Apple Spent $10K Trying to Fix a MacBook Pro, Only to Discover the Screen Was Off

Macbook Pro Intel Touch Bar Credit: Business Insider
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A seemingly perfect storm of hardware and software problems resulted in a rather amusing story where Apple Genius staff members went to great lengths to fix a seemingly dead MacBook Pro, only to discover that the problem was much simpler than they originally thought.

As told by Business Insider, professional photographer Greg Benz began having strange issues with his $7,000 high-end MacBook Pro where the screen wasn’t coming on, so he did what anybody would have done — he brought it in to Apple for repairs. No matter what he did, the screen remained dark and wouldn’t come on, and it seems that it had Apple technicians scratching their heads as well.

At a loss for more direct solutions, Apple replaced the MacBook Pro’s logic board and swapped out some cables. But this didn’t fix the problem, so Apple replaced the logic board a second time. When Benz came back, still experiencing the problem, Apple decided to just replace the whole MacBook Pro with an entirely new unit. Fortunately, this all happened while the computer was under warranty, so it didn’t cost Benz anything, but probably cost Apple around $10,000 — two logic board replacements plus the whole new $7,000 MacBook Pro.

When Benz was still experiencing the problem on the entirely new MacBook Pro, the next Apple Genius, thinking outside of the box, shone a flashlight on the dark screen of the laptop, and discovered that he could actually see the login screen — the only problem turned out to be that the display brightness was in fact set all the way down.

How It Happened

The problem occurred because Benz normally connects his MacBook Pro to external monitors, and sets his brightness to its lowest setting. Since the new MacBook Pros have their brightness controls on the Touch Bar, and this wasn’t coming online until after he logged in, there was no way to manually adjust the brightness controls. However, once he knew the login screen was there, typing in his password “blind” logged him in, activating the Touch Bar and allowing him to turn his brightness back up.

This is arguably a case where the Touch Bar is a disadvantage, as physical brightness controls found on older MacBooks would likely have worked in this case to solve the problem. However, as Benz explains on his blog, where he also adds that he didn’t expect his story to get so much attention, the problem was specific to his machine and occurred only because of some third-party software that he had installed.

The installation of third-party software made it impossible for Apple Geniuses and tech support to diagnose the problem. When the issue could not be diagnosed, Apple made good faith efforts to repair my computer by replacing hardware at their expense under warranty. These repairs were now clearly not necessary.  Apple does not support third party software and cannot be expected to have been able to identify this issue.  I cannot overstate how impressed I’ve been with every Apple Genius with whom I’ve interacted, and so it’s important to me to stress that this issue was no fault of anyone at Apple but, rather, of my own.

Greg Benz, Professional Photographer and MacBook Pro User

Benz doesn’t specifically mention what third-party app caused the problem, but he takes full responsibility for its cause, suggesting that it was software that had “deep interactions with the control of the screen” and that he didn’t think to let Apple know that he had installed this software, which is something that he says most users wouldn’t have done.

Benz also specifically notes that the issue is not reproducible on other computers (which we can also confirm), so it’s not something most users are going to run into. However, it’s a good reminder for both end users and Apple Geniuses to check their assumptions when troubleshooting problems, and highlights the sorts of issues that can occur with software-based controls like the Touch Bar. Whether this is a “design flaw” is a much more complicated debate, since it’s the result of third-party software and it’s likely something Apple didn’t anticipate in its design of the MacBook Pro or macOS. Ultimately, however, Benz certainly doesn’t blame Apple in any way, and adds that he stands by his recommendation of the 2018 MacBook Pro to other photographers, stating that it “is an excellent computer” and a “critical tool in [his] photography business.”

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