Responsibility in Computing

by Scott Lindemann April 15th, 2013 | Computing, Featured
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phoneLast week, news broke about Apple reportedly being ready to pay out $53 million in a settlement involving a certain iPhone warranty class-action lawsuit that alleged Apple violated consumer trust by not honoring the iPhone warranty after liquid contact indicators (LCIs) on the devices were triggered. The suit, which was filed in a San Francisco court, argued that Apple was unwilling to repair or replace an iPhone whose LCIs had been triggered, regardless of the stated issue with the device.

For those not in the know, the liquid contact indicators in question are a white color and turn either pink or red when exposed to moisture. On the original iPhone, they’re found in the headphone jack. On the iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4 and 4S, they’re found in not only the headphone jack and dock connector, but also on the inside of the device as well. The same can be said for the iPhone 5. The purpose of these liquid indicators, as you might imagine, is to show evidence of damage to the product when no signs of damage might be present otherwise.

Apple’s 1 year limited warranties cover product for manufacturing defects, but not damage. In the past few years, Apple began offering AppleCare+, which is a $99 service contract that covers two instances of damage for $49+tax each for a period of up to 2 years. Within those 2 years, any repair or replacement due to manufacturing defects is covered at no charge to the customer. Without AppleCare+ or any sort of coverage, the cost of replacing an iPhone 4 is $149+tax, an iPhone 4S is $199+tax, and an iPhone 5 is $229+tax. Bear in mind that these are heavily discounted from the full price of the product and do not affect a customer’s account standing with regards to their qualifications for an upgrade through their carrier.

Some people, however, don’t seem to get that.

Might the liquid indicators be an unfair indication at times? Perhaps. However, such instances in my experience with such devices have been few and far between. As a technologist and a computer enthusiast, I’ve been exposed to nearly every circumstance you can imagine when it comes to computers, laptops, and handheld devices. I’ve seen the kind of stress people put on these things, and it’s not always the product that fails. Often times it’s the owner that fails the product.

One of the arguments in the case against Apple was that the maker of the LCIs, 3M, said “humidity, and not water contact, could have caused the color to at least turn pink.” My question here is this: In what world of reason would a person take a delicate piece of electronics into a humid environment and expect it to continue to function normally? I thought we all learned when we were in elementary school that liquid and electronics do not mix. I thought this was common knowledge. Apparently, I thought wrong.

Observe what occurs when one drops a live hair dryer into a bathtub. See the sparks? Hear the sizzle? That’s the sound of an unfortunate incident, but it’s not Conair’s fault that their hair dryer isn’t waterproof. And hey, maybe your problem with the hair dryer was that it had brittle plastic that chipped away and looked unsightly. Should the fact that bathwater got into your fancy dryer stop you from getting a new one because you aren’t happy with the way it looks anymore?

Maybe it’s just cellular customers in general. Maybe we’ve all become spoiled brats about our electronics, because I’m not pinning this just on Apple customers — this problem runs the gamut of Android, PC, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft…you name it. Somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to accept responsibility for breaking our things. Additionally, somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to calmly and effectively reason when we felt that there was an error.

I’ve been there in the store, listening to some associate who was polite as pie getting reamed by a customer because of damage. I’d imagine that if the customer were able to calmly articulate their concerns that management would have no problem cutting them a bit of slack. It’s when a customer gets entitled and belligerent that the feces really hits the fan.

The proposed $53 million settlement is, in my opinion, a demonstration of how we as a population have taken the incredible advances in computing we’ve been blessed with for granted. The next time you look down at your iPhone or your Android and say “this phone sucks!” I want you to remember what your phone was like in 2006.

Get the picture?

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