Danish consumer agency finds design flaw in Apple iBook

The Danish Consumer Complaints Board has published evidence of a manufacturing defect resulting in power failures in some of Apple Inc.’s iBook G4 notebook computers. The board has already ordered the company to refund one Danish customer, and expects its findings to influence cases elsewhere, a spokesman said on Friday.

After receiving ten complaints from iBook owners that their machines would no longer start up, the board commissioned a detailed study of four complaints received between April and November 2006, including a microscopic examination of the faulty machines’ motherboards.

The study found solder joints around a voltage regulator were flawed in such a way as to deteriorate each time the computers were turned on or off, until they would no longer start up. However, using a clamp to apply pressure to the computers’ casing, next to the trackpad, closed up the broken joints and allowed the computer to start — a clear sign of an original design flaw, the study concluded.

In the light of the technical report on the examination of the iBooks, published Monday, the board ordered Apple to refund one customer’s money, with interest, said the board’s legal adviser, Frederik Boesgaard Navne.

The board, part of Denmark’s government-funded National Consumer Agency, had already received ten complaints about the computers, but since publishing the report at the start of the week has already received five more. “That’s a lot, for us,” Navne said.

He said that Apple has not challenged the contents of the study, and the company’s Danish resellers have even settled a number of other consumers’ complaints since receiving the study. Apple declined to comment when contacted for this story.

The faulty iBooks were among the first G4 models Apple produced, and had an opaque white casing like their G3 predecessors. The machines examined, the 800MHz Model 9164LL/A and the 1GHz Model 9426LL/A, were introduced in April 2004 and discontinued in October of that year. The board received the complaints between April and November 2006.

Reports of faulty G4 iBooks have surfaced in other countries, and the board has supplied a copy of its findings to lawyers for one owner in the U.S., Navne said.

Apple has no obligation to comply with the board’s order to refund the customer’s money, but “If they don’t accept our ruling, we will help the customer sue Apple,” Navne said.

Apple would be well-advised to settle out of court because “We have something like a 100 percent success rate in our court cases,” he warned.

Although Apple has so far refused to acknowledge this defect in the iBook G4s, it has owned up to manufacturing problems in the past. In 2006 it recalled faulty notebook batteries manufactured by Sony Corp. between 2003 and 2006, and recalled some early MacBook models when users discovered that the cases quickly became discolored.

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