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Apple's Two Bits

The makers of the most expensive and advanced laptops in the world are being sued for fudging performance and statistics, for deceiving their consumer base, and for redacting and removing reports of the issues.


The Superior Court of the State of California County of San Diego received on 3 May 2007 a formal class action complaint against Apple for deceptive advertising, unfair competition, violation of CLRA, misrepresentation, and declaratory judgement. A jury trial has been demanded.

The complaint has been filed by the law office of Peter Polischuk and by the Dreher Law Firm on behalf of Fred Greaves, Dave Gately, and all others 'similarly situated'.

NATURE OF ACTION

'In approximately January to early February of 2006, Apple unveiled its new line of notebook computers consisting of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. The MacBook was released in early May 2006. Apple marketed the MacBook as having display capabilities far superior to that of other portable computers.'

'According to Apple, a MacBook and a MacBook Pro can make 'your ideas more enlightening, with a sharp high resolution screen' allowing the viewer to 'see blacker blacks, whiter whites, and many more colours in between on a brilliant 15.4 inch 1440x900 pixel or 17 inch 1680x1050 pixel digital display' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables'.'

The complaint goes on to cite technical specification for the laptops which most users are familiar with. Particular accent is put on the repeated use of the phrase 'millions of colours'.

It also goes on to cite references at the Apple website to the Aperture software application and how it will work wonders on an Apple laptop, calling it the 'ultimate photographer's workstation' and reiterating its applicable use on Apple's line of laptops.

OS X, touted by Apple as 'state of the art', sports a System Preferences applet that allows users to configure their screens for 256 colours, 'thousands', and 'millions' of colours.

But this isn't possible with Apple laptops as they don't support 8-bit colour resolution - they're lacking two bits.

'GRAINY'? 'SPARKLY'? TOO PICKY

'Within weeks of when Apple first began to sell MacBooks, purchasers started complaining that the display was substandard. Many purchasers observed that the display was 'grainy'. Others complained that the display was 'sparkly'. Some purchasers observed distracting lines at different points on the display screen. Some purchasers noted that in certain programs capable of displaying colour spectra banding appears in the display of the gradients.'

Contacted Apple to No Avail

'A large number of such purchasers contacted Apple for relief but to no avail.'

'Many such dissatisfied purchasers were chastised by Apple agents and employees for being too picky about their assessments of the quality of the display. Other dissatisfied purchasers were told that they were imagining the complained about defects.'

'Dissatisfied purchasers have posted their complaints on a discussion forum hosted by Apple though it appears Apple have engaged in substantial editing of the posts on the discussion forum. In fact, the editing by Apple has resulted in the actual purgation of critical posts, which has occurred on numerous occasions.'

'Since then customer complaints about the display issues have begun to appear in large numbers on various other websites.'

'MacBook and MacBook Pro users who rely on the accuracy of displays for various graphic uses such as photography find that the colour displays on those computers even at the highest resolutions are unreliable for editing purposes.'

Dithering

'The reality is that notwithstanding Apple's misrepresentations and suggestions that its MacBook and MacBook Pro display 'millions of colours' the displays are only capable of displaying the illusion of millions of colours through the user of a software technique referred to as 'dithering' which causes nearby pixels on the display to use slightly varying shades or colours that trick the human eye into perceiving the desired colour even though it is not truly that colour. The extent to which a particular make of computer is capable of 'dithering' is a function of the sophistication of the programming of the software.'

Windows Looks Better!

'For example in the case of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro because of the uniqueness of these computers to be able to run both Apple's OS operating system and the PC's Microsoft Windows operating system, it is possible to compare the quality of the display between the two operating systems.'

'In the case of the display that the MacBook and the MacBook Pro produces using the Microsoft Windows operating system at all resolution levels is superior to the display that those same computers display using Apple's OS operating system.'

GENERAL ALLEGATIONS

Apple's Advertising

According to Apple, a MacBook Pro can make 'your ideas more enlightening with a sharp high resolution screen...' and a nuanced view 'simply unavailable on other portables'. The display is also described as 'positively brilliant', providing a 'perfect combination of pixels and portability' with photos that 'feel crisper'.

Technical Specifications

Apple technical specifications for both portables state unequivocally the displays support 'millions of colours'.

COMPLAINTS

'Examples of complaints about the quality of the MacBook and MacBook Pro display abound on Apple's own website, although posters have also complained that Apple have taken it upon themselves to edit many of the posts and even to the lengths of 'taking down' entire threads devoted to the subject.'

'Some of the examples are produced below.'

it is not only the color banding and gradient stuff. Hook up a ACD and you will see that the color is W off if i edit a pict in aperture on my mbp17 and then preview it on my 23acd i vomit! This is NO PRO computer!

It looks like the mega post was rubbed out... Thanks Apple... now I have to start a new one to update posters involved in the old one... I figured it would go after the latest posts got a bit fiery... Disappointment is too nice a word...

As posted in the previous thread that has been deleted, after returning my 15" MBP C2D #3 due to my displeasure with the display and overall dissatisfaction with how my local Apple store handled the whole situation, I purchased a brand new 17" MBP CD from a third party. I received it yesterday. Due to my sour experience with the MBP C2D line I have not even cracked this new one open.

hey scott, seems like they've been taking down a lot of the post that deal with display issues.

I went through like 5 of them. 4 17" and 1 15". Then I got a call from apple and they claimed I was the first to report that problem, which I thought was BS.



I just went by tekserve and went in to see their 17". It was the same model display as mine but was more evenly illuminated BUT had a much more visible bright strip at the bottom. Then I walked by Best Buy and went in to look at their PC laptops. I couldn't check very carefully but the initial impression of most of them was that they were quite evenly illuminated, had no grain (only one sony vaio had grain) and had relatively good viewing angles. Even the cheapo sub-$600 had at least as good if not better display than apple's $2800 17" mbp.

Serious, the banding is just a hardware limitation of the screens. For faster response times and possibly lower screen costs Apple used 6 bit instead of 8 bit screens. In short: it's not a 'pro spec' screen.

I collected my replacement MBP last week; same problem with the unevenly lit display, although the bright area at the bottom of the screen was far less noticeable. I called Apple again & the person in Tech Support said he needed to speak to someone & would call me back. When he did, he offered a repair, replacement or refund & seemed to be pushing the refund as the best option. I couldn't help getting the impression that they're used to MBPs being returned for this reason and accept it without any 'within spec' nonsense.

I went around some shops to look at PC laptops & didn't see any that were obviously as bad as the MBPs - though they usually have very distracting desktop patterns which tend to hide the problem. I saw some with very good screens. Right now I can't face up to buying my first PC in almost 15 years & I'd rather use Aperture than Lightroom but ultimately I'll need to get a new laptop. I know I can't work with Apple's current 'pro' models.

Their claim isn't just for the card but for the DISPLAY as well. That's why I'm questioning all this. Read the technical overview PDF on their website. It's very clear. 'Display - 17 inch (diagonal) TFT widescreen display with support for millions of colours'.

Apple certainly claim the card and display are BOTH capable of displaying millions of colours which is NOT the same as dithering with a 6-bit display.

there is plenty of evidence these are all 6-bit displays. I checked my 17" display with a Windows profiling software that shows exactly the make and characteristics of the display: 6-bit. Others have done the same with the 15.4" displays. If you check all major manufacturers (AU optronics, Chimei, Samsung, LG-Philips) you'll find that none of them have 8-bit laptop displays available for any amount of money!

I just booted into windows and indeed there are NO gradient issues under windows XP running either bootcamp or parallels. That is great news since it means there is something wrong with the software/firmware and the way the dithering is being executed. If gradients could look like they do under Windows XP I'd be perfectly satisfied.

I can't help wonder if the problem with the uneven backlighting is caused not by poor displays but by assembly/design of the macbook pro itself. I don't know enough about display technology to comment on this but I can't imagine that we'd see this kind of variation between displays of the same make/model unless it had something to do with how the displays were handled/assembled AFTER they left the LCD manufacturer. Or has the LCD industry completely given up on producing quality products??

Display colour depth in models of the MacBook Pro has been revealed to be limited to 6-bit (screen models 9C60, 9C61, and 9C62, corresponding to latest 15" and 17") resulting in colour banding and inaccurate gradient rendering.

I have a MacBook and a 17 MacBook Pro (both core duo) and both with really bad screens. I am a photographer and bought both planning to use them for photo editing but have found that the banding and noise makes it difficult to do that. It seems to be even worse if you use any sort of a Spyder or GretagMacbeth device to profile your laptop.

Apple keep replacing screens on both laptops and of course one is as bad as the next.

Here's the irony: if I boot into XP using Boot Camp, the dithering and banding and noise go away. The screens look beautiful in XP (on both the MB and MBP) so there is a possibility that this is some sort of driver issue - but why wouldn't Apple just step up and fix it instead of dragging this out for all of us who bought the high end machines???

Some cheaper/faster desktop LCD displays (and apparently notebook displays) are only capable of displaying 6 bits per subpixel or 18-bit colour, totalling 2^18 = 262,144 colours. I didn't know the MBP had one of these unfortunate displays but apparently it's common.

Now apparently the x1600 is supposed to do 'temporal dithering' which involves altering the colour of -the same pixel- quickly enough to mitigate the pattern effect you're going to get from dithering. From what I can tell from the message board threads this is stuck in freeze frame (or the dithering is just really bad) due to a video BIOS bug.

When will Apple release a BIOS update? This is very embarrassing for Apple who advertise their computers to be made for media people working with graphics etc. We have been waiting for a fix for almost a year now. I can't use my MacBook Pro for work because the graphics quality is appalling.

I just returned my 15" C2D MBP matte because the screen was so bad.

'Due to a large number of customer complaints including complaints on Apple's own website and on the discussion forum that Apple own it is apparent that Apple are well aware of the problem at issue. Nevertheless at no time did Apple make the buying public aware of or even acknowledge the defect or alter its advertisements, photos, representation, and other marketing material. Apple deliberately and wrongfully chose easy profits over responsibility to purchasers.'

CLASS ACTION ALLEGATIONS

'Plaintiffs bring this action as individuals and as a class action pursuant to California Code of Civil Procecure §382 on behalf of themselves and a California class of all others similarly situated.'

'Plaintiffs reasonably estimate that the class has thousands of members in diverse locations and therefore so numerous and geographically dispersed that joinder is impracticable. Although the exact number of class members is presently unknown to plaintiffs, plaintiffs anticipate that defendants maintain detailed computerised records that are sufficient to determine the number of class members and to ascertain their identities. The class is therefore readily ascertainable.'

THEORIES OF RELIEF

Violation of False Advertising Law



'California Business & Professions Code §17200 et seq (the 'UCL') prohibits unfair competition. In this context 'unfair competition shall mean and include any unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business act or practice.'

'Defendants and each of them have engaged and continue to engage in unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business acts or practices as alleged herein, in violation of the UCL.'

'Defendants, by their conduct and practices alleged herein, have committed and continue to commit violations of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §17500 et seq and Civil Code §1750 et seq and therefore are in violation of the 'unlawful' prong of the UCL.'

'Defendants, by their conduct and practices alleged herein, have engaged and continue to engage in conduct and practices that cause considerable harm and injury in fact to plaintiffs and members of the class and have no justification whatsoever. Defendants' conducts and practices offend a public policy of protecting members of the public from misleading advertising, the sale of defective goods, and misrepresentations to consumer purchasers concerning the characteristics, uses, benefits, standard, quality, or grade of merchandise, all of which are tethered to statutory provisions.'

'Apple know yet refuse to acknowledge'

'Defendants' modus operandi constitutes a sharp practice because Apple know the existence and nature of the defect at issue yet refuse to acknowledge it, let alone recall the laptops and fix the problem.'

'Apple hope purchasers won't spend the effort to pursue'

'Apple apparently hope their laptop purchasers will not spend the time, expense, and effort to pursue claims on an individual basis and Apple hope to enrich themselves with the money they thus save.'

'Defendants are therefore in violation of the 'unfair' prong of the UCL.'

'Plaintiffs and the class members have suffered injury in fact and have lost money as a result of defendants' violations of the UCL.'

'In addition, plaintiffs have suffered special damages in the nature of losses to their businesses and livelihood associated with a loss of productivity in their professions all in amounts to be proven at the trial.'

'Plaintiffs reasonably believe that defendants' wrongful practices alleged herein are ongoing and continue to be a threat to plaintiffs and the class members.'

Violation of Unfair Competition Law

'California Business & Professions Code §17200 et seq (the 'UCL') prohibits misleading advertising. Specifically it is unlawful for any person 'with intent directly or indirectly to dispose of personal property to make or disseminate or cause to be made or disseminate from this state before the public in any state any statement concerning that personal property or concerning any circumstance or matter of fact connected with the proposed performance thereof which is untrue or misleading and which is known or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known to be untrue or misleading or with the intent to sell that personal property as so advertised. Any violation of this section is also a violation of the UCL.'

'Apple's advertisements and marketing representations regarding the capability of the MacBook-series laptops to display 'millions of colours' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables' are misleading as set forth more fully above.'

'At the time they made and disseminated the statements and pictures as alleged herein Apple knew or should have known that the statements and pictures were untrue and misleading.'

'Apple withheld their knowledge that their MacBook-series laptops did not actually display 'millions of colours' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables'.'

Violation of CLRA

'This claim arises under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act Cal. Civ. Code §1750 et seq (the 'CLRA).'

'Defendants continue to make written and pictorial representations that the MacBook-series laptops display 'millions of colours' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables'. These representations as set forth above are false and/or misleading and are in violation of the CLRA.'

Misrepresentation

'In promoting their new MacBook series computers Apple make pictorial and verbal representations to plaintiffs and others that the MacBooks can display 'millions of colours' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables'.'

'Apple either knew the representations were false, had no resonable ground for believing them to be true, or asserted the representations in such a manner not warranted by the information in Apples' possession.'

'Plaintiffs relied on such misrepresentations in purchasing MacBooks from Apple and plaintiffs' reliance was justified because there was no reason to suspect Apple would tout the MacBooks' capabilities in a misleading manner. Plaintiffs were damaged as a result.'

'In addition, plaintiffs have suffered special damages in the nature of losses to their business and livelihood.'

Declaratory Judgement

'Under the Declaratory Judgement Act California Code of Civil Procedure §1060 plaintiff and the class are entitled to a declaratory judgement that defendants' advertisements, descriptions, and pictures with respect to the capability of the MacBook-series of laptops being able to display 'millions of colours' allowing the user to 'enjoy a nuanced view simply unavailable on other portables' were and are wrongful.'

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

'WHEREFORE plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated pray for the following relief against defendants.'

  1. An order certifying that this action may proceed as a class action;
  2. Judgement in favour of plaintiffs and the class against defendants;
  3. Declarations that defendants' acts and practices alleged herein are wrongful;
  4. An injunction enjoining defendants from directly or indirectly committing further wrongful acts as alleged herein;
  5. An order directing restitution or disgorgement in an allowable amount to be proved at trial;
  6. Compensatory and other forms of damages in an amount to be proved at trial;
  7. Pre- and post-judgement interest to the maximum extent permissible;
  8. An award to plaintiffs and the class members of their costs and expenses inncurred in this action, including reasonable attorneys fees to the extent permissible; and
  9. Such other or further relief as the court may deem just or proper.

TRIAL BY JURY

'Plaintiffs demand a trial by jury of all issues so triable.'

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