As Apple Computer’s annual gathering of loyal fans at Macworld approaches, a growing number of users of one of the company’s most popular products, the iBook notebook computer, are threatening protests and mulling class-action lawsuits.
These vocal Apple critics say the company has not done enough to address, or even acknowledge, serious flaws in the iBook that have caused some devices to fail after just a few weeks.
At the same time, users of the iPod portable digital music player, which currently costs US$299 in its base configuration, are grumbling about published reports that suggest Apple will debut a lower-cost version of that device.
Apple could not be reached immediately for comment. The company’s Macworld Conference & Expo is set to open in San Francisco, California, on January 5th.
The iBook problems appear to center on the logic board, which can fail and render the machine unusable. As of Thursday night, some 845 people had signed a petition at BlackCider.com that may form the basis of a class-action lawsuit against Apple. A second virtual petition, maintained at Onlinepetition.com, had collected more than 1,400 signatures as of Friday morning.
The complaints are being filed mainly by users of iBooks with dual USB ports, with many users saying their machines began to fail shortly after the standard factory warranty expired.
While the unhappy iBook users likely represent just a tiny fraction of Apple’s customer base, the potential for public protests still poses a public relations hurdle for the company. Apple has long banked on a small but fervent group of users who not only become repeat customers, but also evangelize the advantages of its products to PC users.
For example, Apple’s successes with the iPod and iTunes Music Store have quickly propelled it to an early lead in the legitimate music download market.
“Apple’s strong suit has always been usability — friendliness toward the user,” IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian told the E-Commerce Times. “That’s been their brand image from the very beginning.”
Now, as Apple branches out into broader terrority with a Windows version of iTunes, the company’s ability to lure more customers by offering easy-to-use and effective devices is critical, Kevorkian added. “To its fans, Apple has always been the company that designed its products for regular people,” she said.
In recent months, iBook sales have benefited from a trend among consumers and businesses toward buying higher-performance notebook computers.
Notebook sales, in fact, have helped drive PC sales growth at a strong clip in recent quarters, and have boosted the overall value of Apple’s approximately 2 percent share of the personal computing market.