Apple Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Shattered M1 MacBook Displays

Last year, news broke of an unusual change to Apple’s support documentation. On July 2, 2020, the company warned users about closing the laptop with anything at all between the screen and the glass. According to Apple, anything with a height larger than 0.1mm, or approximately the thickness of a single sheet of paper, could shatter the screen. An ordinary strip of masking tape, which some people had used to cover the webcam, is 0.15mm — 50 percent thicker than Apple’s maximum tolerance.

Today, lawyers from Bursor and Fisher announced they had sued Apple in a class-action lawsuit over how reportedly easy it is to shatter an M1’s display. “The M1 MacBook is defective, as the screens are extraordinarily fragile, cracking, blacking out, or showing magenta, purple and blue lines and squares, or otherwise ceasing to function altogether,” the lawsuit states. End users with broken screens are reportedly being charged $600 to $850 to repair them, even though the M1 is under warranty, as Apple claims the problem is “user error.”

The law firm is arguing that a second notification Apple published on August 27, 2021 warning end users against closing their laptops with a camera cover, palm rest, or keyboard cover in place was Apple’s way of acknowledging the problem without taking responsibility for it.

Apple Has Lost Its Credibility on Repair Claims

There was a time when Apple’s credibility and reputation for high-quality products was ironclad, but this hasn’t been the case for years. The company’s repeated failure to resolve problems with its butterfly keyboard eventually forced it to return to a modified version of the previous design — but not before customers were treated to three separate iterations of flawed hardware, with keys that could jam on a single grain of sand, requiring replacement of a $600 module.

Apple never acknowledged “Flexgate,” but it quietly redesigned the MacBook to use longer cables after end users’ displays started failing. It shipped early Core i9 systems with a broken BIOS, causing the machines to throttle sharply. Its T2 processor is known to cause problems with USB audio devices. Charging some of its laptops on the “wrong” side is known to lower their overall performance.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro runs beautifully until you hook up an external monitor, at which point the GPU cranks into overdrive and turns the machine into a jet turbine. The solution is to exploit what appears to be a software bug in macOS’s display settings. We’ve seen Apple deliberately remove parts from iPhones and then lie to the public about how reliable they would be. It’s been caught reducing performance in devices to hide the fact that it shipped defective batteries.

Nearly every company has shipped a lemon product at one point or another, but few have behaved as arrogantly. For years, an urban myth floated around claiming that Apple deliberately made iPhones slower when new OS versions came out, as a way to push customers to buy a new phone. The truth was more prosaic.

At the time, Apple made relatively little effort to test its new OS versions on older devices, and the poor performance reflected this. The company eventually stepped up its testing efforts and the experience of using a new Apple iOS version on an older device improved significantly. So what did Apple do when it had a batch of batteries inadvertently exposed to air, reducing their overall longevity? It instituted a hidden program of slowing user devices without notifying said users or offering them the option to turn it off. There are urban myths about a lot of companies, but not many take deliberate action to validate what had previously been unfounded allegations.

And after years of watching these things happen, it’s hard to argue that Apple deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this kind of thing.

Meet the CrackBook Pro

What ties the iPhone 4, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s butterfly keyboard fiasco, flexgate, and this (admittedly still theoretical) screen shattering problem together? They all represent instances when Apple either failed to anticipate how its products would be used or simply didn’t care one way or the other.

The iPhone 6 Plus could bend when you did if it was in your pocket. The butterfly keyboard practically needed to be kept in cleanroom conditions and it was designed to be unserviceable when it broke. Flexgate problems occurred when people opened their displays wider than Apple evidently thought they should open. In every single one of these cases, Apple either ignored the problem or blamed humans for it until it was demonstrated that no, it was actually Apple’s fault.

Just because a lawsuit gets filed doesn’t mean a company actually has a problem; a lot of class-action lawsuits get filed around issues that never rise to the point of becoming genuine issues. Most of Apple’s products — the vast majority of Apple’s products, in absolute terms — are high-quality designs. The problem, especially in the Mac family, is that a lot more systems seem to be falling through the cracks than used to be considered acceptable. Fragile laptops that require expensive repairs are starting to look like an Apple brand strategy.

I don’t know yet if Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro has a screen-shattering problem. What I do know is that Apple previously warned on this issue, it published very tight tolerances for what thickness of material could fit between the laptop and lid, and it has a history of covering up its own problems when it ships what I would argue is effectively defective merchandise. It remains to be seen whether this particular issue will turn out to be a hardware defect, but there’s one thing we can count on: If it does, we’re unlikely to hear about it from Apple first. Not, at least, unless it can blame somebody else.

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