How Long Does an iBook Last?

I just got an email asking how long we expect the iBooks to last. The question was about a planned purchase of MacBooks for faculty (and faculty laptops normally last longer), but the following is a summary of our experience with iBooks for many years.

At OES, we plan to use the iBooks for 3.75 years. Yes, that sounds like a funny number, but here’s the reasoning. First, we would never buy any laptop that didn’t have a solid three year warranty. Via Apple GSX, we can order parts directly, get overnight boxes for rapid repairs, etc. The turn-around on a mail-in repair is often only 2-3 days. However, we still have a small loaner fleet of around five iBooks per 100.

After three years of use, iBooks are still perfectly useable (especially if they were used by faculty and not students), but we normally don’t extend the warrant for a fourth year. In the fourth year, we expect some failures, and instead of expecting 100% of fleet to be in service we only expect 80% of the fleet. We cannibalize parts and have a larger loaner fleet as about 20-25% of the iBooks have problems in the fourth year– many can recover with some work, and others are toast. We continue to use the strongest iBooks for a fifth year in certain locations or as loaners, but we don’t rely on them.

The thinking here is that by year five the machines are going to be pretty used, thus we don’t want to pay for repairs in year four for such old machines. As for faculty, we’ve found that some are fine with older machines, while others really need newer machines, so we have a bit of a sliding scale about when someone might get a new machine (most are after four years, and some are after three years).

As for broken screens, we’ve had very good luck buying new screens for $250 and installing them ourselves. For damaged iBooks that aren’t covered by warranty, we’re also becoming adept at buying internal parts (including hinges and case frames) and rebuilding the systems ourselves.

Note that we stuck with G4 iBooks this year, and we haven’t worked with school-owned Macbooks yet, but we’re assuming they won’t be radically harder to work on internally. As you might guess, we don’t purchase any additional insurance for screens, accidental breakage or theft. Theft has not been a problem (maybe one every two years), but this year we’ve had seven broken screens (of over 300 iBooks), but we repaired all ourselves.

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