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Marc's Notes: Comments, Ramblings, Rants & Tips

Faulty iBook G4 keyboards?

Update: Bad News on Sept 30, 2005 – See below...

Tammy owns a really cool 12" iBook G4. You know the "snow" model that replaced the "ice" g3 version. Unfortunately, for her, snow is softer than ice.

This is especially true when it comes to the silly letters that exist on the keyboard.

Her iBook is a little over a year and a half old, and equally unfortunately, we didn't purchase Apple Care. Why not? Simply stated, I've had a lot of experience with Apple hardware over the past 20 odd years, and some models excluded, Apple does hardware right. Solid, sublime, and almost indestructible.

So what's up with the white iBook keyboard?

It seems that Apple decided that whatever magic they've used over the years to apply the legends to the keycaps was overkill. Over the years, I have NEVER had any characters vanish from the tops of the keys I've used billions, nay zillions of times. Not to say some of them shouldn't have come off as I've done some extreme inadvertent tests... like soaking entire QWERTY's in hot black coffee, or worse, the random killer acidic can of Coke®! These experiences, coupled with the frenzied rush to the sink to douse the victimized keyboard in fresh and copious amounts of tap water*, have demonstrated that Apple hardware is the mountain all manufacturers should aspire to climb.

* NOTE: this applies to desktop keyboards only; allow several days for the keyboard to dry before plugging it in; and for god's sake, do not do this while the keyboard is attached to any other computer or device.

Keyboard #1

Ok, so back to the iBook. About 6 months into Tammy's life with her 'book, a few of the letters started wearing off the keyboard. Popular ones, like the low point Scrabble™ letters, S, E, & I. They were now becoming the ZERO point Scrabble™ "blank" tile. Fortunately, they didn't move, and she could still locate them from memory... QWE... UIO... ASDF.

As time went on the A disappeared, and the N. What the heck was she doing? Time, by the way, for us to pass the one year warranty period.

One day, in a free moment, I wandered over to the Apple web site and poked around the iBook area, only to discover that her experience wasn't unique to her, or her typing skills. Here's a link to the discussion titled "Letters on keyboard wearing off" which as of August 22, had 48 posts. This is also at least the second thread on the subject – the first having been shut down by Apple after it reached critical mass.

Keyboard #2

After seeing that this just might be a quality control problem on Infinite Loop, I spent the requisite amount of time on hold and spoke to a warm body at Apple. No worries. Yes, they had a little problem, but the keyboard is a "user replaceable" item and they'd send one right out, no charge, keep the old one as a souvenir. Two days later DHL delivered, and 10 minutes later her iBook was whole again.

Keyboard #3

It took all of four months for the second keyboard to loose its popular vowels and consonants. Another call to Apple yielded a firmer response. The keyboard was past the 90 day period, so I had to pony up $60US for a replacement. I did. DHL came back, and the Tammy was happy again.

My confession

Before the third keyboard had a chance to perform its magic keycap trick, Tammy somehow managed to toast the machine. random hangs and freezes. I went through the usual steps, but when it wouldn't stay up long enough for even a fresh install of Panther from CD, I knew it was in trouble. Time for OUT OF WARRANTY SERVICE (oh no!) and off to the Apple Store and a half hour at the Genius Bar.

Since the keyboard was still OK for the most part, I took Keyboard #1 (or was it #2) and put it in the iBook before visiting Dr. Genius. It turned out to be a smart move. The iBook was indeed faulty and off it went to the "Repair Depot" to be cured. A $280US "flat rate" was assessed and promises of a reunion in two days was assured.

Then a funny thing happened... it came back NO CHARGE. The service detail had a mysterious note about "reconfiguring the operating system" but they put in no parts. So the bill was canceled. What was stranger still was that the keyboard WAS replaced, as were a couple of missing feet.

Who's mistake?

I no sooner got the iBook home and started moving Tammy's mail back on from my Pismo, than the first freeze occurred again. Then it wouldn't reboot. Damn and double damn! I called the Apple Store right away and was back with my new found Genius Bar Buddy and hour later. Well, yes, it's bad. but they should have fixed it, and since it was freshly returned from the "Repair Depot" it was UNDER WARRANTY as a repeat service... never mind that I wasn't charged for the FIRST trip in. Thank you Apply, the thousands of dollars spent and internal good will I've had for you forever has finally been rewarded!

Keyboard's #4 & #5

By now the keyboard thing is being viewed as a chronic disease... like asthma, emphysema, or arthritis. Every trip to the "Repair Depot" since appears to yield a 90 stay of execution on the warranty. We got the iBook from its most recent return to the shop on July 1, and so as I type this on September 19, the clock is almost out on the last warranty extension. Also running out are the legends on Keyboard #5, so this week I will be returning to the Apple Store with Tammy's iBook for Keyboard #6.

Apple deny's there's a problem

On September 30th I revisited my Genius Bar Buddy with the iBook — the same tech that I dealt with on Keyboard #4 and #5.

It was a wasted trip. He said that the problem is that oil on your fingers is what causes the letters to wear off, and that you have to make sure your hands are clean before typing. Really now! That sort of rules out lounging with your iBook while eating a bag or chips, doesn't it. The Real World™ doesn't necessarily comply with this sort of "clean room" excuse for what is clearly a manufacturing problem.

No amount of rational discussion on this with the Genius Bar Buddy affected the party line on this, although no other Apple in the history of the company has had a "wash hands before using" policy on keyboard care.

I declined his offer to order a replacement for a mere $85US, and in a somewhat foul mood, left the Mayfair Apple Store with the afflicted iBook.

Tammy still remembers where the W, E, U, I, O, S, D, C and N keys are located, and has decided to let Keyboard #3 sit, clean and unscathed, in my office while she continues to wear more letters off Keyboard #5. We're betting M will be the next to vanish.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a two pronged approach to a solution:

  1. I will be escalating this with Apple, just to see how high I can go.
  2. I'm working with a friend to see what we can do to make high quality, permanent legends in one of the earlier keyboards, #2, I think, floating around here. And no, taking a Sharpie Ultra-Fine marker to the blank keys does NOT fall even remotely into this plan.

I'll be posting a link to this page on the Apple Discussion Board tonight and will keep this page updated on both of my efforts.

The real question remains the same as always, when will Apple fix this problem? Of course, that can't happen until Apple starts admitting there is a problem!

(1) The opinions expressed in Marc's Notes: Comments, Ramblings, Rants & Tips are exclusively those of Marc Wolfgram.
(2) Only one Macintosh™ computer was permanently harmed - link. (3) Any references to real people may be intentional.
(4) Don't try certain things while driving or at home without proper adult supervision. (5) Microsoft Windows—Just say NO!

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