It's never a boring day in Cupertino. Last week(ish?) Apple released a new model of their popular (yet waning in popularity) desktop PC, iMac.
If you aren't familiar with iMac, shame on you. It's an all-in-one desktop PC that currently comes in two sizes: 21.5 inch widescreen or 27 inch widescreen. You can order them online at apple.com or buy one in store and customize all kinds of things on it (though, I imagine that most people just buy the standard option).
In their latest release (which didn't even make the front page of apple.com--that was reserved for the elusive iPhone 4 in white) they upgraded the speed of the processors, the quality of the "FaceTime" camera, and a few other things here and there. Like many of their computer products, they didn't overhaul much of it, just a gradual upgrade. If you are considering an Apple product, the time right around when it gets upgraded is ALWAYS the best time to buy.
However, they evidently altered something else inside this iMac that wasn't advertised. Since the report first came out, the blogosphere has been on high alert.
Turns out, that the startup hard drive inside of the iMac has a bit of proprietary firmware installed on it. This firmware communicates to the fans about how hot the hard drive is running. So, if one were to replace the startup drive with another drive (not Apple -branded) their iMac, once put back together, the computer will fail the Apple Hardware Test. In short, Apple disables your iMac. You can read a little more about it here, and while this explanation leaves ALOT out, the general effect remains the same.
Not so fast.
OWC (a company that sells unauthorized replacement parts for Macs) wrote on their blog about the issue and railed against Apple's closed-door policy when it comes to things like this. Something of less significance happened with the iPhone 4 screws a ways back and iFixIt (a company much like OWC) filmed a YouTube video against it. You can see MJ from iFixIt's take here. (The video is called "Apple's Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone")
Apple commentators like John Gruber and Marco Arment have commented about this. Both seem to be on Apple's side. John says that a user knows that this is an all-in-one device and that the convenience of using and buying a machine like this comes with tradeoffs. Marco basically said the same thing. (I think John read Marco's piece first)
I think the answer lies in support.
If you buy an iMac and take it home, it will work beautifully. But, if something does go wrong (they're not perfect) you can take it back to an Apple Store (or call online) and get it fixed or replaced for free. (When was the last time you got your Windows PC fixed at a Toshiba store?) As long as you've backed up your stuff (if you're not backing up, shame on you), you're good to go.
But, if you decide that you'll install your own hard drive once you get home, it's not an easy task to take apart an iMac. The process is documented by iFixIt here and it involves removing the glass display with suction cups, unscrewing countless screws, not getting any dust in the machine, not shocking yourself or the computer, and putting it all back together. Now that my warranty has run out, I've taken my MacBook Pro apart twice and I can tell you I don't think I'd ever attempt to take that glass off without breaking it. I'd rather be trained by the people who built it first.
The problem with support is that if you do something wrong, and then try to take it back to Apple, they have to deal with it. Not only will they know that you took it apart, but they can't be sure of what you did to it.
The same thing happened with the batteries in the iPhone and new MacBooks. They built them in because they had some major advantages when it came to battery life and slim design. If they know that you haven't tampered with it, they can fix it much easier.
I think it comes down to this: Apple wants to fix your product. They want you to be happy. And I would be willing to bet that they are willing to sacrifice the 10% of hackers in order to make a pleasing and seamless experience for the other 90%.
I think Marco and John are right, it's a tradeoff. If you don't want that experience, Apple probably doesn't need your sale.
I don't, in any way, think that makes them evil.