Apple's 5 worst hardware flaws - and how to fix them

Apple's 5 worst hardware flaws - and how to fix them

Summary: Apple is often lauded for its design chops. And Apple's post-modern industrial design is lyrical next to Dell's neo-Soviet brutalism.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
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Apple is often lauded for its design chops. And Apple's post-modern industrial design is lyrical next to Dell's neo-Soviet brutalism. But Apple makes some really stupid choices. Here are the top 5 - and the best workarounds.

In reverse order:

5) Keyboards Considered as sculpture Apple's newest wireless keyboards are stunning. But from the perspective of a writer and touch typist they offer nothing a $5 keyboard doesn't.

Apple should put it's design and marketing moxie to work on an ergonomic keyboard. Design a great keyboard and then - and this is important - tell people how it helps them be more productive with less stress.

In the meantime I use Microsoft Natural keyboards. They're ugly and not as ergonomic as they could be - how about a return to the backward tilt of the early ones? - but the action is good and older models are available online cheap.

One problem: the Windows and Apple keys - the command keys - are reversed.

The workaround is simple. Go to System Prefs -> Keyboard & Mouse. Click on the Modifier Keys button and change the Option key to Command and the Command key to Option in the drop down menus. Click OK and your Microsoft keyboard will now operate like a Mac keyboard.

4) Not enough USB ports Steve Jobs hates USB. Why else the paucity of USB on Macs? My $2500 Mac Pro comes with a grand total of 5 USB ports - less than most $600 Windows towers.

Wireless keyboards and mice have never worked for me. My wired keyboard, mouse, Contour Shuttle Pro, headphones, iPhone, BBU, card reader, USB Time Machine backup disk, Corsair 16 GB thumb drive, USB speakerphone and flaky IRISCard mini scanner means I am forever plugging and unplugging USB cables.

The workaround? On a Mac Pro there are 2: PCI-e USB expansion card; or USB hubs.

The Sonnet Allegro USB PCI-e card I added has been a bust. At various times I've had to unplug every USB device on it to get the Mac Pro to boot. Don't know whose fault it is and don't really care - I no longer use it.

That leaves USB hubs. Cheap no-name hubs often hang the Pro on boot. I now use brand name hubs that cost more but work reliably. I plug all the low power USB gadgets - keyboards, mice, card reader, Shuttle Pro, thumb drive - into an unpowered hub and the rest into the Mac's remaining USB ports.

Given the MacBook Air's minimalist I/O, I don't expect Apple to suddenly get generous on USB. But it sure would be nice if they did!

And hey! What about that custom iPhone/iPod Touch headphone connector? Would it have been so hard to make headphone port a little larger so standard plugs would fit? My iPhone is beautiful - but the headphone adapter looks awful!

3) Replaceable notebook drives Easily replaceable notebook drives are common on Windows - but not on Macs. Given the rate at which drive capacity increases and price decreases, that is an expensive shame.

The easiest way to add extra life to a notebook is to add memory and disk. Adding memory is easy on Mac notebooks - but disk replacement can mean dozens of screws and many delicate warranty-voiding operations.

The one exception: the current MacBook (see my One Minute Macbook Drive Replacement video for details). But with the MacBook design due for replacement I think that Apple will go back to the bad old days.

Apple prefers to spend money on CPUs and displays rather than memory and disk, so easy drive upgrades are more important. There's no real workaround. You just have to pay Apple's high prices for a larger drive at purchase or factor in the cost of a disk upgrade every couple of years for your MacBook Pro.

2) Synchronization OK, so this isn't hardware. Oops, sosumi. With mobile device leadership and a large share of the high-end notebook market, one would expect that Apple would have synchronization well in hand. Not even close.

Through .mac you can synchronize non-essentials like Safari bookmarks between 2 Macs. But for file synchronization - so a file you work create on the road shows up auto-magically on your desktop - Apple has no answer. And .mac costs $100 a year.

The workaround isn't quite here yet, but there are several web-based synchronization services, like SugarSync coming to market. I'll probably buy one of those.

And the #1, all-time, biggest Mac design fiasco: the Mouse! Ever since Steve decided the original Mac would feature a 1-button mouse, Apple has stubbornly stuck to crippled mice. It is the weirdest thing they do.

Not to worry, you can plug in any mouse or trackball and it will just work. Right and left buttons, scroll wheels, whatever.

I got a Mighty Mouse - Apple's reluctant concession to popular demand - with my Mac Pro. Tried it for a few days. Dumped it in favor of a Logitech Track Man Wheel.

Between the pea-sized scroll ball - a good idea, except it is too small and thumbs are stronger - the invisible, no-tactile-feedback buttons and the unorthodox pinch motion to activate whatever, the Mighty Mouse is a creative solution to problems no one has.

25 years ago people may have been momentarily confused by 3 button mice. Today everyone uses them. In this case Apple needs to do things Better, not just Different.

The Storage Bits take Apple does so many things well that its failings are more obvious. But if the company really believes in the value of great design, they need to do what all designers must: submerge their ego for the sake of the client.

Humility doesn't come easily to Steve Jobs or his company. But the we-know-better-than-you attitudes behind these design failures is self-defeating and off-putting.

Show your customers some love, Apple. They lay out the money. The least you can do is your very best, each and every time. You have the talent and the money. Please find the will.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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204 comments
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  • Worse

    You can't replace the hard drive on the
    new imacs without going through a ridiculous dance involving removing the
    screen. The old ones allowed you to
    undo a few screws in the bottom and
    lift off the back. It's real bad when you
    cannot replace the drive in Apple's
    biggest selling desktop.

    Mice - always been bad. I have no idea
    why Apple can't include a simple 2
    button scroll mouse. Everybody's used
    to them. Apple could also allow faster
    mouse tracking. We use 13 dollar
    Kensington mice, with their far more
    versatile driver, on all our machines.

    While we do not have any of the new
    chicklet style stand alone keyboards,
    our users have really liked that style
    keyboard on their Macbooks - REALLY
    liked it.

    By the way, the hard drives on our
    Macbooks, purchased last summer, are
    quite easy to replace. They pull out
    from just next to the RAM slots.
    j.m.galvin
    • The mouse question is easy

      [i]Mice - always been bad. I have no idea
      why Apple can't include a simple 2
      button scroll mouse[/i]

      Doing so would be the equivalent of admitting that "We made a mistake".

      Hard drives I would guess is not that big an issue on a desktop as it would be on a laptop, which tends to take much more abuse.
      GuidingLight
      • The Mighty Mouse is a three button mouse with scroll ball...

        The Mighty Mouse is a three button mouse with scroll ball. I
        don't think he touched on the desktop HDDs because Apple's
        desktop machines are really nice when it comes to that.
        Three aluminum hotswap bays.
        olePigeon
        • On the desktop HDs

          [i]You can't replace the hard drive on the
          new imacs without going through a ridiculous dance involving removing the screen[/i]

          I was just pointing out it is probally not going to be that large an issue as HDs in the desktops will probally outlast those in the laptops, which are not all that hard to replace from what I understand.
          GuidingLight
          • Problem with iMacs

            iMacs are not desktops, they are monitors with pc's built into them (It's x86 now people, they're just a priopritary brand of PC).

            iMacs are, and never have been, upgradable. They'll most likly have So-dimm memory moduals in them to save space, also they only have one harddrive in there at all. While it is a standard desktop harddrive the issue is NOT when will the harddriv die, the question is when will you run out of space.

            Considering that most Macs are used for multimedia I'm surprised they ony have one harddrive or make it difficult for the user to repl- HA! Sorry, couldn't finish off that last one without bursting into laugher.

            The thing with apple is this: The less the user can modify the machine, the more money they make later.

            Could I go and upgrade an iMac's CPU? no - but it'll show up in the next VERSION of iMac, meaning you need to buy an whole new system, just for the faster CPU you could have put in YOURSELF in a PC. (granted sometimes there's compatibility issues or the like but intel hasn't released any new style CPU board that didn't have at least the next CPU upgrade in store - see the intel core 2 quad's.)

            another reason why I'd rather build my own mac than buy a mac directly.
            zithero@...
          • They expect you to get a firewire or USB external drive.

            Or buy the Apple branded thingy; Time Capsule is it? All of which costs much more than replacing the internal drive, but avoids them having to worry about it.
            ajole
          • iMacs are not desktops

            iMacs are not desktops, they are monitors with pc's built into them (It's x86 now people, they're just a priopritary brand of PC).

            iMacs are, and never have been, upgradable. They'll most likly have So-dimm memory moduals in them to save space, also they only have one harddrive in there at all. While it is a standard desktop harddrive the issue is NOT when will the harddrive die, the question is when will you run out of space.

            Considering that most Macs are used for multimedia I'm surprised they ony have one harddrive or make it difficult for the user to repl- HA! Sorry, couldn't finish off that last one without bursting into laugher.

            The thing with apple is this: The less the user can modify the machine, the more money they make later.

            Could I go and upgrade an iMac's CPU? no - but it'll show up in the next VERSION of iMac, meaning you need to buy an whole new system, just for the faster CPU you could have put in YOURSELF in a PC. (granted sometimes there's compatibility issues or the like but intel hasn't released any new style CPU board that didn't have at least the next CPU upgrade in store - see the intel core 2 quad's.)

            This is compounded by the fact that Apple does not offer the fastest CPU's right away, they wait - for the price to come down? - no mainly for intel to get the next line up of CPU's ready so that they can then continue to offer slower CPU's. I guess the message is supposed to be "Look what the macs can do with less CPU" but the bigger question is "Why aren't you using the latest cpu's when they come out like most everyone else is?"

            you'd think it's bad business but Steve Jobs could probably go to the bathroom, and come out with an amazing new product everyone would shell $299 for - "iCrap" lets not be confused here people, this is Steve Jobs crap - guranteed, and with a COA attached stating the time, date, and location Steve took his magical crap. Cause we all know that Steve's iCrap is better than Bill Gate's crap... I mean, that's just Crap.
            zithero@...
          • Oh man... Too funny..

            [b]you'd think it's bad business but Steve Jobs could probably go to the bathroom, and come out with an amazing new product everyone would shell $299 for - "iCrap" lets not be confused here people, this is Steve Jobs crap - guranteed, and with a COA attached stating the time, date, and location Steve took his magical crap. Cause we all know that Steve's iCrap is better than Bill Gate's crap... I mean, that's just Crap. [/b]

            Oh...! The possibilities...! That one had me ROFL. Thanks... I needed that.

            I could run with the theme, but somehow I doubt it would fit in with the ZDNet value set and it would have been deleted as being WAY too offensive. Just consider that they probably wouldn't settle on one SKU - consider the Mac Pro, Mac Mini, iPod Touch, Classic, etc...

            I'm also sure it would sell, sick as that sounds.
            Wolfie2K3
          • wrong

            actually, you can upgrade the processors in intel imac and
            mac mini's. I upgraded my mini core solo to a core 2 duo,
            no problem. In fact you will find that way more macs get
            processor upgrades over their life spans than do PC's. How
            many options do you have when upgrading a 400Mhz PII
            system? If you have an 8 year old G4 powermac, again no
            problem. Plop in your Dual 2Ghz G4 processor and away
            you go.

            Of course the vast majority of consumers never upgrade
            there processor, video, hard drive or optical drive in their
            computers. Most Consumers ditch their old computers for
            newer cheaper ones.

            "This is compounded by the fact that Apple does not offer
            the fastest CPU's right away,"

            on crack? Apple was first with the fastest core duo's and
            core2 duo's, in both their desktops and laptops. They also
            consistently have the fastest Xeons, while everyone else
            sometimes don't even offer them.

            Another MS apologizing PC geek, who figures that since
            he upgrades his PC every 2 weeks, to get 2 more FPS,
            everyone else should too.
            macadoodle
          • You're saying the 8 year old Powermacs can handle a new Core2Duo 2ghz?

            If you have an 8 year old G4 powermac, again no
            problem. Plop in your Dual 2Ghz G4 processor and away
            you go.



            I'd love to see that!!! If it's true, I'll try plugging my 5000+ X2 into my old slot 1 motherboard. Show me how the processor fits into the board, then show me how the BIOS handles it, or SHUT UP. That was just a ridiculously stupid post.
            MTPCbldr
        • Desktops

          why would you want to mess around inside a laptop changing HDD'S no one has one longer than five minutes and then they realise a desktop is better in all department other than portability. Mighty mouse is just better than most mice but not as good as a trackball. Apple's hi end prices are never worth the money when the same thing is available from ebay 2/3rds of the price
          hoppity
        • My idea of a nightmare rather than mighty

          ????
          labarker
      • There's no mistake

        I'd send back a two or three button mouse if Apple made
        one. I always hit the wrong button on these things.
        labarker
      • The mighty mouse is actually

        a four-button mouse. This is how that works. The top of the mouse is touch sensitive so if if senses your index finger is pressing down on the left side, it acts as a left-click. If it senses your middle finger pressing down on the right side, it acts as a right-click. That's two buttons. The 360 degree scroll ball is also clickable. That makes the third button. Finally if you squeeze the mouse on the places on the side, that acts as the fourth button.
        dchagwood
    • It's all about ergonomics

      Do an experiment.

      Take a one button mouse. Click it.

      Take a two button mouse. Click it.

      Feel the strain in your tendons.

      You will find that the one button mouse causes less strain
      because the first three fingers move together. In a two
      button mouse, the index finger moves independently.

      This puts more strain on the tendons of the wrist.

      In addition, little children (6 and under) generally do not
      have the small motor skills or cognitive ability to handle a
      two-button mouse without difficulty.

      The mighty mouse is actually a good compromise in this
      area. You get the low-stress one-button behavior for the
      majority of clicks, but can press on one side of the mouse
      for alternate click functionality. It's an elegant solution.

      The real dirty little secret here is that two-button mice
      aren't necessarily inherently superior, it's just that poor
      interface design has conditioned you to needing one.
      frgough
      • i really admire you for your own body knowledge

        i also wonder if you are such a kind of person who builds bamboo tripods for cable from the amplifier until the speakers...
        benitodarder
      • Ergonomicallimagically

        Thanks for pointing that out. I've had mild problems with RSI in the past, and lately it's not been a problem for me anymore.
        Before my current job i was working solely on MSFT PC's. Since i started my new job i've had no problems yet, and actually accredited this to the new iMac's keyboard (which I love). Seems i might owe the MM some credit too.
        theoxygenthief
        • Apple cured my cancer

          Is it a coincidence that every time I use a PC, I get cancer and every time I use a Mac, it goes into remission? :)
          NonZealot
          • no!

            in fact, i had been programming your systems to do the opposite.. hmm..
            lostarchitect
          • which proves once again.

            Apple programmers suk.
            xuniL_z