Comment: When’s someone going to notice that Apple’s taking the proverbial?

“There’s something in the Air,” read the banner splashed across Apple’s website ahead of the launch of the deliciously slim new MacBook.

There certainly was – it was the same whiff of suspicion that precedes every Steve Jobs’ keynote; the feeling that, once again, Apple was going to announce something special, but that, once again, there’s bound to be a catch.

And so it came: the world’s thinnest laptop, slim enough to slip into an envelope, slim enough to hog the headlines, but apparently so slim that Apple couldn’t work out a way to make the battery removable.

Yes, despite convincing Intel to shave 60% off the package size of its Core 2 processor and working out a way to borrow an optical drive from another PC on the network, Apple’s team of highly skilled engineers couldn’t design a simple catch to let you swap out the battery.

Sorry about that. But never mind, Apple “will repair [note the word ‘repair’: it’s your fault, you see] your MacBook Air for a fee,” according to its support site. That’ll be £99 please. Oh, and it’ll take five working days.

That’s right – a job that normally takes about five seconds will now take an entire working week. Apple may eventually offer a same-day replacement at its stores, but that’s little consolation if you live in Cornwall and your nearest branch is hundreds of miles away.

And so, with barely a word of protest, Apple introduced the world to disposable computing. Laptops that are easier – but sadly a damned sight more expensive – to replace than keep running with a simple battery upgrade. It even got a pat on the back from Greenpeace for making the thing so recyclable!

Getting away with it

But then we shouldn’t be surprised: this is the company that introduced the ludicrously expensive iPhone with the irreplaceable battery only a year ago and it got away with that, too.

it_photo_13414In fact, Apple’s been getting away with it for quite some time now: locking the iPhone to a single network on hiked-up, 18-month contracts; crippling the handsets of those who have the temerity to try and dodge Apple’s contract handcuffs; tying its iPods to iTunes, with its digital downloads that inexplicably cost more here in Britain than they do in the US.

If this were any other company, there’d be about a dozen Facebook protest groups by now, instead of the faintly sickening “iWish Apple Made Everything” and its 2,000+ members. If this were Microsoft, there’d be people marching on Redmond with pitchforks and burning torches. But somehow Apple gets away with some of the most breathtaking liberties I’ve seen in ten years of working in this industry.

How do Jobs and co do it? By stamping down on dissenters, for one. Apple gossip site,, found itself on the thick end of a lawsuit after it revealed details of the Mac Mini ahead of its 2005 launch. Apple settled the case late last year, after ThinkSecret’s authors agreed to close the well-informed site without having to disclose its sources. Apple effectively bought ThinkSecret’s silence.

Fortunately for Apple, it doesn’t usually have to open the chequebook to neuter the critics, because it has its own pack of sycophantic “journalists” eating out of the palm of its hand. Apple press events are like no other: every time Jobs makes an announcement, there’s a regular flock of writers whooping and applauding like love-sick teenagers at a Take That concert.

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