Refurbished doesn’t mean used

Ken Hess, whilst discussing Apple’s entry into selling refurbished products on eBay (which he even spells wrong, capitalising the wrong letter) makes this incorrect statement about refurbished Macs:

I, personally, wouldn’t buy anything refurbished from Apple or from their Ebay store. I’ve seen refurbished stuff. So called “blemishes” and “normal wear” can mean scarred screens and body cracks. No thanks. I’ll put my own blemishes on my hardware. I don’t want to pay $999 for something refurbished when I can purchase new for just a bit more or can double my down (Vegas-speak, you know) and buy PC hardware. Meaning that I can get twice the value in PC hardware for the same money.

Whilst I can’t comment about what kind of “refurbished” garbage he’s bought previously from other PC manufacturers, the statement is just so wrong when applied to Apple’s refurb process that it shows just how little Ken knows about it.

Apple’s refurbs are indeed returned items that were either unwanted or had a problem out of the box (commonly referred to as DOA), but they aren’t then repackaged and sent out the door. The process is actually quite involved.

If a MacBook Air is returned because it’s unwanted then it’s checked for any physical issues. The first thing that is changed is any exterior parts that may have any blemish so if there’s so much as a scratch on the casing, it’s replaced immediately. Once the hardware is checked then the Mac is re-serialised with a completely new serial number (usually starting RM) and then repackaged1. Usually it’s brown boxed but all the accessories are included. If you sat two unboxed Macbook Airs next to each other, one refurb and one new, there’s literally no way to tell the difference. Refurbs even come with the exact same warranty (and qualify for AppleCare) as a brand new product. Apple’s repair process and systems don’t care if the product was new or refurbished – they’re both the same.

In fact, a refurbished Mac is actually checked twice, once when it was originally manufactured and again during the refurb process.

With regards to mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod, then the devices are usually stripped for parts and repurposed for service parts at the Genius Bar. That’s what you get in those brown boxes and why they look brand new – they pretty much are2.

Apple actually has no need to sell refurbished products. If it wanted, it could simply harvest all the components from the returned products for any repairs or replacements that may be needed for customer’s products should they go wrong. My understanding of the reasons for the refurb range is twofold:

It’s a way of reducing waste. Since they could keep all the components for repairs, there’d still be a some waste to deal with. Refurbished Macs are the epitome of recycling – it’s a computer that would otherwise just be stripped and scrapped. Believe it or not, people buy an Apple product every day, only to return it a few days later. It’s more environmentally friendly in the long run to replace any cosmetic components (or components at fault) than it is to harvest the good components from the Mac and then scrap the rest. Apple can always manufacture more parts if they run out but destroying countless amounts of components in five years time because they built up a surplus will not only be costly but will impact the environment.

It provides another option to users on a budget. $100 may not sound like a lot when purchasing a $2,000 Mac but if you’re looking at the $1,000 range then thats 10% of the price – a substantial saving if you’re on a budget.

  1. No two Apple products will ever have the same serial number. If they have, someone screwed up during a repair. 

  2. Customers would often complain that we wouldn’t give them a brand new retail boxed iPhone when their 8 month old scratch-magnet wasn’t working. Well you know what? You’re not entitled to a new device, you’re entitled to a repair. They’re saving you the hassle of sending it off for weeks by having one that was prepared earlier which is still new. What does the packaging matter?