The Exchange

Wi-Fi Woes in New MacBook Airs Latest Blemish for Apple

The Exchange

Apple’s latest revision to its super popular line of MacBook Air notebook computers garnered mostly rave reviews, but customers are finding that a cutting-edge wireless feature may not be ready for widespread use.

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The new line, on sale since June 10, includes the very latest flavor of Wi-Fi, known as 802.11ac. The ‘ac’ standard is supposed to allow wireless connections up to three times faster than the previous 802.11n standard.

But Apple customers have posted hundreds of messages on the MacBook Air discussion section of the company’s web site, complaining about mysterious disconnections and slow service. Some say they have had their laptops replaced by Apple or been contacted by Apple engineers working to isolate the problem.

The web site 9to5Mac reported that Apple stores have been given a directive to “capture” misbehaving MacBook Airs brought in for service.

Apple has not issued a statement yet. Problems seem most acute for customers connecting to older Wi-Fi base stations, and some have resolved the issue by updating the firmware on these stations.

It’s a given that Wi-Fi connectivity is one of the top features laptop buyers need. And the rising volume of complaints comes at a difficult time for Apple, which is trying to prove to investors that it can regain momentum.

Apple shares dipped below $400 on Monday for the second time since December 2011, and have lost 25% so far this year, despite a massive buyback and dividend plan announced in April. Another misstep won’t help regain investor confidence.

The Wi-Fi snafu also raises memories of Apple’s last major wireless fiasco – the iPhone 4 reception controversy known as Antennagate.

Within days after the iPhone 4 was released in June 2010, customers started complaining about lost reception if they held their hand over parts of the phone. Then-CEO Steve Jobs famously sent off one of his terse emails, advising users to “just avoid holding it that way.”

But “Antennagate” didn’t subside until Jobs and other top execs at Apple held a press conference to clear the air on July 16, 2010.

Back then, Apple’s stock price took only a temporary hit, as the controversy had little discernible impact on actual sales of the iPhone.

This time around, Apple shares have slumped about 10% from $442 the day before the new notebooks were announced to around $400 today. The recent fall came amid a broader market downturn and investor dissatisfaction with Apple’s announcements at its Worldwide Developer Conference.

It’s also worth noting that, even though the MacBook Air is a flagship of the company’s laptop offerings, it brings in only a fraction of the revenue and profits of the iPhone. In the most recent quarter, iPhones brought in almost $23 billion and Apple’s entire line of Mac computers, including the iMac and other models, generated about $5 billion.

Still, the last thing Apple needs right now is another blemish, especially amid the news that, in the area of enterprise value, Google now has it beat.

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