Breaking Good

If it ain’t broke, break it, then sell it, then fix it, then sell it again.

There are endless phrases that one could attribute to expensive solutions looking for problems.  But when a company wilfully creates a problem to promote a solution that is not selling as well as anticipated and moreover, employs it to discredit a previous solution to a virtually identical problem, the customer is cast into the dubious realm of coordinated obsolescence.

That three year old Astro-Bubble B500 Plus dish washer of yours might well have dealt admirably with the aftermath of 156 Sunday roasts.  However, does it have active micro burst distribution, designed to intelligently apply deep and light cleaning to specific items within the same cycle, thereby optimising energy efficiency at zero cost to that squeaky, sparkling finish?  It doesn’t? Well, why not take a long, close look at those champagne glasses.  Notice the foggy residue?  How about that odd groove of grime around the rim?  Excuse me?  Oh yes, I know they weren’t there before.  They mysteriously appeared after a certified Astro-Bubble engineer chose to replace your entire filtration assembly in addition to one broken detergent dispenser flap.

Since that particular model was discontinued over six months ago, there’s now no official means of determining if these new symptoms are a result of poor workmanship or an endemic issue with the component in question since spares/replacements are no longer available from Astro-Bubble’s authorised suppliers and will cost a freelance electrician three times more to source.  Moreover, should you pursue this solution and it fails to resolve matters, both your warranty and Astro-Bubble premium care plan will be voided, forcing you to swallow prohibitive parts and labour charges and be lumbered with a  machine that takes the sheen off your chardonnay.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but who’s to suggest this entire saga wasn’t a premeditated effort by Astro-Bubble to coerce you into resolving matters by simply acquiring a brand new B600 Plus at a special 20% discount, available exclusively to premium care plan customers.  This scenario, whilst fictional, is based on more true events than 1000 found-footage horror flicks and grimly illustrates the retail industry’s unconditional focus/fixation of profit.   Because for many businesses, to tell their shareholders that they’ve built something which might work beyond the date of their next major product launch, equates to commercial suicide

Factual examples of this deceitful practice are if anything, even more blatant.  Take for instance Apple’s notorious Butterfly Keyboard,  introduced in April 2015 as a key feature of the MacBook.  On the surface, this radical innovation appeared to coincide with the company’s perpetual and progressive pledge to homogenise form and function.


The new design permitted a thinner, lighter chassis, whilst purportedly preserving the pleasantly responsive action provided by its preceding scissor-switch mechanism.  However, positive intentions yield negative consequences all too often, and within weeks of devoted Appolytes receiving their factory fresh purchases, a somewhat sticky situation began to develop.

First, there were those who didn’t care for the reduced range of motion, complaining that their “typing experience” felt more akin to that provided by an iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard.  Others happily adapted, while some even criticised their treacherous colleagues for resisting what they judged to be a practical modification.  But mere months later, the situation worsened, with a steady influx of users reporting sluggish, stuck or entirely non-function keys.  At this stage, Apple had little option but to honour their 12 month guarantee, though they were mindful not to officially acknowledge the presence of an endemic shortcoming, or even entertain the slightest notion that one might have existed.  In 2016, a radically remoulded Mac Book Pro materialised, sporting a touch bar in place of function keys – much to the dismay of traditionalists – alongside the same low-profile Chiclets, but with subtly raised edges to improve tactility .

Complaints continued to accumulate as another year drifted by, with a handful customers asserting that they had been charged extortionate fees to have first generation units repaired since their warranties had now expired and still, mounting discontent did not trigger the disclosure of any inherent issue, nor did it prevent prevent Apple from rehashing the design for three separate Macbooks, released in 2017.  By the following year, the volume of documented incidents verged on what many considered to be epidemic and vociferous freelance technicians were beginning to unearth fundamental flaws within the design.

Affected users were advised by Apple to meticulously sanitise their keyboards since its narrower crevices were prone to trap dust, grit, grime as well as crumbs from variety of popular cakes including Carrot, Lemon Drizzle, Orange Polenta and worst of all, Victoria sponge.


Such debris would frequently wedge itself between the Chiclets and the edges of their surrounding cut-outs, causing specific keys to sporadically jam upwards or downwards.  Universally indispensable characters such as R and E, as well as the space-bar, appeared exceptionally prone to failure.

Moreover, if any of these foreign substances managed to burrow underneath the keykap, they’d become lodged between its underside and the “dome” switch located beneath it, causing excessive wear to the delicate “spring” based mechanism and potentially disabling the applicable key altogether.  Worse yet, most individual keys could not be removed and cleaned without causing permanent physical damage, and since the keyboard in its entirety was secured to the battery, track-pad and speakers, these too would need to be swapped out in the event of a full replacement.

Only by May 2018, following class action lawsuit and a petition signed by more than 20 thousand disgruntled customers, were Apple forced to initiate an official remedy to this persistent and pervasive problem.  Though Apple were at pains to declare that only a “small percentage” of MacBooks were exhibiting the anomalies in question and most crucially, that not even this legal capitulation equated to an admission of any underlying fault.  Regardless, the “Keyboard service program” provided all those with afflicted Machines dating back to 2015 the opportunity to solicit a full and free repair through either local retail stores or authorised Apple service centres.


Two months later yet another MacBook pro emerged with a conspicuous plastic membrane placed below the Chiclets and above their respective switch mechanisms with central cut-outs to accommodate each button, thereby retaining unobstructed contact between these two components.  Speculation soon became rife that Apple were attempting to silently redress a vital weakness within its original design.  Thus, their public explanation that this stealthy modification was incorporated to ensure “quieter operation”, was rather ironic and moreover, contradicted the relevant patent filing, .

May 2019 witnessed Apple usher in the fifth generation of Macbooks to feature its Butterfuly keyboard, and one which fostered a fourth design tweak, supposedly consisting of “new materials” which further lessened the chances of malfunction.  According to a basic scientific analysis, the membrane separating the switches from the keycaps was now evidently clear nylon instead of a more complex and partially opaque compound,  whilst the switch itself also displayed structural discrepancies compared to its predecessor, suggesting an alternative heat treatment technique or a different metal, possibly to improve durability.

With Apple providing negligible information regarding this latest spate of subtle revisions, customers and critics rightly fretted over whether they would constitute a definitive fix.   If Apple’s policies served to indicate its confidence, the signs were dubious, for not only did they extended their repair service to account for these brand new units, but also stated that any faulty models from the previous year would likely be retro-fitted with this latest incarnation of the keyboard.

Let us reflect for a moment on just how it long it took for Apple to shoulder the cost of its blunder and moreover, ponder what might have happened had a contingent of forsaken consumers not been quite so tenacious.  Perhaps we should reconsider Apple’s core incentives.  Was the Butterfly keyboard merely a blemished masterpiece derived from its creator’s penchant to favour the pretty over the practical?  If so, why remain silent until threatened with aggressive litigation and why charge buyers upto $500 to fix defects that clearly rendered the product unfit for purpose and thus, should have been willingly rectified outside of a conventional warranty.  Could it have been that Apple’s initial ambitions harboured a healthy purpose, but subsequently evolved into an extortionate damage limitation scheme which recruited unwitting customers to trial hastily conceived rehashes of an inherently flawed design?

There are some who insist that within the realm of quixotic technology, solutions depend on buyers collectively publicising their grievances until manufacturers are compelled to take remedial action/admit that a problem warrants special attention.  I prefer, perhaps naively, to believe that  even the world’s most affluent businesses retain some pride in divulging and attending to destructive oversights in a timely fashion, or at the very least, before lawyers begin lining their pockets.  Were this indeed the case, accusatory cries of “choreographed obsolescence” might well be as distant as the crack of a judge’s gavel.