:
      When I worked in the Apple Store, the most common response I heard to backup questions was “It doesn’t matter if I lose my data.” This and other similar asinine responses were one of the reasons I left. You can only extoll the benefits of multiple backups so many time before you say, “OK, it’s your data, but I did warn you.” And leave them to it.

      5
      November 2, 2021
    • Hugh Lovell said:
      Good advice. You can’t have too many backups. By that I mean CURRENT backups, not a pile of unidentified hard drives with a tangle of cables and connectors (Hello Dongletown!).

      4
      November 2, 2021
  3. Fred Stein said:
    Jobs’ vision still holds, even if scale and labor shortages make it harder. Here’s why:

    With many other services and products, support is an afterthought. Often it is outsourced. Even with surveys or feedback mechanisms, the decision makers are 100% disengaged from the pain that their customers incur. The customer experience, the UX, doesn’t count.

    Since Apple bears the brunt of any defect, real or imagined, or just user error, they’re forced to constantly improve. (In the case of butterfly, though, took way too long.)

    1
    November 2, 2021
    • Hugh Lovell said:
      Pay, working conditions and store culture were some of the reasons Apple Geniuses left the company after accruing certifications and experience. They could earn more with much less stress and more interesting technical challenges with employers outside than in the store. Some stayed and built their stock portfolio. Others grabbed the certifications and ran. Over the almost 15 years I worked in Apple Retail, it seemed to me that the job became less “exclusive,” more dumbed down and more frustrating.

      4
      November 2, 2021
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        That’s a LOT of factory trained “Geniuses” out there supporting Macs in the enterprise. Maybe that’s Apple’s intent, after all MSFT took over the enterprise, then built a moat around it with its MSCE program (whose livelihood depended on remaining a Wintel house).

        After 14 years it’s possible that new Mac users aren’t as Mac ignorant as they were in 2007.

        2
        November 2, 2021
        • Tommo_UK said:
          Greg, the geniuses used to be recruited for their in depth and passionate knowledge of Apple’s products. Consequently the levels they could reach down to in order to fix and solve problems almost defied belief. Now they work to standard protocols with little room for individual manoeuvre or assistance “outside the box” and users experiencing problems outside of an Apple KB article just get offered a new device. Nice at first glance but for people who just want their machine working and may be travelling or have no backup,, they are left stranded and with their personal “War and Peace” draft lost or reverted back to earlier versions.

          I accept the scale of Apple’s operations necessitated streamlining the Genius Bar and support process but in spite of the ongoing enthusiasm and personal support by both phone and store personnel, the solutions they can offer are horribly constrained compared to the past to the point they sometimes apologise for not being able or allowed to do more – even when they subtly indicate if allowed, they know a “fix” which would likely work.

          5
          November 2, 2021
          • David Emery said:
            And they exchanged that deep knowledge for ‘deep attitude’… Now I would NOT want a job dealing with the public, but that does not excuse the condescending tone that many so-called Geniuses have taken with me.

            (Last month marked my 43rd year of owning a personal computer. It’s getting to the point where I bought my first computer before -their parents- were born…)

            2
            November 2, 2021
      • Tommo_UK said:
        @Hugh Lovell
        Yes sadly the stores came so target driven that service literally became secondary to sales, albeit with such a soft touch and approach you never felt the primary objective was to get you to more stuff. The stores are just changing and reverting to less support and more of a sales and excellent customer service. The tech knowledge or ability to deploy it had just give, sadly, and little can be done in-house any more.

        4
        November 2, 2021
  4. Gregg Thurman said:
    Very sketchy news is out that chips are being diverted from other products to iPhone 13.

    0
    November 2, 2021
    • Daimler & VW are literally harvesting components from cheaper models to complete high-end luxury models. Earlier Nikkei story was sort of proven true on the Vietnam camera module shortage during the quarterly call. I still think ASML supply chain issues will ripple through TSMC and delay some of Apple’s new chips. Like iPhone buyers, fabs are not about to switch to a new vendor of chip-making lithography machines, if one even exists.

      0
      November 2, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      I’ve seen reports that say Apple will slash iPad production by 50% to divert needed chips to iPhones. This suggests the margins and demand are better with iPhones than iPads.

      One wonders if Apple could recover / salvage needed chips from iPhone 7 and later iPhones vs reselling a refurbished phone. But if the iPhone isn’t top notch refurbish level or truly broken, can there be any usable chips to recover? IMO, unlikely simply from a reliability standpoint and the labor needed to pull the chip, clean it upC test for as new functionality and considerations for reuse in a new product. Would that even be legal or would it be using a used chip so the entire product could not be considered new?

      0
      November 2, 2021
      • David Emery said:
        This makes me wonder what chips, exactly, they’re moving from iPad to iPhone production. A series or M series CPUs? Modems/WiFi? Something else?

        0
        November 2, 2021
        • Bart Yee said:
          @David The most specific comment Cook made regarding constrained chip supply were “legacy node” chips, those being on probably 12-14nm or older processes where chip fabs have fixed older legacy process lines which still crank out known older chips and these lines are not likely to be further invested in for capacity expansion, at least not without good future and visible demand. These chips have been variously described as power controllers, intercommunication chips, possibly display driver chips, and maybe the aforementioned camera module chips.

          By the time any expansion capital was invested, the demand / supply imbalances may have moderated and the supply could be in excess of demand, leaving the fab high and dry with costs.

          0
          November 2, 2021
  5. At Ma Bell we wiped customer Androids almost as the first support step. I reset 100s of HTC 4G Thunderbolts before the model was quietly recalled. No time to troubleshoot what some weird app or new Android build did to the phone. Reset attempt was required before shipping a like-new warranty replacement (used phone somebody returned). The only iPhones we reset were those customers tried to break into, back when certain phone geeks thought destroying a new iPhone was cool. Data backups were a customer choice & required a callback. Most needed the phone working immediately or a replacement shipped overnight. 90% of issues became apparent when we asked about phone condition. Moisture detection patches indicated water damage or screens were shattered. No warranty replacement for you!

    3
    November 2, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Explains why Apple relentlessly takes market share and iPhones retain resale value.

      Also explains why carriers give big incentives for upgraders.

      1
      November 2, 2021
  6. Daniel Epstein said:
    Just looking at Philip’s item
    “#3 Your hardware guys are releasing new machines too fast for the software teams to keep up.”
    And it reminds me of glass half full half empty dilemma. Actually I have come to the firm conclusion that the pace of operating system name and feature changes for the Mac should actually slow down. While most of the time the specifications of the older computers allows the use of the newer system for a long time I am more concerned about the length of time the system software is stable enough for me to test all the other different software I use on my computers. I like new software features and ideas but don’t like checking on software compatibility due to the system upgrade as much. 2 years sounds more reasonable at this point. As for new Hardware keep it coming as fast as you can when it is ready! If the software was not evolving so quickly they might be able to conform to it more easily. Topsy Turvy for some.

    5
    November 2, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      As long as new hardware came out annually, I’d be ok with software coming out every two years.

      But the competition would like that as well, so I say keep it coming…every year. There is absolutely nothing wrong with incremental. In fact incremental is probably best.

      2
      November 2, 2021
      • Tommo_UK said:
        Gregg, you nailed it. Update the hardware annually. Update the OS every two years with incremental improvements in the form of point updates throughout and give apple engineering and app developers time to catch up.

        0
        November 2, 2021
  7. Tommo_UK said:
    This it shouldn’t happen. Period. This is a widespread problem. I have encountered it. Twice. I am the “friend of the blog” mentioned I may as well confess.

    Guess what – my external backup drive didn’t work to restore from, and the separate time machine backup suffers from the same problems restoring backups of the process has embedded problems in the data volume snapshots it saves.

    • Your hardware guys are releasing new machines too fast for the software teams to keep up – PED suggests.

    My take is that marketing are pushing to release upgrades and shiny new hardware before software engineering have solved 2018’s problems let alone three OS updates since all of which are inheriting a cascade effect and being buried deeper and deeper in the file system and installer process with every release.

    NEVER let the sales and marketing guys dictate timetables to engineering and design. It ends up in tears and has ruined more than one fantastic company.

    Fwiw I have written to the executive team and investor relations about this, as well as engineering.

    4
    November 2, 2021
    • Daniel Epstein said:
      Always a complex problem when the back ups have problems. I try and have back ups for documents/data separate from System back ups so the System issues don’t prevent me from seeing the data if it comes to that. I have found few people who understand that is useful. I hope you have good luck in resolving the issue. While it shouldn’t happen it obviously has.

      0
      November 2, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      Suggest you find another (working) Mac and run Disk Utilities -> Repair on your Time Machine drive.

      For what it’s worth, I keep backups of important data using 2 different systems: TimeMachine on one machine, and a clone of the files on a second machine’s external RAID drive.

      0
      November 2, 2021
      • Roger Schutte said:
        Backups for my and my wife’s Macs: Time Machine to external SSDs AND a local NAS and Carbon Copy Cloner to a set of rotating onsite/offsite 4TB spinning hard drives. And my daughters use CCC to external usb drives. We all do local encrypted backups for our iPhones to our Macs.

        0
        November 2, 2021
  8. John Konopka said:
    Curious that this wasn’t caught with the public betas. Presumably tens of thousands of people downloaded the betas. Maybe the beta program self-selects for people who tend to have modern hardware?

    I use Backblaze for off-site backups and a time machine drive sitting next to my machine for local backups. Thankfully, haven’t had to test this in well over a decade.

    3
    November 2, 2021
  9. Alessandro Luethi said:
    In current times everybody is talking about “sustainability” – mainly with respect to the resources of our planet. Could it be that also a too frequent release of products, hard and soft, is not sustainable – to uphold good support but also with respect for the planet?

    1
    November 2, 2021

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