A class action lawsuit filed in Northern California federal court alleges that Apple knowingly sold MacBook Pros that contained display cables destined to fail, in what we and others termed “Flexgate”. The suit also claims Apple intentionally responded with a limited display repair program response that only included a limited number of less-expensive MacBooks, and did not cover the issue with its AppleCare extended warranties.
The suit, filed by the Parris law firm of Lancaster, CA, includes in its proposed class anybody who bought a MacBook Pro in 2016 or later, and asks Apple to expand its free repair coverage to 15-inch models. The filing contains a number of iFixit photos demonstrating the relatively short cables wrapped around the hinged display.
The lead plaintiff in the complaint purchased a $2,500 MacBook Pro in April 2017. By January 2020, the screen was showing the “stage lighting” effect. In March 2020, the plaintiff took his laptop to an Apple Authorized Service Provider, where he was told the issue was not covered under AppleCare and would cost $850 to repair.
As we detailed in early 2019, MacBook Pros, starting with the 2016 “Touch Bar” versions, only started to show issues with their display cables over time.
… [T]he current generation of MacBook Pro laptops (2016–present) uses flexible ribbon cables to connect the display to a display controller board beneath the Touch Bar. These cables wrap over the board, where they’re secured by a pair of spring-loaded covers—and they’re subjected to the stress of bending with every opening and closure of the laptop. Within a seemingly short time, those cables are starting to fatigue and tear. The backlight cable is generally the first to go, producing the infamous “stage light” symptoms, and eventually giving out entirely when the laptop is opened more than about 40°.
As for why repairing this issue out of warranty would cost so much:
in an apparent effort to make the display as thin as possible, Apple designed the cables as part of the display, so they cannot be replaced. This means that when (not if) those cables start to fail, the entire display unit needs to be replaced, as opposed to one or two little cables—effectively turning a $6 problem into a $600 disaster.
In March 2019, we noticed that the newest MacBook Pros had longer display cables. A little over two months later, Apple announced its limited repair program for 13-inch models sold in 2016, though we knew other models were affected.
We have not heard back from Apple on a request for comment on the lawsuit. Should the Parris law firm obtain a settlement or decision in this case, we might suggest including Repair.org or U.S. PIRG as a cy-près beneficiary, given the work the not-for-profit repair community has done in pushing issues of fair repair to the fore.