Even though Apple makes the best tech stuff in the world, that doesn’t mean their products are free of bugs. Far from it :-) As a former employee of Apple Computer and a buyer of many tens of thousands of dollars of Apple products, I’ve seen a lot of Apple from both sides of the corporate wall. Friends and family often ask my advice on how best to resolve these issues. The following hints at getting your Apple needs met are actually neither tricks nor secret, just observations on the alignment of incentives between consumers and the mega corporations they depend on for cool gadgets.
I generally wait about 2 months before upgrading Mac OS X or my iPhone firmware. This allows enough time so that the most egregious issues are suffered out by the masses, and by the time I update most issues are resolved. Understand though that if you are a power user, there will always be issues when you upgrade, and the longer you wait to upgrade, the more issues there will be. Such is the life of technology. This is more a law of entropy than the fault of Apple. I’ve noticed a lot of the time after I upgrade when I’m upset about a “bug” it’s usually just a different behavior that I’m not used to or that I don’t like. It’s best to just move on from those issues.
The most important factor in resolving a technical issue is: how many other consumers are encountering exactly the same issue? The more people that have the problem, the faster the issue will “fix itself” because other whiners will get Apple to move their ass. Consider the product you are using and why it was created. Is this free software from Apple like iMovie? In that case, forget about it, this issue will never affect Apple’s bottom line. Did you pay money for the product that is having issues? Take a number, it may be months before your issue is resolved. Is your usage of the product outside of the mainstream? If so, you may want to reconsider. The fewer people that are encountering the exact same issue as you, the more energy you will have to exert in getting Apple to help resolve your issue. If your use case is inside the mainstream, google the error message. The first result will explain in detail how to resolve this problem since everyone else runs into the same situation.
Generally Annoying Bugs
These are general system software problems that affect everyone who has the version of the software that exhibits this issue. Recognize that no one individual person at Apple can mobilize to resolve this issue. It will take days before a developer even finds out that the problem is a problem, it will take more days for a developer to find and fix the issue, and it will take weeks to actually ship the software update. Software updates are extremely risky. Only critically important bugs are addressed in software updates. All other defects are dumped into the next major release of the operating system, which could be years away. What is critically important? … very simple … only issues that put Apple’s brand or bank account at risk are critically important. Be mindful that unless the bug results in data loss or some crazy bad problem, most consumers won’t even notice. If they do notice they will fault themselves before they fault Apple, a fact which all corporations use to their advantage.
It is possible to file bug reports, but it is time consuming. Instead I recommend incenting other consumers to file the bug reports so you don’t have to. Recall Apple doesn’t even allow consumers to search for duplicate bugs in the interest of protecting trade secrets of third parties, etc. But if you really want to file a bug, here is the place: http://bugreport.apple.com.
Your Time is Valuable
As a consumer, your time is valuable. Therefore as with any good corporation trying to maximize shareholder value, Apple implements processes designed to waste as much of your time as possible. The goal here is:
- customer gives up and doesn’t care about the issue anymore
- customer resolves the issue on their own
- customer resolves the issue on their own, posts the solution on forum (best case!)
- customer moves to another vendor
This last case is interesting. Note that it is not beneficial at all for Apple to keep you as a customer if you are costing them more money than you are paying them. You might be suprised how much support calls cost Apple. Then again, You may also be suprised how much your time is worth. When I’m deciding whether to interact with a corporation I pretend my time is worth $500 per hour. Note that this is a pretend valuation of my time, but it helps me make better decisions about which battles I fight with technology.
So you’re still running into this issue that affects a lot of people, but not enough to be a big deal, and you have some time on your hands, you want to put some effort into resolution. The best way to mobilize Apple is to convince people to call Apple phone support and waste a bunch of their time. Each time the call center picks up they bill Apple $20-30. Nothing grabs corporate attention like hemorrhaging money. Being so expensive, the top issues are tracked and resolved quickly. If you can pull it off, brand-damaging negative publicity also gets attention. However keep in mind that Apple is the genius of tech marketing. They have sophisticated processes in place for damage control. Unless you have the resources to file a significant class-action lawsuit, using normal consumer channels is probably your best bet.
Hardware, and Real Resolution
The most legitmate issues are those that happen as a normal course of business and are specific to the physical piece of hardware you actually own as opposed to the product in general. Statistically speaking this generally ends up being a laptop with a dead hard drive / lcd screen or a dead iPhone. Smaller defects are not addressed unless egregious. For example, your laptop screen must have five dead pixels on it before Apple considers it to be “defective” .. this really sucks for those who have dead pixels, I feel lucky it’s never happened to me. If I did receive a screen with dead pixels, I would return the laptop and buy it again, probably eating cost of sales tax and/or shipping. Why would I make that concession? Look, give these guys a break. Consumer products are manufactured to high levels of quality which are industry standards, for example ISO 9001. The bargain we make as consumers is that large volumes of products are created which lowers prices to near zero. Quality is kept high, but there is still a non-zero probability of defects. If the defect happens to end up in your device, take your lumps, it is “an act of God” … Or do what I do, pay the incremental cost of returning an getting a new unit, move on with your life, and live peacefully knowing you have the best technology society can offer.
The Genius Bar
When the Genius Bar first started, it was awesome. It was almost as good as Apple’s internal repair facility in Cupertino which is excellent and can fix almost any Apple product in a day. But even for Apple employees, sometimes a problem is severe enough that the unit needs to get “sent to texas” … phone support will try to “send you a box” into which you pack your laptop and ship to texas and get your laptop back two weeks later. Whenever possible I try to make the Genius Bar do this nonsense for me. It’s much easier to drop off the laptop at the Apple Store, have the Genius ship to texas, and then pick up the laptop at the Apple Store again. When you go back to pick up the laptop, make sure it is fully functional before you leave! Bring everything you need for testing, including a power adapter and any accessories. And yes living without a latop for two weeks is damn near impossible. Why doesn’t Apple do something obviously helpful like transferring your data over to a loaner laptop while your own laptop is repaired? It’s too expensive, and apparently consumers aren’t demanding this service even though having a loaner rental car is standard in almost any car insurance policy.
So you have an issue, and after 5 minutes of googling still broken. Make a clear decision about what you want the Genius Bar to do for you and how they are going to do it. Are they going to replace the unit? Fix the software? Explain the situation? Write these goals down! At the Genius Bar it will be noisy, chaotic and frustrating. Having a written list of tasks helps keep both you and the Genius focused on resolution. Once you decide on goals, make an appointment at the Genius Bar and don’t leave the store until you achieve resolution. Various geniuses will ask you to “sit over here” or “step aside while help another customer” … be very polite, but stick around. Stay within the field of view of the Genius and make frequent eye contact. Smile a lot. If you are a tech genius and you “know what’s wrong” … for goodness sake play dumb. The Genius wants to feel like a hero, just like the rest of us. The Genius has to stand around all day listening to bitchy, whiny, or stupid people (or all three) … have some compassion. Here are some tactical suggestions for the Genius Bar, in order of efficacy:
- Choose your time wisely. Pick a time where the Genius will be happy and stress free, likely to be a weekday morning like Tuesday or Wednesday. Choose your store wisely, an Apple Store in a rich neighborhood shopping mall that doesn’t get a lot of traffic is good. Apple’s flagship 5th Avenue store in New York is generally unwise (3am graveyard shift might work though)
- Make an appointment. Often the next available appointment won’t be until tomorrow
- Be Prepared … I cannot stress this enough. Have your software updated to the latest versions, battery fully charged. If dealing with an iPhone issue, bring your laptop and everything you need to backup/sync your iPhone. Think of every excuse the Genius might have to send you back home and plan for it.
- Show up early
- Be polite, but firm. Remember your goals for this visit, which you decided and wrote down beforehand. Choose your battles
- Do what ever they say patiently, project composure and calmness. If they want you to re-install OSX, sit there and do it. Remember, you are going to be cooperative and eventually will be leaving with your needs met. Play dumb.
After following these steps, you may have to escalate to a manager and start all over again. Patience here is key. It also just depends on who you are working with, study up on well known techniques Social Engineering and try to leverage them. If you are working with a Genius that is having a bad day or just has it in for you, go home and make another appointment, perhaps at a different Apple Store.
When Purchasing, Buy Refurbished
While I’m thinking on strategy for Apple consumers, a quick note on saving a few hundred bucks. A lot of people know about the “friends and family” discount offered to Apple employees. Truth is I almost never use that, I can usually get a much better deal buying a refurbished unit. These deals on are the apple online store near the bottom of the page, here’s a picture:
Other third party sellers of Apple products also sometimes have lower pricing than the Apple Employee Discount. The Discount is more of a means of social control to help the Employees feel special, and to incent otherwise intelligent Fanboys to get jobs and slave away at Apple.
Refurbished products are excellent deals for several reasons:
- Refurbished products were returned because of a defect. The defect was repaired and the unit is brought up to the same quality standards as a new unit. Statisically speaking, that same defect is unlikely to happen to this particular unit
- Refurbished units have the same 1 year warantee as new units, but the refurb unit, statisically speaking is less likely to have problems
- Almost all hardware issued to Apple employees for their day-to-day work consists of refurbished units.
Finally, whether you buy a refurb unit or a new unit, beware of buying the first in a series. For example when the very first Titanium laptops came out, they had some manufacturing issues that were resolved after a few months. Refurb units are typically a few months out of date, if not more, look closely at what you are buying. Generally speaking a Fanboy willing to own Apple hardware that 6-12 months behind the hardware release cycle can save about $1,000. That’s enough for two fixed gear bicycles :-P