The Rise of Apple, The Decline of Quality

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by deanwaterman, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. deanwaterman macrumors regular

    Sep 30, 2005
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    I was reading a number of the posts recently that deal with quality issues. If you don't mind reading on, I would like to suggest a theory based on experience...

    I worked for Video Concepts and Circuit City for quite some time. I watched different manufacturers and their quality as they came through the store. The once brand that I saw a marked difference in while I was in the Audio/Video biz was Sony. I know that might sound strange, but yes indeed Sony.

    I saw the quality of Sony drop as the consumer demand for Sony products rose. People began to come in and ask for Sony products first, and then allow us (sometimes) to show them products from other companies who we believed had a better product at the time. We saw numerous quality issues with TV's, stereos and the likes. You could say we saw more issues because we sold more units, but I don't think that is the case.

    We looked inside a Sony reciever at one time and saw the heat dissapator had gone from an aluminum block to tin foil (exaggeration to get my point across). This saves them money. Not alot, but every short cut here and there saves money. When you are trying to raise your profit margin even by a percent or two, every penny saved is a penny to the bottom line.

    How does that pertain to our Apple products?

    As Apple has increased their recognition via the iPod, pro lines, and Macs, they have begun to come under increased pressure by shareholders and management itself to get more profits. When Apple was just selling computers and hacking away at 3% of the market, they HAD to make a quality product or risk ticking off the 3% of the people who bought their product. Yes, it may seem that Mac users are so die-hard that even they would drive a Yugo once-in-a-while, but in reality I don't think Apple wanted to take that chance.

    When the iPod came out, in what seems like a decade ago, Apple saw that they had a winner on their hands. Before long, you see iPod sales going through the roof, and increased talk about the "halo effect", which is an industry term for a product that helps sell other product lines within the company. People bought iPods, they saw the product was awesome, well-built, and most of all easy to use, and they began to look at other things that Apple made, primarily iBooks, Macs, and the Mac Mini. Apple not only makes money on the iPod, but they start to move product from their other lines as well. The effect of this is that BW and other mags have been quoted as saying that 1 million PC users have switched to Macs this year alone. That is great for Mac users all around, since we know Apple is not going anywhere in the near future.

    As the number of users grows, the number of units needed has grown also. To counter the need for more units, Apple has to make more to sell more, and beyond the need for more units, Apple needs to get them out as soon a possible, and they are willing, I believe, to risk quality issues to get them out. I think it goes along with the principle of easier to ask forgivness later than to get permission now. In other words, deal with the complaints as they come in, rather then heading them off now and risk delaying product shipments, and losing customers. The thought being that at least the customer spent money on the product, they are hooked, and you fix what you need to if it comes up.

    Another aspect to consider is that now that the shine is on Apple, investors are demanding more profits, Wall Street is saying that Apple is a great buy, and these things combined means that Apple has to shave a penny here and there to increase profit margins and satisfy their shareholders and Wall Street. Again, if the shaving of a penny here and there affects quality, sell the product and deal with the complaints after they come in.

    The new Nano and iPod are the perfect example of this thought process. I have had the 3rd, 4th and now 5th Generation iPod. To say that the 5th generation iPod has the same material make-up as the 4th generation is completely false. One has only to look at them to see that this is untrue. I had more scratches in 1 hour on my 5th gen iPod than I did in 1 month with the 4th and 3rd generation. Quality is down for sure.

    The Nano is also suffering in quality issues. Apple was finally forced to do something because so many people complained. But they already had the product in their hand, so Apple still wins.

    I see it going across the line to the computers as well. I have read numerous posts here and other sites about problems with the new Powerbooks and other products from Apple. Without a doubt the quality is down. It doesn't surprise me one bit. Apple isn't just for die-hard Mac users anymore. It is going mainstream. And with the mainstream comes the pressure of performance; to investors, shareholders and Wall Street. Who suffers as a result? You and I. The ones who have been here for the long haul.

    We have stuck by them for this long. Will we continue to stick by Apple and watch the quality go down?

    Only you and your wallet can decide that.
  2. calyxman macrumors 6502a


    Apr 17, 2005
    I see where you're coming from. All of that remains to be seen. I guess you can make an argument about hardware not being up to par. All I can say is, if that were to happen to the OS, i.e. OS X would become like another Windows with virus vulnerability, stability issues and security holes, kiss the Apple platform goodbye.

    Fortunately, I do believe Mr. Jobs is aware of the consequences of going down that path.
  3. Loge macrumors 68030


    Jun 24, 2004
    There may be something in what you say, but generally people have short memories and easily forget that there were plenty of issues with older products.
  4. mcarnes macrumors 68000


    Mar 14, 2004
    USA! USA!
    The quality issues are much hyped. Generally, people only post when they have problems, and that is all you see. The great majority of mac users get fine products.

  5. Xeem macrumors 6502a


    Feb 2, 2005
    Very true. I started regularly using computers in the Quadra era, and our Quadras worked great, but most beige Powermacs that I used at home or in my dad's advertising office had major stability issues. Don't even get me started on the two Performas my dad got for the family; they were truly a nightmare (both ended up completely dying within the return period).

    I think that the sheer volume of the iPods shipped will prevent Apple from ever getting a complete handle on their quality control, but there are far too many defective iPods being sold right now. My Mini needs to be returned I bought it in February and it has completely stopped working. I just read somewhere (maybe cnet?) that 7% of all iPods sold are defective in some way, and I believe it (in fact, I'd think the number was higher).
  6. deanwaterman thread starter macrumors regular

    Sep 30, 2005
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    I speak from experience, not from other people's complaints...
  7. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Considering Apple is dependent upon others to build their product, this will happen.

    If Apple was hammering these companies for drastic cost reductions (to compete with creative) we likely would have seen more quality issues.

    Something we see in automobiles, when Chysler demanded an across the board price cut of 30% in parts -- quality sucked worse than before and they required a powertrain warranty increase to calm nervous customers. Since the part suppliers can only automate so much and subcontract out so far, before they start substituting inferior quality raw materials into the products to cut costs.
  8. latergator116 macrumors 68000


    Sep 30, 2003
    Providence, RI
    I have to agree with you here. I haven't been using Apple products long enough to compare, but their quality today definately isn't the greatest.
  9. AlBDamned macrumors 68030


    Mar 14, 2005
    It’s a really difficult call to be honest. Given Apple’s massively improved consumer standing, mainly due to the iPod, is it a case of more percentage of products being defective or are we just seeing percentage defects relative to the amount of products the company is selling?

    From recent news, it could be a higher percentage of defective products. The Nano feels flimsy and had a big scratch problem, though it seems to have died down a little. The iPod [with] Video, also seems to be of the same “type” of polycarbonate as before, but maybe it isn’t quite as thick or layered as it was.

    But then again, going beyond recent models, we have the whole replacement battery lawsuit and common failure of 3G iPods. In our household we’ve had one die at exactly 18 months and a girl at work with a 3G has had the same thing. I know several people with faulty iPod minis (mainly silver ones strangely enough). But, two 4G 20GB colour iPods are approaching a year and are fine, though they don’t get used constantly like some do.

    So, for iPods, it seems problems have been consistent, through its mid-current life (not too sure about 1and 2Gs?). Good and bad.

    Mac[intosh] products? Well, my two favourite Macs of all time are 1. A Rev B 1.8DP G5 Power Mac and 2. A Rev A B&W G3.

    The G5 is/was the most beautiful, powerful, fast, reliable and awesome desktop I ever used. The G3 introduced me to Mac and helped me do my final publishing piece for college. I worked on it for 50 hours in three days and it never crashed once, Quark and Photoshop sucked me in and I’ve never looked back.

    Saying that, the Performa I was using before the upgrade to the G5 was a POS. It crashed, it couldn’t handle even small files, it corrupted fonts left right and centre. It’s network connection always timed out for no reason, it translated emails into martian. It was awful, though it never actually broke properly (unfortunately).

    So for Pro desktops, I’d have to say I think they’re even better than they were before.

    G4 Powerbooks and iBooks? Great machines. Truly beautiful the Alu-PBs are. Again, in my experience, my rev D 15” has had a new logic board, which blows completely. My mum’s 1GHZ Alu PB? No problems at all – even with both RAM slots in use ;).

    iBooks have obviously had logic board problems too. Not sure about their history though.

    I guess the long and short of it is, I think Apple’s build quality is a little down. 7% as quoted as defective products is very high. Too high for a volume producer in fact. I would say it’s definitely an increased percentage. However, I think they will get a handle on it – conspiracy theory for “that’ll make them buy a new iPod” aside – and I would also say I bet it’s not too far up on other companies. Look at Sony with PSP defects and even MS with the xbox 360.

    Electronic stuff these days isn’t all that reliable. Face it.
  10. leekohler macrumors G5


    Dec 22, 2004
    Chicago, Illinois
    Hmm...I've never had one problem with any of my Macs. They're awesome. That's why I buy them.
  11. portent macrumors 6502a

    Feb 17, 2004
    I think the decline of quality is not by any means limited to Apple's gear. The original poster mentioned A/V equipment, which I would agree with.

    Ten years ago, a "low end" new Mac cost $1500; a "high end" Power Mac 9500 was something like $5000 for a base model. Now it's $500 on the low end, $3500 on the high end. Often, the manufacturing processes required to build at a lower cost take a toll on quality in the long run.

    I do think that Apple's gear is as good, and often better than, most of the PC hardware out there. Especially the G5 towers: you can feel the heft if you lift one. (And aluminum is a light metal.)

    Part of that was the cobbled-together System 7.1.2/7.5.x/7.6 that Power Macs ran back then. Type 11 errors.

    The Performas certainly did suck, though.
  12. superbovine macrumors 68030


    Nov 7, 2003
    Well, if you think it sucks so much don't buy it. No one forces you to buy apple products. As for quality, you have a point mass production will yield mistakes. Part of the engineering and manufacturing process is to **** up. They know it will. Also, like a previous poster said apple sub contracts out their hardware. I don't think there is an apple factory anyway, just subcontractors that make apple products.

    In spite of the things you have observed, Apple still ranks well among personal computers repair rates. Also, please note that with a raise in demand you will see more repairs, which perhaps you have noticed. However, if the percentage remains the same Apple's engineering and manufacturing process has worked out.
  13. mcarnes macrumors 68000


    Mar 14, 2004
    USA! USA!
    Same here. I've had about 15 macs since 1984, and never had a problem with any of them. I've bought 5 within the last two years, mostly for a new medical office. They all work perfectly, with superior materials and workmanship you can feel.

    At least the "Apple will be bankrupt in 6 months" essays have died down.
  14. aquajet macrumors 68020

    Feb 12, 2005
    I'm not convinced that quality has gone down. Surely it seem like we hear more things about "this powerbook has lines on the screen" or "that ipod has scratches" or "this ibook has worn keys". It seems to me that this would be expected considering that Apple has gotten more press than it ever has. Even message boards such as this one, not available just a few years ago, can present a skewed reality. If one reads a message thread with 20 users complaining about lines on their powerbook, well then gosh, Apple's got a serious problem on their hands. Or do they? Twenty users might sound overwhelming to read about, but quite frankly, 20 users on an internet message board isn't worth much.

    But even if there was a significant reduction in the quality of Apple products, I wouldn't really be surprised. This is the story of consumer goods over the past several decades. Take for example my 1970's vintage Pioneer stereo setup sitting next to me. The receiver is about twice as big and thrice has heavy as anything today, and is constructed of real wood veneer and big metal knobs and switches and a giant analog tuner dial with pretty lights. The speakers are massive things, with furniture-grade walnut cabinets and beautiful lattice grills made with real wood. Sometimes I think about replacing it all with something "modern", but quite frankly when I look at the garbage offered at consumer retail outlets today, I just can't can't bring myself to do it. I'd have to spend many thousands of dollars at a boutique audio outlet to get the same quality of yesteryear's mid- to high-end consumer-grade equipment.
  15. velocityg4 macrumors 601


    Dec 19, 2004
    This is all very true. One must expect quality to drop as prices drop along the equipment range. If you go to when the IIfx was king it ran a $10,000 price tag. Now the top of the line is no where near that. 5 years ago you would have bought a horrible printer if you spent less than $300 now people baulk at spending more than $100.

    So indeed quality has dropped and as consumers expect lower prices. The manufacturores, including Apple, will make lower quality products. Just look at my Digital Audio G4, I spent $3000 dollars on it nearly five years ago. After working flawlessly all that time I dropped a glass of water on it and it died:D .
  16. ATD macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2005

    Well, yes and no. I'm not surprised to hear that there has been a quality drop in Sony's products. However linking high demand to a quality drop is a bit off base. Unlike Apple, Sony is not on solid financial ground these days and it has been like that for a while. It's stock has been sliding for 4 years now and it is not the profit center you might think it is. For example in 2002 Sony had the #1 movie of the year (Spiderman), had the #1 studio gross of the year (over 1 billion) and had made the most profitable Television Syndication deal in Television history (Seinfeld). Yet, at the tail end of that (late 2002) there were massive budget cuts in every single division of the company. In-spite of these great successes this is a sign of a company that is in trouble. The only electronic Sony product that has been in high demand in the last 5 years has been the Playstation, and that is getting more and more competition from the XBox these days. Sony has a whole line of computers that has gone nowhere. The days of the Walkman are over. While Sony has had a good rep for quality for many years it is doing what any company that is facing financial trouble, cutting corners. My guess as to why Sony is not doing well is that it overextended itself into way too many businesses, for all it's great successes it's had even more failures.

    How do I know all this? I worked there for 6 years (Art Director for Sony Television aka Columbia TriStar).

    Apple on the other hand is on very solid financial ground these days. It's biggest problem has been rushing products to market too fast in response to a very high demand. A demand that Sony wishes they had. While this has created some problems, I think they are short term. As long as Apple does not lose sight of what kind of company it is, it will continue to create quality products. No matter how big it gets.

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