My M1 MacBook Air Has Developed a Fault

Descending Big Sur’s Slopes

I want to preface this by saying that I love my M1 MacBook Air. I absolutely love it.

But recently, it developed a fault.

A couple of nights ago, I noticed that there was a little alert listed under my battery percentage. It read “service recommended.” Now, I thought this was odd for a computer that was barely three weeks old.

I hadn’t experienced any unusual battery drain; in fact, the battery life of my M1 MacBook had been better than literally any other computer I’ve ever owned in my life. But it still was concerning to me that my computer thought there was a problem.

Ok, I want to pause here. Probably the first of many pauses or sidebars or amendments I’ll make in this story. I want to point out that despite my computer telling me there was an issue, I loved that my computer was telling me that there was an issue. I don’t recall any of my previous Windows laptops or Chromebooks ever once telling me to check the battery out. Even when it said it wasn’t working properly, I couldn’t help but love this computer.

My first thought, honestly, was that it was a Big Sur bug. I never once thought there was an issue with the battery itself, but rather that Big Sur thought there was a problem. But I didn’t want to bet my computer’s life on that theory, so I reached out to Apple support.

(And again… I loved that this was as simple as clicking on the battery alert… ok, enough gushing)

Apple’s Chat Support was quick to respond, and they took a look at my system information. According to my system information, I’ve only ever charged the laptop 9 cycles (it is rated for 1000). It said my Mac battery capacity was 100%, where any new battery should be. And right underneath that… Service Recommended.

Apple Support agreed with me; this brand new computer shouldn’t be having any issues whatsoever with the battery, and yet it was telling us that the battery needed servicing. And they agreed that it could be a software bug, but since it was such a new device on the market, we needed to have their engineering department look at the computer and pinpoint the cause of this issue. After all, it was better for me to fix it while it was still within the return window and under their warranty, rather than waiting and finding out there was a problem and having to use Apple Care to repair it down the road.

Ok, pausing again. I love how Apple’s support team is looking out for my best interests. A lesser company would probably have fought a little against replacing a brand new device. At the very least, I’m always prepared to fight for the servicing I need with many companies out there, but Apple always feels instantly ready and willing to help. There’s a reason why I am beginning to stick with their products.

The first recommendation was to take it into an Apple Store and leave the computer with the Genius Bar so they could look at it. Of course, we are in the middle of a pandemic and the holiday season, so this was easier said than done. We couldn’t find any available support appointments for the next week. And though I could keep checking, I decided it would probably be faster in this case- and safer for me- to mail the computer back to Apple for servicing.

The support agent agreed, however, since it was such a new device, she recommended instead that I just exchange it for a brand new computer. That way I didn’t have to wait for my computer to be examined and repaired, and I would have a fresh machine instead of one that needed to be repaired three weeks out of the gate.

I was connected to Apple’s Sales team to process the exchange. Here’s where I would have hit another roadblock with any lesser company. I was actually a few days past the return window for this purchase. But Apple once more worked their magic, and within a minute I had an email with a return label and a confirmation that a new MacBook Air would be sent to me once they received this one back. Huzzah!

There was only one thing left to do: remove my files. If you’ve read a lot of stories about the M1 MacBooks, you might know where this is going.

On the many Intel MacBooks that I looked at over this last year, cleaning the hard drive and reinstalling macOS was a fairly easy process. Granted, it wasn’t as straight-forward as it is on other devices- Windows, Chrome OS, and even Apple’s own iOS allow you to reset the device and clear off your crap with just a few clicks. On a MacBook, you have to reboot in recovery mode, erase the hard drive, and then finally reinstall macOS.

Again, that’s how it works on an Intel MacBook. I learned quickly that this isn’t so on the new M1 variant. Firstly, the function of restarting the computer and then holding Command+R to inter recovery mode did absolutely nothing. Instead, you have to hold down the power button while it boots up. Once there, Recovery Mode looks familiar but apparently doesn’t act the same. I clicked on my hard drive, clicked “Erase” and… nothing. Not “nothing” as in there was nothing on my hard drive after that- this was “nothing” as in nothing happened.

Once more, I turned to Apple Support, and they were able to quickly walk me through clearing off my hard drive properly. But we both became stumped when it would not allow me to install Big Sur again- it seems that in clearing my hard drive, I also cleared out my authorization to make changes on the computer; in short, my password no longer meant anything to the computer because that, too, was deleted. After a few more minutes of troubleshooting- including allowing the support agent access to my iPad so he could see my computer screen using the tablet’s camera, we came up with nothing. This time, that meant there was “nothing” on the computer and also “nothing” coming to mind on how to fix it.

In short: do NOT follow the Intel MacBook steps to erase and reinstall macOS on an M1 computer, because you’ll be left with a beautiful, expensive paperweight.

This would likely not have been the end; had I only been trying to reset the computer, I would at this point have probably been directed to take it in for servicing; ironic, since this is how the whole thing started. And certainly, Apple technicians would have either found a way to reinstall macOS on this laptop or they would have replaced it for me. But since I was already on the road to exchanging the laptop anyway, Apple Support instead directed me to go ahead and mail back the paperweight and complete the exchange. The good news was that my files were definitely no longer accessible.

So now, I’m waiting. Through all of this, as I’ve said multiple times, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Apple’s willingness to help; even though my MacBook Air had a problem, I have no problem with getting another one from them. In fact, if anything, this experience has cemented me as a permanent Apple customer. It’s nice to know that their support team will work miracles to help.

I know that’s not everyone’s experience with Apple. But that’s been mine. Even before this, I have always loved that I can take my device to an Apple store for help if I need it. Their products are expensive, but I think a part of that cost is paying for the option to have experts at your fingertips when something goes wrong.

But I’m sure as hell going to put Apple Care on the new MacBook as soon as it arrives. Of course, I’m hoping I don’t have the same problem with the next computer, but I definitely want to make sure it is fully covered in the event this happens further down the road when I’m no longer under the protection of having just bought it. Likewise, I’m hoping- but not expecting- that Apple will be able to let me know what went wrong with this computer. I’m very curious to know if it was a bad battery or just a fault in the programming causing the “check engine” light to come on.

In any case, I felt it was important to share this experience since the M1 MacBooks are so new. For the most part, my MacBook Air worked just as I would expect any MacBook to work, and in most cases, it outran the Intel one I had earlier in the year. But we are definitely in uncharted territory, and I’m sure we’re going to be learning about any quirks of this new system over the next few months.

Until my new MacBook arrives, I’m stuck writing on the old Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 that originally prompted me to start looking for a new computer. It isn’t a bad machine… but it certainly is not a MacBook.

Update №1

It’s been one day, and I already miss my MacBook Air so much. A year ago, I didn’t think a more expensive computer was necessary to get work done, but now… I can barely bring myself to use my old Chromebook.

But that’s not what this update is about. No, today, I got a call from Apple, and as with every other interaction I’ve had with them over this issue, I left the phone call with a grin on my face.

The call wasn’t to tell me when my replacement would arrive; according to Apple’s tracking system, it is on the way, but it probably won’t be here within the next week. Instead, Apple Support wanted to ask me a few more questions regarding the issue I had. Especially since this was the brand new M1, Apple wanted to make sure they had all the details of the problems that I experienced, from the initial “Service Recommended” alert to the inability to reinstall macOS Big Sur after completing an erasure of the hard drive.

It was a pleasant call, and though I didn’t really glean any new details on what may have caused the issues I experienced, Apple definitely seems very interested in getting to the bottom of it so that they know what happened. Since I already mailed it back in to do the exchange, they are planning to collect the computer from their Sales department once it arrives so that they can review the unit. Unfortunately, however, she made it clear that sometimes they have trouble getting the computers back from Sales during an exchange process, but if they are able to get the computer and figure out what caused the issues, the Apple Support advisor said that she would ease my curiosity and let me know what they find out. So, here’s hoping there’s a second update for this story in a week or two.

Update №2

This is going to be a small update, simply to say that Apple delivered my replacement MacBook Air today. Apple’s estimate was that it would arrive between December 14th and December 21st, so I’m impressed that it arrive so quickly. Apple clearly has gone to Montgomery Scott’s school of multiplying their shipping times by a factor of four (or thereabouts… I didn’t do the math) to maintain their reputation as miracle workers.

In total, I went less than a full week without my MacBook Air. As I mentioned, I tried my best to use my old Samsung Chromebook for my computing needs during this time, and safe to say, I didn’t get much computing done, because next to my MacBook, that old Chromebook sucks. With a short battery life and laggy interface, I just couldn’t bring myself to use it unless I absolutely needed it.

After all of my switching, I’d finally decided that the iPad for me was the iPad mini; after all, if I had this excellent MacBook, I didn’t need the iPad Air or Pro with a Magic Keyboard. But as soon as my MacBook was in the mail back to Apple, I began regretting my decision. The iPad mini, though dated, is excellent for watching YouTube or reading books (I’ve actually gotten a lot more reading done on the diminutive tablet than I ever did on the 10- or 11-inch models), but it definitely isn’t a laptop replacement. But I still preferred it over that Chromebook. All of that to say, I’m so glad to have my MacBook back in my hands again.

I’ve still not yet head anything back on what may have caused the issue with my previous computer and I don’t expect to, though I’ll remain hopeful for a while. I’ll also be a tiny bit apprehensive over the next few weeks to see if I get the same “Service Recommended” warning on my new computer. I hope I don’t; I really hope there was a software bug or an issue with my specific Mac, and not an underlying issue with all or a lot of the M1 MacBook Airs out in the wild. In fact, just to make sure it wasn’t something I’d installed or done in my first few weeks using the device, I chose not to use my Time Machine back up and instead set up this new computer from scratch, only installing the apps and downloading the files that I needed.

This might be the final update to this story- I hope not, because my curiosity is still peaked- and if it is, well, I thank you for reading. If you have an M1 MacBook and have had any weird quirks, I’ve love to hear about them. And if you are considering an M1 Mac, I hope this little incident hasn’t put you off it. Statistically speaking, it is still the best damn computer I’ve ever used.

I am just clever enough to get myself in trouble…

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