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IT nightmares: What Apple Did When My Macbook Caught Fire

Ed Zitron, @edzitron

In 2007, I was about to graduate college. I was sitting with my darling Macbook Pro. It was one of the first intel models. It had survived most of a year's exchange education at Penn State, the trip back and the trip to Aberystwyth, Wales. It was a behemoth machine that I did everything on. It also used the wonderful first-generation MagSafe connector. If you don't know what that is, it's the magnetic power connector for portable macs that if you happen to trip over it'll unhook safely without using your computer like some sort of weird Pee-Wee's Playhouse trap.

The problem with the first generation was that they had a critical design flaw. In the natural life of a laptop you tend to move your cable around - and usually when it's plugged in, especially on your lap, it'll move around a little from the pressure of you typing. The issue with the original MagSafe was that it was a tiny little magnetic connector that was relatively heavy compared to the teeny-tiny little wire that came from it. Over the years, I hadn't seen it, but the waggling of the cable in my bag had somehow caused the wires to fray. I had noticed it had lost some of the soft coating around the wires that I could now see, but it was working fine.

One day, I was walking out to get something from the shops, and plugged in my laptop to charge it.

I did so, turned to put my shoes on and saw a tiny little trail of smoke rising from my laptop's plug. This fast became a much larger, more scary plume with real fire and I immediately unplugged the cable from the wall and the laptop and for some reason threw it across the room onto the couch. I then realised the couch might get burned, ran over, and threw it onto the carpet. Once I realised that too may get burned, ignoring the fact that it was now not actually combusting, I put it in the fridge.

I called Apple and spoke to someone. They asked for my address. They seemed quite disinterested in how distressed I was, and I asked why. I don't remember them actually answering, simply saying they'd get me a box, to send the burning one to them and then send me a new cable. "If you want we can take the laptop too." I declined.

In furious, angry, British rage, I did what any normal person would do and slammed out an 8 paragraph email to, saying how big an Apple fan was, recounting the experience I had had over the phone, suggesting the MagSafe needed review and that I was fairly upset with how I had been treated, but truthfully I'd remain a customer as the MacBook Pro was actually lovely, the PowerBook I'd had was great, the iPods I'd had were great and really, I loved Apple stuff.

I did that and waited for my box to get to me.

Around an hour later, I received an email from a man I will call Mike. He was someone quite high up in customer care, in Cupertino. It was around 12PM GMT - so that's 5am in Cupertino. This man was very, very insistent we jump on the phone, in the nicest way possible, as my laptop had nearly set on fire. He called me and immediately apologised. "Did Steve read my email?" "Someone read your email." "Who?" "I did." "Do you get Steve Jobs' emails?" "I can't say who read your email, but I have also read your email." Realising I was being a huge dick, I apologised.

"No, it's good to get a laugh out of a guy in your situation. What happened." I, slightly emotionally, as I was a bit overdramatically scared over my apartment setting on fire, recounted the story. He apologised endlessly. "That's horrible. I also need that laptop. I need it here, in Cupertino, as soon as possible. I'm going to get you a new laptop too and a FireWire cable so you can transfer it over. Do you know how to do that? Is the old laptop still powered enough to transfer your stuff over?"

"Uh...yeah." "Great, what's your address?" I provided it. "Cool. Okay. I'm ordering you a new laptop now. Just gonna hit all the highest options and give you a new AppleCare. Should be with you tomorrow. Also, a guy will arrive to help transfer your data and seal the laptop and charger away to take it to me."

Now it's important at this point to pause and give some Geographical education. Aberystwyth, Wales is a town 236 miles from London (by Google Maps' estimate, nearly 5 hours away thanks to a lot of hills.) The closest airport is around 3 hours away in Birmingham. It is NOT a pleasant drive. It was now, after much discussion, 1PM GMT.

"Sure, mate," I said, in my head thinking "I'll see this in a week." Royal Mail and the various delivery services are as reliable as giving a dog your mail and saying "go get it boy! Go to the nice man!"

Sometime the next morning, the door rings.

A man walks in, casual yet well-dressed, with two boxes.

"Hello Ed, I'm <name>, here's your new Macbook Pro." He hands it over. "I've got a cable here." He walks me through the full transfer between devices, using the old power adapter ("that's a good sign - the machine still works and isn't overheating anything") to keep it alive. It finishes. He places the old one in a foam-lined box, perfectly cut for the machine, along with one for the charger. He takes out a huge seal and slams it onto the connectors of the box as it's closed.

"I'll be on my way. Thanks again and have a lovely day."

"Cup of tea?"

"No, I've quite the drive ahead."

I decided not to ask any further questions.

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