Is your expensive investment in an Apple silicon MacBook affected by the recent reports of display cracking or shattering?
In this article we look at some historical events and recent data to uncover what’s actually happening, and if you should be worried or not.
With almost every release or refresh of a new Apple product, there’s always some kind of issue that makes it to the news desk.
This can be seen all the way from 2006 (with Apple only supporting the 32 bit Core 2 Duo for 2 years), going to 2010-2012 (with crippling graphics failure on the AMD and Nvidia cards respectively), 2013-2017 (display connectors failing, and causing odd display artifacting, or failure), 2015 (the 12 inch Retina MacBook being rife with faults, with every single component being susceptible to failure, and also bringing the butterfly keyboard, which in itself caused issues for the next 4 years).
Apple has made more than just a few mistakes over the years, although it would be a mistake to not also mention all the innovations that they have made in the same timeframe, including the home-button, the first functional use of USB-C, popularising a thin-and-light chassis, and bringing in the iconic industrial design language that has been seen in MacBooks ever since 2009 with the first Unibody MacBook.
Apple’s aggressive pursuit for thinner, lighter and more powerful laptop has caused them to try every trick in the book.
With this history, you may be thinking that Apple has done it again and screwed up again, but to answer this, you have to dig a little deeper.
The Webcam Cover Dilemma
Tolerances in Apple devices have steadily become smaller and smaller. You may be wondering how this is a bad thing. After all, smaller tolerances allow for better quality, and better finishing, right?
It’s not so simple. A bit like any decision in life, it has a multitude of pros and cons. This reduction in tolerances has allowed for new design languages (including the current design language as of 2021, as introduced with the 2015 12″ Retina MacBook), and also allow for new features (including terraced battery cells, more sophisticated cooling systems, and higher accuracy), but it has also caused issues with clearance.
More and more people are now working from home. Because of this, a lot of MacBook owners started putting webcam covers on their MacBooks.
This contributed to thousands of MacBook displays cracking, shattering or become outright destroyed. Apple even created an official help article, and they now even mention this in the documentation of every new MacBook sold (as seen here: Don’t close your Mac with a cover over the camera – Apple Support).
Apple has since then discouraged using anything that isn’t part of the MacBook itself (apart from a case and sleeve for storage and protection), and especially does not recommend using third party products.
Should you use a webcam cover on your Mac?
I would strongly recommend against purchasing a screen protector or webcam cover for your MacBook, as it may cost you a lot more than just the product, but potentially the cost for replacing the display. Also avoid using keyboard protectors, as they may permanently stain/mark the display, or if you slam your lid, may also cause the display to shatter or to crack.
MacBooks have a sophisticated security system, so although it is not impossible for a MacBook’s webcam/microphones to be hacked, it is going to be a very difficult task for anyone trying to do so. Your best bet to avoid this is to be weary on the internet, and make sure that you are only downloading things from reputable sources, and to stay away from illegal activities (such as pirating), as they often have trojans and other malware embedded to them.
What else is causing MacBook screens to crack?
There have been many accounts of small objects causing contact point cracks on MacBook displays ever since the new design language was launched with the 12 inch Retina MacBook. These issues have then been multiplied with the incredible success of the M1 MacBook lineup, and with the upcoming M1X and M2 MacBooks, is only set to become more popular.
The expensive retina displays that Apple uses, paired with the bloated repair costs, and lack of third party options, victims are often forced to pay hundreds of dollars to get their display replaced, of which may not be feasible on top of an already expensive laptop.
The displays themselves are glass, and as they are not tempered, they are extremely easy to crack, and as the glass itself is extremely thin (to suit the thin display), and the actual display is right behind even a small crack can cause irreparable damage to the display itself (i.e. not just a crack in the glass).
As the display is only replaceable as a unit, you are also out of luck if you were fortunate enough to only crack the glass, as you will have to fork out for an entire new display.
The process of replacing the display also takes a long time (via the already extremely difficult process any repair-person needs to go through to repair any Mac), and you have yourself out of a machine for anywhere between a week to a few weeks.
How to solve this issue
The solution to this issue is extremely simple; don’t let any debris get in between the gap between the display and chassis. This can be as simple and eating away from your Mac and cleaning the keyboard and display regularly with a microfibre cleaning cloth.
Although this is a good short-term solution, it would be beneficial for you to invest in a good quality case for your MacBook, and if you work in an environment where you would come in contact with debris (and potentially damage your MacBook in any other way), invest and purchase AppleCare. This will reduce the cost of any repairs significantly, and allow any other accidental damage to be repaired at a lower cost as well.
Try taking other preventative steps, including keeping your hands clean before using your MacBook. Keep your MacBook somewhere safe as well, to make sure that any pets/young children won’t get their hands on it.
Another thing that a lot of people often accidentally edge between their Mac and the chassis are cables, such as a charging cable, USB-C cable or a headphone cable. To avoid this, just be careful and make sure that your cables are free of the MacBook before closing, otherwise you would have an expensive problem on your hands and a chance that the cable itself will break in the process.
Overall, as it is made evident throughout this article, the most likely culprit for all these MacBooks ‘spontaneously cracking’ or shattering as seen in recent months is the extremely low clearance between the display and chassis on the newer generation of MacBooks.
This has been heightened by the runaway success of the M1 Macs, which has got many people who may have never used a Mac before using a Mac, and many may not realise the small clearance that is found on a Mac.
This has caused issues, including with webcam covers, and even extremely small debris (some of which may be almost imperceptible to the eye), to cause large amounts of damage, that will need deep pockets to repair.
Overall, your best bet will be to keep your MacBook nice and clean, and make sure to keep it in a nice protective case and store it in a laptop sleeve, and keep all cables and mess away from the MacBook itself.
You should be OK with all of these preventative measures, and should be able to make your investment in a new M1 MacBook worth it, and last not only in the short term, but for many years to come. Have a look at The Ultimate MacBook Battery Guide to make sure your battery lasts the test of time as well.