Urban Legend or Urban Fact? – Steve Jobs and the squishy MacBook - Macenstein

Urban Legend or Urban Fact? – Steve Jobs and the squishy MacBook

Urban legends are usually thought of as pretty cool, quite often involving escaped maniacs and hook-hands stuck to the side of car doors, but even we geeks have urban legends. I learned one such tale today, told to me by a Mac Genius on a trip to the Apple Store, and if you think you are brave enough, pull up a round bean bag chair, and I will tell it to you now.

About 5 hours after I opened my new MacBook (purchased 2 weeks ago online) I noticed that the lower left side of the unit (the side with the ports) seemed to be loose. When I pressed on it, the two securing screws moved in slightly, and a slight clicking sound could be heard. It just felt kind of “squishy”. I showed it to Helper Monkey at the lab the next day, and he confirmed that it appeared as though those two securing screws had been stripped. They were not catching into whatever mounts they were designed to, so the whole area from about the security lock hole to the lower corner appeared somewhat loose, whereas the right side (with its two matching screws) appeared rock solid. We’ve only had the pleasure of using Apples Pro laptops up to this point, the MacBook being the first consumer model either of use had seen up close. We checked out his old PowerBook and a new MacBook Pro, and both of those sported tight screws on both the left and right. So, we decided I must have gotten a lemon or some sort.

Off to the Genius Bar.

While waiting for my appointment, I decided to check out the floor model MacBooks and see if I actually had a problem or if this squishiness was a design issue. I’m not sure if I was relieved or saddened to find that every last one of the 15 or so MacBooks at the store had the same “squishy” left side as my MacBook. When the Genius called my name, I sheepishly went to the counter and said “Well, I don’t think you can help me as this seems to be a design flaw of these new McBooks”. I showed him my problem, and he verified, yes, that’s the way all the new MacBooks are made. The two screws closest to the trackpad on the left are purely cosmetic, they do not “catch” into anything.

“Cosmetic?”, I said. “Who thinks extra screws look good?”

A second Mac Genius (who seemed to outrank mine) overheard our conversation, and grinning, walked up to me and said “There’s a good story behind that”.


The two geniuses exchanged a quick glance, as if knowing they shouldn’t be telling such things to a lowly muggle, but then Genius 2 grabbed my MacBook, held a flashlight to his chin, and began his tale…

“The story goes, the MacBook’s engineering team had just finished the new MacBook’s design, and were presenting it to Steve Jobs.” The Genius flipped my MacBook over, revealing the underside, with its perfectly centered screw. “In that prototype,” he continued, pointing to the screw, “the processor was slightly off to the side, and the screw in the center of the MacBook was off-center by about 2 inches. Additionally, the designers decided there was no need for any securing screws on the left side of the MacBook, and by omitting them, it would help create a cleaner appearance to the somewhat messy-looking “port” side. However, two screws were still necessary on the right side to hold the thing together.”

Genius 2’s voice lowered as Genius 1 and I leaned closer…

“Allegedly, Steve took the new MacBook, flipped it over, tapped on the off-center screw, and said ‘Center that’, then he looked at both sides of the laptop, and said ‘put two screws on that side’, then handed the MacBook back to the team… without… even… opening… it.”

Just then lightning crashed and the 1st Genius and I jumped, hugging each other in terror.

“And there was a hook on it!” Genius 2 shouted. Genius 1 and I wet ourselves.

Ok, I made (most of) that last line up, but the point here is that for whatever reason, “allegedly” Steve Jobs thinks that the two screws used to fasten the computer on the right side need to have left sided counterparts in order to achieve some sort of visual symmetry, even though they serve no purpose, and their lack of functionality actually hurts the MacBook. This idea seems both plausible and preposterous given Steve’s reputation. On the one hand, yes, having a computer look almost the same from all sides does create a nice “intentionally designed” feel to it. On the other, you cannot physically look at both sides at the same time, so it doesn’t seem like it should be an issue (I’ll give him the “center the bottom screw” thing). Also, one side has a long optical drive slot, and the other has a boatload of port holes, so does having 2 more screw heads to “balance” that side make sense? Not to my mind, but hey, who am I to question Steve?

Above: Not sure why Apple thinks adding 2 non-functioning screws is better than either adding 2 functional ones or removing them altogether, but there they are.

Whether or not the story is true, the fact that this little urban legend of Steve and the MacBook’s design is circulating the Genius bars means that the “squishy left side of the MacBook” is an acknowledged issue that Geniuses, if not Steve, seem to have noticed. I have since verified this issue is affecting other new MacBook owners, and even some older MacBooks going back as far as June 2007, so I am even more surprised that this was not cleared up with the latest update. Unfortunately, for now, it seems to affect all new MacBooks, and Apple Geniuses claim there’s nothing they can do about it.

To be honest, I don’t care how many screws they slap on the MacBook, I just want the thing to feel solid and not make the clicking sound. This design “decision” makes the MacBook feel cheap (which it certainly wasn’t). I’m hoping when Steve said “put two screws on that side” he meant for the engineers to put two securing screws there, not just two useless cosmetic ones, given that they technically are needed. Unfortunately, whatever he meant, that just didn’t happen, and now my perfectly new MacBook just feels… squishy.

[NOTE: if you find you too have this issue (and aren’t happy about it), please let Apple know in this thread.]

60 Responses to “Urban Legend or Urban Fact? – Steve Jobs and the squishy MacBook”
  1. Danny says:

    Welcome to the club. I took mine back to and had an almost identical experience (well, at least the checking other macbooks and being sent home “squishy” thing).

  2. Peter says:

    What’s incredibly funny about this, (not the Ha-Ha way, but the “Lick the windows” way), is that my Dad works for a company called McBride Electrical. This company does a lot of work for the apple stores, namely, all of the electrical work when Steve decides that the stores need to be revamped.

    Apparently, in most of the stores, there’s a functional electrical outlet on the left side of the store, and a non-functional outlet on the right side, just for symmetry.

    Upon hearing this tale, he also told me that the tiles for the floor are all from the same quarry in… Spain, I think is what he said.

    So, once I heard your tale of woe, I consulted my own Black Macbook (purchased fromt eh refurb section of the Apple Online Store, and heavily upgraded), and lo and behold, there was the squishy macbook feel, clicking and all.

    I can understand image, but come on! These are supposed to be the best, most rock solid, laptops in the world. I didn’t come to this side of the fence for fake screws. I’m a diesel mechanic, and one thing that I’ve come to accept is “if it doesn’t need it, don’t put it there.

    Don’t count me a naysayer, but I think that ol’ Mr. Jobs needs to see that the real world isn’t so concerned about appearance that we need nonfunctioning screws.

    Oh, well, I guess. Apparently every silver lining really does have a touch of grey. At least mine won’t get nasty viruses, and have to deal with gibberish fault codes. (see: windows blue screen).


  3. Brandon says:

    yeah, that is definately the same problem that I have. I am typing on my white macbook that i bought back in june, and i have these cosmetic screws as well, i didnt like the feeling, but came to deal with it. but im glad you brought this to light, because it is a great point.

  4. Jason says:

    I asked my friend who’s a California Genius about this, and he said yes, he also heard that story about the MacBook. Not sure if that means it is true, or just that it is a genius bar urban legend, but there you go.

  5. Bobby says:

    You are right in saying that the 2 external screws on the left side are cosmetic only, HOWEVER, there are 2 securing screws for that area coming from inside the battery bay. The article seems to indicate that the let side of the machine has no securing screws at all…

  6. Hey Bobby , Thanks for reading Macenstein,

    In answer to your comment, I thought I made it pretty clear in the article (via the video and the article itself) that I was focused on the area of those 2 screws, the area below the ports, but if I was less than clear, forgive me. The MacBook is not falling apart in my hands, it is just squishy on the left side.

    Unfortunately, without my X-Ray specs, I was unable to see INSIDE the MacBook to point out all the many places Apple decided to use screws correctly. Those specs should be arriving in 4-6 weeks, and I suspect we’ll have no future problems like this going forward.

    -The Doc

  7. Kerry says:

    Sure enough mine is squishy on the side to, I probably never would have have noticed if not for you, thanks a lot you putz. Seriously who cares the thing is very solidly built I have no idea how you were dinking around and noticed this.

    – Still loves my Blackbook

  8. yuhoga says:

    hey doc,
    no xray specs needed. Just remove the battery and you’ll see four screws. Two for securing the battery connector and two for securing the left side of the macbook.

  9. Andy says:

    Is it just me, or does it seem that Apple’s focus seems increasingly to be on aesthetics rather than function? Faulty drives, worn away paint, sunken power buttons, and now squishiness?

    There’s no question they make a killer product. But these flaws seem like such easy things to fix, but they pay no mind.

  10. Ben says:

    When the MacBook was first announced, there was someone from the design team who mentioned the lefthand screws were cosmetic only.


    Congrats on making a pageview-whoring story about something that was announced a year ago!

  11. dan says:

    I’ve noticed this too, happens on my black Macbook I bought in July of this year, from the UK if it makes any difference to you.

  12. Nicolas Ivy says:

    I can’t believe I’ve owned this updated June ’07 Macbook for so long and never noticed that. I mean, the notebook is with me everywhere I go, and I had no idea. Frankly, I don’t really have an issue with it though. I mean, after all, it’s not structurally unsound or anything. In fact, I kind of like the symmetry that the screws provide.

    Mr. Jobs cares about his products, and his attention to detail is nothing but admirable in my book.

  13. Ben, Thanks for reading Macenstein,

    I must say I find people like yourself annoying. To assume everyone on the planet has read every article that you have, and so therefore we should all already be aware of issues like this, is asinine.

    Apparently, there are a few people who missed that obscure post a year ago (just as most will miss this obscure one), and some, like me, who bought our MacBooks via the internet, and not a store, were surprised at the build quality when we got to touch the unit in person.

    -The Doc

  14. David says:

    I can confirm that this has been a problem all the way back to the first gen MacBooks (which I am currently typing on) and that it is indeed merely a set of cosmetic screws and always has been. The genii I talked to were as befuddled as I as to why they were there though – I didn’t get as exciting a tale as you did 🙁

  15. Joel Esler says:

    What I just realized on my MBP is that I have the same screws. I am not aware if they actually *do* anything, but all the screws on the MBP are the same as well.

  16. anon says:

    to be perfectly honest…cosmetic screws have been used all the way back to the iBooks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ibook-g3900-ports-lg.jpg

    the screws on the sides of the top section are cosmetic the support screws are hidden beneath the plastic clips

  17. joe says:

    Yeah, I think this is much more than a “viewwhoring” story – people make discoveries independent of other published material all the time. So what, someone from the dev team posted an item about cosmetic screws in a forum you frequent… It’s not like that note made it to Digg or Reddit or even the local paper.

    Hush yo’ mouf.

    Anyway, just a weird sidenote, on the Macbook Pro, there are 2 screws in an identical place as your Macbook, but they actually secure the top plate to the sidemount. Very, very strange that they’d just leave them drilled into empty sockets on the Macbook.

  18. David says:

    Haven’t noticed this myself until right now, and i can confirm it’s like this on my MacBook CD 2.0 as well.

  19. Porter says:

    The biggest problem with the squishy comes when you’ve had the MacBook for awhile. My the hand rests on my MacBook are actually cracking now. I bought it just over a year ago and didn’t get apple care. I regret it everyday.

  20. jeff says:

    i’m going with “urban fact”
    jobs is a weird-o. usually right on, but still, a weird-o.

  21. Chaz M. says:

    Great, i could have gone my whole life with out reading this story now i am going to be playing with the squishy non stop.

  22. Marty says:

    “I can understand image, but come on! These are supposed to be the best, most rock solid, laptops in the world.”

    They are?

  23. Rob says:

    Mine seems a bit loose yet no noise, yet i think im a bit weird but im on new media and design, and I instinctively look for symmetry or porportion everywhere i go and everything I see, and I love this mac just for that. Ill start complaining when it makes any noies, but now my brain is happy with my 2 screws.

  24. anonymous says:

    @Peter – No the tiles come from Italy and Apple bought the entire village where the tiles are made…

  25. Itkovian says:

    My wife has one of the first MacBooks. It has two screws on either side, and there is no squishy feeling whatsoever. Both the left and right sides of the laptop feel rock solid when I squeeze them.

  26. chris says:

    @peter: we actually do the flooring in a lot of the new apple stores in southern California and I assure you that not all their tile come from spain! I dunno about the electrical outlets though, I’ll ask the general contractor next time I’m there.

    Nevertheless, interesting read. I wonder if it’ll ever get “fixed”.

  27. florian says:

    I work on a mac all day, and go home to play on a pc.
    so i enjoy them both.
    But i must say, i love the lack of “Design” tax on ugly ass pcs that can push graphics that a mac wont.

    Like i always say, if jobs’ felt like putting a piece of shit in a clear and white plastic box and call it iPoo, people would buy it.

  28. Jdack says:

    Sounds like a clear-cut case of OCD, which I have, and can verify causes you to care about symmetry way too much. It wouldn’t surprise me of El Jobso has it in spades.

    I have a 2006 macbook (from first release) and I honestly never noticed it being squishy. I have dropped it accidentally onto a rather hard surface, but it kept on ticking solid as a rock.

  29. Raz says:

    Maybe it is a Zen thing.

  30. techweenie says:

    Not surprised, but really, let’s put this in perspective. Apple cares about esthetics. If you’re going to put a lot of value in esthetics, you’re going to be buying a Mac/iPod/iPhone.

    Obsessive about design? Brutally difficult to please? You don’t change the world by being Mr. Nice Guy.

    P.S. A colleague dropped my PowerBook last month — on concrete. The aluminum case has a couple dents in the corners but works great. Had the laptop been from another company, I would have expected to be buying a new one.

  31. Javbw says:

    That Kind of Symmetry IS present on many apple Products. And many many designs make design decisions to make things clean and good looking.

    ALL MacBooks have screws on the on the left side (the port side) that are cosmetic on the outside. BUT the two screws on the inside of the battery bay around the battery’s connector (not the two for the connector) ARE structural. they connect the top case to the bottom case.

    I’d just make sure those two are tight.

    ALL Laptops, including Apple’s – their old ones and new ones – will get loose screws. And they sometime need tightening. It is possible they were all not tightened enough.

    It could be something else, like a small error, like leaving off the screw mounting posts from the top case (they are tiny), but for most people, a Phillips #0 is all the help they need.

  32. neil says:

    I can’t provide a link (because it’s restricted access only), but Apple’s official repair guide for the MacBook indicates that those 2 screws are for cosmetic purposes only.

    I hadn’t noticed the “squishy” effect before. Now I’ll have to go look closely at my MacBook…

  33. Rob M says:

    This is nothing new.

    I had the same squishy problem with my Titanium PowerBook 1GHz, only in this case it was the lower right area. It seems that it is held together there using a tongue-and-groove arrangement; no screws, functional or otherwise.

    VERY irritating to have it click and move slightly every time I rested my right hand on the palm rest.

  34. chris says:

    Thanks for the explaination. My MacBook is squishy. I always thought this was from wear and tear but I’m happ that it’s not.

  35. shane says:

    My macbook is my first mac and I have to say for the $1700 i spent on everything for it I’m disappointed in the quality. The squishy i noticed right away, and that has been driving me nuts The battery on the bottom never sits where it’s flesh with the rest of the bottom and creates an edge. I got the white case, I’ve only lightly used it for two or so months and the palm rests and track pad look like a pig pen. The button for the track pad is getting loose as well. On top of that, I not only had to pay full price for os 10.5, but it doesn’t run that well. I’ve been trying to get my family to switch to mac, but whenever they try to use iPhoto or iTunes the system freezes at some point.
    All together, this computer feels a lot cheaper than my friends $900 hp notebook. Why does apple treat its lower end like this?

  36. Paul says:

    What about the symmetry on the back of the iPod touch? What’s with the little black spot on the corner? Why not in the other corner?

    Also, a MacBook from Jan ’06 and it is squishy too.

  37. Liam Daly says:

    My MacBook from Aug 06 is squishy too and that thread is no longer there! Another thing that really pi**es me off is that my CDRW doesnt always eject cds it has been playing up more recently, I have to put a credit card in their or turn it upside down to get the cd out. Apple wont help me as my warranty recently ran out…. When you spend £799 on a machine you would expect it to last at least 5 years… my MacBook also gets very hot at times =(

  38. Liam Daly says:

    Also my white MacBook has started to discolour (turn a yellowish white) around the palm rests

  39. Brendan says:

    I have a squishy left side too, I though it was a fault, thank goodness it isn’t.

    I got my MacBook last November!

  40. JK says:

    I think it’s definitely there for cosmetic reasons. while this has a function in a MBP, I don’t think that they could’ve put a whole screw int that place cause of the logic board. I know sam older mac users who coulnd’t boot their books up cause it was too squishy, but from the top side on the same spot. aparently the logic board was loose or something. maybe there’s a connection….

    besides, I got used to the squishiness, and looks like some other apple users like it 😀


    until THE SQUISH starts to interrupt with your daily work, bare with it.

  41. A genius... says:

    Javbw had a good comment, all accurate information, let me add:

    OK, to clear up all the hubris and misinformation flying around this article, please let me say a few things.

    First, like others have said, those two screws are cosmetic but the ones in the battery bay are not. I really do not have the time to explain the minute details of the MacBook’s design–for one thing, I agree with Apple’s reasoning that you do not need to go disassembling a MacBook on your own. I see these things everyday and so many people strip the hell out of screws on it because they have no idea which tool the use (Philips 0 or even better Philips 00) or, seemingly, how to even use a screwdriver in the first place. That all being said, the MacBook’s top case, that is the flat plastic plane encompassing the keyboard, power button, and palm rests, is held to the bottom case by eighteen screws. I repeat: The two pieces are held together by 18 screws!! AS WELL AS SNAPS. How do they get the top case to attach firmly to the bottom case above the optical drive? Snaps. So we can see that even snaps can be firm. Snaps plus the 18 screws = it is not going anywhere.

    Back to the lower left hand corner though. The top case has metal tabs that extend into the bottom case to be screwed into. Those tabs simply can not go in the same space as the battery connector and its supporting structure, so they moved them. Simple right? Move the screws. Not so simple: Move the screws and then what? Screw into the top case’s new supports from the outside. Then the left side would obviously not match the right at all. So screwing into the supports from the inside (battery bay) is the obvious solution, and they did this. Main point here: THAT CORNER IS secured by screws.

    Then the question is to leave the outside bare of screws or place the two there to balance off the right. This is a question of what it means to be an Apple product. And this is the sort of question that finds its way to blog entries on the Mac and arguments in the comments on those entries. It is something you either find dumb and ridiculous, or, if you are like me and a lot of others who have posted here and else where, this is the sort of thing that solidifies your love and commitment to Apple.

    No other computer company in the world would include two nonfunctional screws in their entry level portable design, or any design for that matter. One would be hard pressed to find another company in the world willing the add screws to a design for purely cosmetic reasons. So while you find it strange or laughable, it makes me proud to own my MacBook.

    To all of those who have posted with bad experiences with their MacBooks or with Apple in general (Shane, this is to you buddy), please please please make an appointment to see a Mac Genius on Apple’s website, take in your MacBook right on time, and explain to the Genius what you said here (not cocky, just as if he were a friend). They have powers untold… let’s just say, they can, if they want, make sure you leave happier than you entered.

    At least get them to tighten all of your screws. Javbw was correct: the screws get looser over time. If you tighten yourself, be careful, the two on the back, closes to the air vents, can be over tightened easier than any other screws I have had the pleasure of turning.

    Once again: eighteen screws, not counting the two; twenty if you do.

  42. A genius… ,

    Again, I am not saying that the MacBook is about to fall apart, I am only saying my MacBook, all the ones in the Apple store, and apparently a couple hundred posters here and on Digg, all have the same problem/issue/”design feature”.

    Are you saying that the left side of the new MacBooks does NOT push in when pressed? If so, tell me right now to go back to the Apple store and demand they fix it. They told me they can’t.

    I think Apple should have considered both the visual aesthetics and the tactile aesthetics here. If the computer appears flimsy on one side, ad makes a clicking noise when pressed, how is that a good thing for the end user, even if it doesn’t mean RAM will come pouring out of the machine?

    The right side is fine, both sides of the pro laptops do not move, nor did previous PowerBook models.

    Putting cosmetic screws in the one area of the MacBook that seems to need reinforcing is going to cause people to think the screws were improperly fastened.

    Has no one else come into your Apple store yet to complain of this?

    -The Doc

  43. Danny de Wit says:

    Very nicely written this story!

    Can’t wait for the next tale. There are 1001 right?

  44. You should all just shut up, this has to be the stupidest thing ever…
    I had a MacBook (white) for almost a year, I never noticed the squishy thing, even though I’m sure if I would check now, I would find it is just as you describe. I gave it to my wife, she also did not notice it.

    The machine is beautiful, well designed, works GREAT, and is well balanced in terms of weight distribution.

    Perhaps also look at this like Japanese buildings – some tile or panel is always left loose or completely off, for feng shui or what not – it is a statement that nothing is perfect, and that this is part of nature. (or maybe it has some other meaning).

    I can’t believe this – you guys are so bored 😉

  45. A genius... says:

    Dr. Macenstein,

    1) I have a MacBook and no, it does not do this.

    2) I do see people with loose screws and I tighten them for them. To tighten these, check inside your battery bay,first untighten the two screws out side of the middle two by the battery connector, then press and hold the top and bottom cases together, and retighten. I am off the clock, so in NO WAY does this speak for Apple on the issue, but from my experience MacBooks do not do this, and should not be doing this if they are. Once in a while I see it and it has been fixed with the method above and a Philips 00

    3) You say you ordered the MacBook online two weeks ago. You are right on the cusp of a return. If this is truly bothersome, Apple can do something for you. Go back to your store and show them your purchase date and explain your concern. They will take care of you; if they don’t, try another Apple Store. There are a lot in New Jersey.

  46. Bromsklosss says:

    Marvellous writing! The way you presented it all was really entertaining. 🙂

  47. A genius... says:

    Dr. M,

    Upon returning home I watched your YouTube video. I have a different issue in my head, one in which the top case becomes separated from the bottom. Now that I have watched your movie, I see what you mean.

    Yes, my MacBook does this too, and, lol, as many as I see, this is something I had never payed attention to, but I would assume that every one I have ever touched does it as well.

    So, I wanted to say I am sorry I misunderstood you. Although this does not bother me, I respect that it could others, so for your sake, I hope a solution is found.

    Always remember to make appointments,

  48. Ryan Smith says:

    Yeah, I got my Macbook in June 2006, and I have the squishy left side…. so I’m sure it’s been a design flaw for a long time… lol.

  49. Danger Gates says:

    Hey – like everyone else – mine has this as well – but has anyone had problems with the two screws on the bottom near the screen coming out? – ive lost both of mine – which is weird – because i wouldnt think there is any torque pressure on that part – but i lost the one on the left – then about 2 months later – the one on the right is missing – maybe those are cosmetic as well – but anyone else having the same problem?

  50. Danger Gates says:

    to be even more specific – those are the screws on the right and left of the FCC label

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