Consumer Reports: Apple still tops in reliability

Consumer Reports: Apple still tops in reliability

Summary: In its recently-released holiday buying issue, Consumer Reports says that iMac and MacBook lines still reign over PC competitors. But a close reading of the results show a mixed result for Cupertino.


The Consumer Reports cover story looked at best brands in electronics. The reliability section was based on Consumer Reports' annual Product Reliability Survey, and reported on computers from Acer, Apple, Dell, eMachines, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba.

In the ranking of consumer satisfaction, Apple gets a reader score of 78 percent. Dell and Lenovo tied at 59 percent, with Acer, Asus, eMachines, HP, Gateway, and Toshiba grouped together between 56 to 54 percent. That's a significant difference in customer perception.

The reasons still appear to bewilder PC makers. These vendors have spent years driving to the bottom of a commodity market, where brands vie almost totally on cost. However, over the past five or so years, customers have increasingly accepted Apple's value proposition: higher-quality machines with leading industrial design, a tightly-integrated operating system, and the introduction of new technologies that come with higher price tags. Apple sold over 4.9 million Macs last quarter and 80 percent of them were MacBooks.

And then there are the provision of tech support and its costs.

Tech support in general is among the lowest-rated services in all of the surveys conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But that doesn't apply to Apple, which beat all the makers of Windows-based PCs covered in our most recent survey.

CR said that Apple solved three-quarters of user problems compared with Dell's 61 percent, its nearest competitor. So, the others must have scored worse.

In the reliability ratings for desktop computers, Apple's iMac repair rate (7 percent) scored significantly better than HP (10), Dell (11) and Gateway (13).

This score can't be a surprise to anyone. If you spend years removing cost — read quality — out of any system, here desktop systems, there will come a point where all the little things add up to a big whole, which, in this case, stinks.

Meanwhile, Apple has made its iMac all-in-one desktop the focus of its performance computing strategy. Apple's "traditional" desktop computer, the Mac Pro, is missing in action right now, way overdue for a refresh.

There's no way of knowing if these quality reports are just about hardware failures or are also software related. Is it related to the crapware that comes with PCs in an attempt to eke out a bit more margin in a commodity product? Hard to tell.

Here's an interesting piece about iMac from Apple CEO Tim Cook during the Oct. 25 Apple Q4 earnings call with analysts:

In terms of general shortages, the iMac will be constrained for the full quarter in a significant way. Part of that is that we're beginning shipping the 21.5-inch iMac in November and the 27-inch in December So, there will be a short amount of time during the quarter to manufacturer and ramp those and I expect the demand to be robust. So, we will have a significant shortage there.

However, in CR's laptop computer ratings, Apple only edged out the many PC competitors by a couple of percentage points. The worst was Dell with a 12 percent rating compared to Apple's 8 percent.

So, I see these figures in two ways: Firstly, that PC makers have put more effort into their laptops and they've done a good job getting closer to Apple in quality. On the other hand, we could say that all laptop makers, Apple included, may be having some QA issues with their recent mobile computers. This might have something to do to the increasingly thinner and smaller enclosures that make laptops difficult to assemble as well as to repair.

Anecdotal observation: I recently spoke to several Mac buyers who are on a replacement machine. They bought a new MacBook and problems started happening. They took the laptop into get it repaired and were given another machine. That's good customer service (see above) but not so good on the repair reliability front.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Refurbs

    "They took the laptop into get it repaired and were given another machine. That's good customer service (see above) but not so good on the repair reliability front."

    Apple has realised to keep the customer happy, it is better just to give a new machine a person (saves time and angst) and then refurb the old machine and resell it. Makes sense to me, especially since I typed this on a 6yo refurb MBP (got it $500 cheaper than if it was new).
    A Grain of Salt
  • This story misses the point - the issue isn't QA, it's basic philosophy

    Still owning a Lenovo laptop with an extended onsite service warranty expiring tomorrow. and a MacBook Pro, and having formerly owned several Dell systems, I have experience with all service. The objective of the Lenovo (IBM) and Dell service agents you call have one primary objective: Prove your problem is not hardware, and that you added some software that didn't come with your computer - and thus, they can hang up on you and tell you to call Microsoft.

    In short, the objectives of Windows hardware companies is to avoid servicing you. IBM/Lenovo is great, if you have extended warranty - but they will run you through exhaustive tests to prove the hardware isn't at fault. Those tests can consume an hour or more.

    By comparison, you call Apple and they have one objective: At the end of the process, you will have a functioning computer, and you wll be happy. They don't care if the problem is hardware or software, they approach the problem as an unhappy customer.

    My girlfriend's daughter has a 3 year old MacBook Pro. Last weekend, she told me she had problems sending and receiving emails with attachments. Since she had a gmail account, as did I, I loaded Safari and logged onto my account - and confirmed it wasn't just in her Mail program, it was some software issue. I discovered also that she had 9 automatic updates pending that could not be manually installed.

    We made an appointment online at the local Apple store, came in - and the "Genius" there quickly diagnosed a corrupted OS. His recommendation: "Go have dinner, come back in an hour or so, and by then, a replacement OS will be on your system." We came back, the computer worked perfectly, he had installed all the OS updates in addition to the app updates.

    That on a 3 year old out of warranty laptop. Free.

    She was delighted. She bought an iPad 4 and an iPhone 5 before we left the store. They ported all her data and contacts onto the new phone while we waited.

    And all this while the store was ABSOLUTELY MOBBED with people buying new gear:

    That's the secret to Apple's success. Why would you want to own a laptop or tablet where the seller's sole objective when it fails is to avoid making it work again?

    I have NO problem with Apple swapping out a product rather than servicing it. In the end, the consumer leaves happy.
  • Hardly any difference then

    Whether its Dell, HP, Apple or Lenovo they're made from the same parts, by the same people using the same processes in the same factories. Apples 1 in 14 failure rate isn't good enough when the competition is half the price and managed 1 in 10. Apples business model is to sell simplified & overpriced (yet ordinary) products dressed up as something special to gullible people.
    • You have conned yourself..

      ...into thinking the OS is free or has no value and can only be judged from an average PC users perspective.
      Do yourself a favour, get a Mac. OSX is not like Windows. How else can you explain that year after year, Macs come out on top in reliability and satisfaction.
      • It's the engineering

        @johnafish Just like any structure or device, if you assemble identical parts poorly, you can end up with an inferior final product. Between custom motherboards with higher levels of quality control and extremely accurate part tolerances, Apple hardware is simply having fewer issues. In other words, the numbers don't lie. Your bias is irrelevant.

        @frogspaw Regarding OS X, my own experience doesn't agree with your opinion. I have had more trouble with OS X than I ever had with most versions of Windows, including Vista. It definitely can't come close to the reliability I've had with Windows 7. I get spinning beach balls of doom for extended periods of time daily (occasionally the cursor never returns.) I've even had a few kernel panics (the Mac version of the blue screen of death, which RDF zealots never mention.) Do yourself a favor. Run Windows 7. Learn how a modern UI is supposed to work. :P
  • Apple Still Has High Expected Repair Costs

    The Apple gear may fail less often, but when it does fail, it is very expensive to repair, because of deliberately stupid design decisions like glued-in batteries, nonstandard screws and the like.

    A more realistic measure than frequency of failures would be the average (expected) repair cost per year. On that score, I don't think Apple would score so well.
    • Where is your proof?

      You may think repairing Apple computers costs more than repairing non-Apple computers, but where is your proof?

      Just because Apple computers are sold at higher price, that makes them more expensive to repair?

      In most industries, the higher-priced equipment is more suitable for cheap repairs, where cheap equipment usually costs more to repair. Just saying...

      Then, that numbers of Apple "repairs" is higher than the reality. The reason is very simple: Where Apple has Apple Stores and does not rely on "partners" for repairs, they would simply exchange the device (see examples above) -- just to make the customer happy. The product by itself might not even require repair!
      • Re: Where is your proof?

        As someone once said to me, "go read the Internet". A good place to start is Ifixit, which does teardowns of hardware to see how easy it is to replace parts.

        I thought everybody knew about this. Seems like there are still a lot of ignorant noddies around, demanding others do their homework for them.
        • Re: Where is your proof?

          "A more realistic measure than frequency of failures would be the average (expected) repair cost per year. On that score, I don't think Apple would score so well."

          If you're referring to the very latest generation of Retina MacBook Pros and iMacs, then yes, they're basically fused/glued blocks. Otherwise, Apple repairs are just as simple as PC repairs. In addition, Apple machines seem more reliable to me (a statement of personal opinion which has as much weight as yours; I use Apple & PC, btw), so I do not the repair cost per year is higher.

          "Go read the internet" is not proof.