Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A camera cover that’s all of 0.022 inches thick will break a new Apple laptop screen when it closes. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The coronavirus has disrupted our culture and offers an opportunity to radically reset our society – though one wonders if a pandemic is enough to wake up Apple.

The need to be distant from coworkers and away from friends and family has led to an explosion in the use of video calls, with Zoom being the platform drawing the most attention. But whether you’re Zooming, FaceTiming, Skyping, using Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger or experimenting with any of the plentiful other contenders on the market (did you know there’s an UberConference app?), you’re very likely using a camera on your computer at least some of the time.

Along with more video calls and more use of built-in cameras comes more opportunities for hackers to take advantage of security flaws, using those cameras and video calls for their own always-awful purposes. There’s also a bigger chance to just mess up a call on your own, with the most notorious example from the Covid-19 crisis being the woman who took her laptop into the bathroom with her while on a business call with several coworkers. Flubs such as these have led to a cottage industry in video-call etiquette stories. (Though “Don’t: Leave Your Webcam or Microphone on When Using the Bathroom” is somehow the second tip from New York magazine.)

Apple doesn’t get this.

If you’re an Apple user – and we have plenty around here – and are lucky enough to be able to buy a newer model laptop, you may have learned that the company has engineered its newest models so precisely that the application of even a camera cover that’s all of 0.022 inches thick will fracture the screen when it closes.

When it happened on the brand-new device given me to replace the disastrous Yugo of a laptop Apple previously sold me, the Apple Store repair expert told me they were seeing this happen “all the time” on the new models.

Maybe you should warn people when they buy these new laptops, I suggested, so they don’t have to bring them in for repair and you don’t have to keep swapping out expensive screens for free. The guy resisted, saying essentially that it wasn’t his place, because he doesn’t sell the things, he just fixes them. (This is probably why Apple stopped calling them “geniuses.”)

Worse, when I asked about a security solution, he insisted none was necessary because Apple’s new T2 chip is “unhackable” – of course it is! everyone knows that’s a thing – but that if I was really paranoid, I could put a piece of tape over the camera for when the laptop was open.

Keep in mind that these laptops, designed with a sleek beauty in mind, cost (when not handed over as an apology) at least $2,399. Apple is telling the crowd who’ll spend up to $6,099 on a single, tricked-out laptop with a premium on aesthetics that what they want to do to avoid hackers or accidental bathroom videos is to “stick a piece of tape on it.”

And that was working just fine for Apple in February, before “Jennifer” gave her team an impromptu presentation on meeting-time restroom use and before Zoombombing began vying for 2020 word of the year. As the coronavirus works its way through our various systems, maybe it’ll inspire Apple to eventually give its users what they want – camera covers, or at least the option to use them – instead of innovating in subtractive areas for which literally no one was calling. (“Can you eliminate another micron in width?” has never been uttered outside a laboratory setting.)

Will the pandemic change everything? If Apple gets a clue, we may have our answer.