Gagging On Replacements (9/29/00)

We figure that the last thing Apple needs while its stock price is dropping 50% overnight-- partially due to slow sales of the G4 Cube-- is for this issue about Cube cracks to continue dragging on. Unfortunately, no matter how badly Apple wants the subject closed, it refuses to go away. The deal, for those of you who are just getting up to speed, is that several people are reporting cracks in the clear shells of their Cubes. Now, according to Apple, these are just "mold lines" that are normal, unavoidable realities of the injection molding process, and don't represent any structural weakness in the polycarbonate.

Most of the people complaining to Apple about cracks in their Cubes are probably just seeing these normal mold lines and mistaking them for actual damage. (Given that customers are paying a premium for style and appearance, though, even that would seem to be a valid complaint.) Some people, however, say that their mold lines have indeed turned into real, honest-to-goodness cracks-- ones that they've actually seen grow larger over time. It's kind of tough for anyone to persuade people that mold lines can get bigger and that it's all just a perfectly normal phenomenon of the manufacturing process, Reality Distortion Field notwithstanding. And now that CNET has picked up the story, this is just more bad news breaking free of the insular confines of the Mac community and escaping into the general tech media at large.

In fact, the noise surrounding the issue of Cube cracks has gotten loud enough that mini-Steve Phil Schiller has seen fit to comment publicly on the controversy. He basically reiterates Apple's official statement-- that mold line are normal, unavoidable, and (above all) not cracks: "Is there a systemic issue that causes anything other than mold lines? Not that we know of." Perhaps that's why the company has reportedly been dissuading posts to its online technical support forum regarding the issue-- Apple's just sick of people going on and on about what it claims is a non-issue.

Or is there something more interesting going on? Apparently those customers who seek to post questions about alleged cracks in their Cubes are being directed away from technical support and towards "customer relations." We all know that Steve Jobs himself called one unhappy Cube customer and offered to replace his cracked unit; is the mass funnelling of frustrated Cube-heads to the customer relations department evidence of some mass damage control scheme? Think Secret, who first broke the story about Cube mold lines coming apart at the seams, now reports that customers who are offered a replacement Cube from Apple are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement stating that they "could not discuss the issue with others or report it to any news source." Hmmm... if that's true, we think it might be a little late to be trying to keep things quiet via a gag order. Still, we're always game for a cover-up; it does wonders for the ratings.

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The above scene was taken from the 9/29/00 episode:

September 29, 2000: Bam! And then it was mucilage. Apple's stock sheds half its value overnight following a nasty earnings warning. Meanwhile, Apple still denies any knowledge of a systemic "cracked Cube" problem, but some reports hint that the company is quietly replacing affected units provided the customer agrees to keep mum. And rumors of Apple opening its own retail stores reaches a new level of believability...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 2580: So Much For That Growth (9/29/00)   Wuh-oh, sounds like the party might be over... but the drama is just beginning! Remember a few years ago, when you couldn't spit out the window without hitting three journalists calling Apple "beleaguered" and at least one calling it "doomed"?...

  • 2582: Just Another Step Closer (9/29/00)   You know how we've all been hearing for years that Apple is working on an end-run strategy to bypass its retail woes? The tale of Apple retail stores is vying for the "Longest-Lived Unfruitful Rumor" crown, alongside the Disney buyout and the Apple handheld...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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